In Angels & Demons, the Illuminati are a secret, scientific brotherhood which aims to destroy the Catholic Church
in revenge for its persecution of Galileo and other freethinkers from the 1600s onwards.
The term ‘Illuminati’ means ‘those who are enlightened,’ and originated in the Enlightenment period
of the 17th & 18th centuries, when many influential thinkers wrote works challenging established world views on religion,
politics and philosophy. These writers were usually hostile to the Catholic Church, believing that it regarded superstition
as truth and suppressed dissent.
In reality, there is no proof that such a group still exists, although the idea has gained popularity in films and a myriad
of books, the most well known of which was written by Dan Brown. Many of these books claim the Illuminati infiltrated the
Freemasons and controlled that society’s upper echelons.
Whether or not this is true, it is unlikely many modern Freemasons hold a desire to destroy the Catholic Church,
as the majority come from families which had been Protestant for over a century.
The original Illuminati were the Bavarian Illuminati, founded in 1776 by a group of free thinkers in Ingolstadt, Bavaria.
Although secret, this was effectively a liberal social club which met to discuss new, enlightened ideas.
It was banned eight years later by Karl Theodor as part of a ban on all secret societies within his territory.
Other people and groups took on the name as it made them seem to possess a secret knowledge,
hidden from non-members and adding to the mystique of these men and societies.
Dan Brown uses the Illuminati as a major part of the story.
They steal the antimatter bomb, plant it in the Vatican and kidnap the four cardinals who are the likliest choice for Pope.