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An Oasis of Kindness
Not long ago, I was privileged to see the Broadway musical “Come From Away”. Set in the week following the September 11 attacks, “Come From Away” tells the story of what happened when 38 planes carrying some 7000 passengers were forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada – a town with a population of 9600. As I watched the show unfold I could only think that in the wake of something horrible, something amazingly human happened.
I am privileged, with permission, to share this firsthand account from my Brother RW Mac Moss, a member of Airways Lodge #26 under the Grand Lodge of Newfoundland & Labrador. ~MW Jim Mendoza
Gander Freemasons Hall is the meeting hall and club rooms for the Masonic Fraternity in Gander & area. The building was erected in 1956 and has seen several expansions and modernizations to keep it up to date. The top floor or Blue Room is the meeting space for Gander Lodge # 16; Airways Lodge # 26; Unity Lodge # 32; Arklie Chapter # 3 Royal Arch Masons; Central Council, Royal & Select Masters; Crossroads Preceptory and the Gander Shrine Club. The downstairs space is called The Square & Compass Club. It has a small private bar, a functional commercial kitchen, and table seating for approximately 120 dinner guests. All of the named organizations begin their meetings in September following a two month summer break.
For many years, a small group of Masons would meet at the Hall around 4:00 pm and have a, (sometimes) quiet game of cards. On September 11, 2001, the usual group was beginning to gather, but the main topic today wasn’t cards or the weather. Everyone was aware of the NYC 9/11 incident and everyone was aware that Gander International Airport was receiving a lot of planes. Shortly after 4:00 pm the phone at the Clubrooms rang. It was the Gander Emergency Operations Centre inquiring if the Club would accept up to 100 passengers from TWA Flight 819. Don Leyte was the Building Manager for the Gander Masonic Hall but he had to get clearance from the President of the Gander Masonic Hall Company and the Masters of both Gander & Airways Lodges. (Bros. Fred Moffitt* & Terry Hollett). This clearance was quickly obtained and Don called the EOC and told them they were beginning to prepare the building for Passenger occupancy.
Calls quickly went out to Lodge Members and their friends to bring in blankets, bedding and food! The Square & Compass Club has a standing credit account at Gander Co-op Store and several members including Gander Masonic Hall President, Hayward Clarke, were delegated to go to the Co-op and get enough food to get them through the next 24 hours. The volunteers worked through the evening and early morning, cleaning and clearing the meeting room and club room, making sure they would be ready for their guests.
The “Blue Room” where Masonic Meetings were held, has a beautiful Blue wool carpet adorned with Square & Compass symbols. Don was told that they would be receiving cots for the Passengers, so it was decided to cover the carpet with plastic to keep it from getting dirty. However the cots didn’t arrive until the afternoon of September 12 but the 100 guests slept in relative comfort their first night on that magnificent carpet.
The Square & Compass Club was uniquely qualified to feed the Passengers from the TWA Flight. Regular Masonic social functions are held at the clubrooms for Christmas, Valentines or Installation banquets where Lodge volunteer cooks regularly prepare and serve food for up to 120 Masons & their Ladies.
Around 3:00 am on September 12, the first busses arrived bringing the travel weary, emotionally distraught, passengers from TWA Flight 819. As with all host locations, the Passengers crowded around the single television, and tried to absorb the images of destruction that led them to this tiny town in Newfoundland & Labrador. Hayward Clarke recalls periods of deathly quiet followed by exclamations of profound grief and shock as the passengers saw the planes impact the Twin Towers. The Masons and their Ladies wept with the passengers as they jointly felt the loss inflicted on America.
Eventually the Guests were led upstairs to the Blue Room where Brethren of both Lodges and their Ladies issued them their blankets and pillows and urged them to settle down as best they could and try to get some rest. The only cautions issued to the guests were, “No food or drink in the sleeping area.” (That was done to protect the carpet!), and “Please keep talking to a whisper.” The carpeted area was approximately 50ft X 30 ft. Each guest had 15 square feet, a space about 2.5 ft. X 6.5 ft. to lay out their bedding. The expression sleeping ‘head & toe’ took on a whole new meaning.
