Johann Adam Weishaupt was a German philosopher, professor of civil law and later canon law, and founder of the Illuminati. Weishaupt was in many ways a revolutionary. He wanted to change society. He was dreaming of a better world. A better government. Weishaupt liked the idea of teaching people to be better human beings. He started the Illuminati with the idea that everything known to human kind should be taught. He was not, he said, against religion itself, but rather the way in which it was practiced and imposed.

On the night of May 1, 1776, the first Illuminati met to found the order in a forest near Ingolstadt. Bathed in torchlight, there were five men. There they established the rules that were to govern the order. All future candidates for admission required the members’ consent, a strong reputation with well-established familial and social connections, and wealth. Over the following years, Weishaupt’s secret order grew considerably in size and diversity, possibly numbering 600 members by 1782.


“However, what it’s been made into has nothing to do with the real Illuminati,” a modern archivist said as she leafed through the pages of the well-worn manuscript. The 18th-century German thinker Adam Weishaupt would have been stunned if he had known his ideas would one day fuel global conspiracy theories, and inspire best-selling novels and blockbuster films.

Back at Sister Anna’s bookshop, the mystery around the Illuminati continues to catch the imagination of the shy nun – despite what the history books may say. “Some people have come here and asked me about the meetings,” the nun said, leaning over the table as though disclosing a secret. “I think there is something here, but what exactly, in what houses, I don’t know. I think they come from France, England, all over, but Ingolstadt is the meeting place in Europe.”

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