Breakfast the next morning was as good as you would get at a quality hotel. A variety of cereals, fruits & juices, eggs any way you liked them, a choice of bacon, ham or bologna and white & whole wheat toast, washed down with brewed coffee and orange pekoe tea. The Passengers loved it!
The lunch meal came from soups, sandwiches, & casseroles donated by members and friends of the Masonic community. Later that afternoon, the S&C Club was informed that food was now available at the Community Centre Ice Arena and the coordination of food acquisition, storage and delivery was being done by the Salvation Army.
As was the case with many Host sites, some of the more elderly passengers were taken into homes of Lodge members, to give them a more comfortable bed. Over the course of the 4 days, all of the passengers were taken home by volunteers for showers.
The building had only one telephone and that created some stress among the Passengers as it was difficult to restrict the length of the calls once a passenger had made connection to a loved one. The phone was in use all night and well into the next day at no charge to the guests. Herb Morgan, a Mason and a volunteer at the S & C Club was returning to the Lodge following a noon food run when he noticed a young couple sitting on the grass outside the building. The young lady was crying her eyes out and the young man could not console her. Herb went over to the couple to see if he could help in any way. The young lady was distraught because she had not been able to contact her family and knew they must be very worried about her. As Herb was driving back to the Lodge, he had noticed that NewTel (the phone company), had set up banks of telephones on tables on their property only300 metres from the Lodge building. These phones were available to passengers for free! As it was a beautiful day, Herb offered to walk the couple over to the telephones, making sure they could find their way back to the Lodge.
Every evening someone would show up with a guitar and entertain the passengers.
Some of the volunteers at the Freemasons Hall were Don Leyte, Cyril Edison*, Jack Granville, Wayne Wareham, Fred Moffitt*, Gerry Mercer*, Aubrey Cooper, Mark LeGrow*, Gerry Kean, Don Milley*, Herb Morgan, Wilson Hoffe, Joe Dunphy and Gander Masonic Hall President, Hayward Clarke. (* Deceased)
At the time there was a Masonic Ladies Auxiliary and these Ladies provided great service to the Passengers as well.
Note: Many of the Masons were involved with serving passengers at other host locations in Gander. If the Mason was a teacher, he was most likely involved in serving passenger needs at his school. All Gander Churches had passengers so many of the Masons were involved in serving the needs of passengers through their church. Personally, I was a member of Airways Lodge # 26 but also the Principal of the Gander Campus of the College of the North Atlantic, a post-secondary training college. We had 442 passengers from Air France Flight 004 (We had the two Kevins from the “Come From Away” musical.) and 172 passengers from Lufthansa Flight 416. (Mac Moss)
On 9/11/2001 Gander received 38 aircraft. 2 US military aircraft, the crews and passengers of which were cared for by the 9 Wing Royal Canadian Air Force Base in Gander. The remaining 36 aircraft were all wide body jumbo jets with passenger loads of 85 to 360 passengers. In all of these aircraft there were approximately 6700 passengers and flight crew. The Flight crews were given hotel rooms as they were required to have mandatory rest and would be fresh to fly when the planes were called to depart. All the passengers were sheltered by Lodges, churches, Lions Clubs, Kinsmen Clubs, Elks Clubs, fire halls, Canadian Legion Clubs and schools. Their bedding was as rough as a single sheet on a tile floor, to a wooden pew in a church, to a canvas cot, to luxurious, English wool, Masonic Carpet, to a comfortable bed in a private citizens home. All of the food and accommodations were provided free to the Passengers!
“Stranded in Gander, TWA flight 819, was given a gift, a lesson in humanity, kindness, and hospitality during our short stay. With all the madness in the world, to fall into a community of such care. The world could take lesson from you folks!! Thanks Gander, Masonic lodge, Jerry, Mona, Ness, Uncle Bob, we are all your family now. We will take this spirit you showed us and move it on to others whenever we get the chance. This will be our way to show our appreciation for your kindness. Kkeep that spirit moving!” ~ Denis & Shirley Spanek
“To the people of Gander and especially the wonderful men and women at the Masonic Lodge: Words can never express our gratitude for your caring giving and tireless effort you gave the passengers of TWA flight 819. Though difficult, you gave us faith in mankind and comforted us. We never heard a complaint. Instead it was “what can we do.” And, Gander made so many people that had never met before, a family. Thanks to all, and God bless you.” ~ Dan and Stephanie Williams
“Best regards to the caring people of Newfoundland who dropped everything to take care of the stranded passengers. If only the rest of the world were so good-hearted, we would not be experiencing such unspeakable tragedies. Special thanks to Ness Skinner and all those associated with the Masonic Lodge. I would also like to acknowledge Jack and Karen Bechard and the many co-passengers and crew on TWA flight 819 who took special care of my 10 year old daughter and her grandfather (my father). Largely because of the way you doted over her, my daughter enjoyed her stay in Gander as much as her week in Paris. (Her mother and I are wondering how we are going to compete with the fact that she walked off the plane with an industrial-size trash bag full of toys.) You will all, forever, be in our thoughts and prayers.” ~ Alex’s dad
“Our heartfelt thanks to all the wonderful people of Gander, for going “above and beyond” caring, love, and hospitality! TWA Flight 819 from Paris to St. Louis were taken in and housed at the Gander/Airways Masonic Lodge for three days. The volunteers there cooked, arranged for showers and laundry, and made us feel like family. When we left on September 14th, we were family! Thank you cannot begin to express our feelings of gratitude. You will never be forgotten, but fondly remembered as “family and friends”! ~ Jerry & Mieka Gerard: Tampa, Florida
“To all of the wonderful people of Gander, You turned a disaster into a triumph. My husband and I were coming back from a two week trip to Paris. The experiences we had in Gander, particularly at the Masonic Lodge gave us hope for the future of our troubled world. I am infused with “Gander Generosity and Goodness” and have tried to treat everyone I encounter with the same spirit that you all showed to us. On a funny note, we shared with everyone at home about what happened in your wonderful town. Thank you again for opening your homes and hearts to us. And hello to everyone on TWA Flight 819. “ ~ Paul and Julie Bishop
Much thanks to WB Herbert Hönigsmann, Past Master of Kosmos Lodge, Vienna, Austria; Grand Representative of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Washington Near the Grand Lodge of Austria for this submission
Chapter 1 The Early Period (1742-1793)
Only 25 years after the founding of the United Grand Lodge of London and Winchester, the Lodge “Aux Trois Canons” was consecrated in Vienna by a Lodge from the then German Breslau in mid-September 1742. It was, however, closed only six months later by order of Empress Maria Theresia I. Her husband Francis Stefan of Lorraine, (later the German Emperor Francis I), was unable to prevent the closing even though he himself was a Mason, having been initiated out of diplomatic reasons in 1731 in the Netherlands in a British Deputation Lodge – this even before the English royals!. This was a deliberate political act to ensure the spread of Freemasonry on the European continent at the highest possible level. However, he was never to be realised as a member of an Austrian Lodge (only his son Joseph II mentioned it in a letter to a German lodge). Although the papal excommunication in Austria had no effect, Maria Theresia particularly feared Masonry as a vehicle for foreign influence. The police raids, in which members of lodges were taken into custody, were due merely to a court intrigue inspired by jealousy, but nevertheless scared people off, both within the Austrian monarchy and outside. Despite this, in 1754 a recognized Lodge was formed by accredited diplomats in Vienna, the Hanoverian Deputation Lodge “Aux Trois Cœrs” (The three hearts) with several Brethren of the original Lodge “Aux Trois Canons” numbered within its ranks. In addition in 1770 there was the famous Lodge “The Three Eagles”, Lodge “To Hope”, as well as the well-known Lodge “To Holy Joseph” all consecrated in Vienna.
Freemasonry was in a phase of explosive growth at the time, recruiting members particularly among high ranking and aristocratic figures and artists. There were also well-documented efforts to persuade Maria Theresa’s successor, Joseph II, to join the organization. He originally was very receptive to Freemasonry, and very favourably inclined towards it.
Away from the capital and throughout the Habsburg Empire there were other Lodges as early as 1730 in the then Austrian Netherlands, Bohemia, Transylvania, Galicia, Hungary, Croatia, and in Lombardy. On today’s Austrian soil the Berlin based Grand Lodge formed the First Provincial Lodge of Austria in 1777 in Vienna followed by several lodges in Innsbruck, Graz, Linz, Klagenfurt, and Salzburg one year later.
Famous well beyond the country’s borders was the Viennese lodge “To True Harmony”, which existed from 1781 to 1785; developing under the Chair of Worshipful Master Ignatius von Born an excellent scientific academy and was also a very significant institution for all the other European countries where Freemasonry had meanwhile established itself. The works presented and publications on them were very intensive, scientific, and socially political in nature. Through them, and the members assisted the emperor’s intent to dispel prejudice, combat superstition, and peel away dogmatic views, and provide a scientific foundation for the Enlightenment. Many of the works opposed clerical arrogance and the parasitic monastic system.
On April 24, 1784 under Emperor Joseph II the first Grand National Lodge of Austria was constituted marking the liberation from submission to foreign obediences and an internal cleansing of harmful elements. 63 lodges with about 20,000 members were involved.
Our former brethren numbered amongst them representatives of secular and spiritual nobility, such as the composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Joseph Haydn as well as many other artists and scientists, the very roots and noble spirits of their time. Representatives of the bourgeoisie and aristocracy met under a Masonic banner on an equal footing, which was absolutely unthinkable in the former secular world.
Sadly the Craft in that time also attracted charlatans, alchemists, and mystics to their ranks. This fact alone caused Josef II to reduce the number of consecrated Lodges on December 11, 1785 to two consolidated lodges. However, this was the start of Freemasonry’s decline. Finally in 1793 Emperor Franz II forced the last two Viennese lodges to extinguish their lights, not least due to strengthened relations with the Vatican and from fear of the intrusion French-inspired revolutionaries. On January 2, 1795 he finally released the so-called “Criminal Edict” that banned all secret societies. Please note that this edict was effective until 1918.
Chapter 2 From the 19th Century to World War I
In fact during the 19th century it was the national rather than the social revolution which stood in the foreground. Politicians like Lajos Kossuth and Giuseppe Garibaldi pitched themselves with the Habsburg independence movements founded in Hungary and Italy supported from a Masonic background.
It was only through the momentous defeat of the Austrians by the Prussian army at Königgrätz (Hradec Králové) in 1866 that the power of the central government in Vienna was so weakened that they had to agree to the “compromise” with Hungary one year later. The subsequent dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary shared only interests in foreign policy, the army and the finances, for the remaining legislation the two halves of the empire were completely autonomous, with even the transportation of goods within the Empire attracting a tax. The liberal Hungarian Associations Act enabled the establishment of lodges that finally formed the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Hungary. After 1850, several lodges were founded in Hungary. These were strongly influenced by the French Grand Orient. Austrian Freemasons moved to Hungary, where they set up the so-called border lodges. Even so, there was continuing and sharp public debate about Freemasonry in Austria itself. The liberal-minded, a not insignificant public fraction, saw the ideas of Freemasonry as an opportunity to solve the growing problem of nationality. In 1869 the non-political association “Humanitas” was founded in Vienna. In 1871 the first Austrian “Border Lodge”, Lodge “Humanitas” arose in Hungary. Three years later followed the Lodge “Future”, then the “Socrates” and “Pioneer” just to name a few. My own lodge Kosmos Lodge was established in 1907. In Vienna all of these lodges met as “non-political or humanitarian organizations”. To complete Ritual work, the Brethren travelled several times a year across the nearby border to Pressburg/Pozsony now Bratislava, Sopron/Ödenburg, and Neudörfl/Lajtaszentmiklós.
Chapter 3 Between the Wars
The collapse of the Habsburg Empire after World War I in 1918 made possible the establishment of the Grand Lodge of Vienna, founded by 14 former border lodges. From 1919 up to 1938 Grand Master Richard Schlesinger was ruling. He guaranteed a pacifistic, humanistic, internationalist, and, in contrast to the German Grand Lodges, pro-European spirit.
During his office, there was vigorous activity in the fields of charity, popular education and social welfare. However, the Freemason also tried to use the international networks to bring about reconciliation with the victors, and Schlesinger also worked towards domestic reconciliation between political opponents. Particularly well-known is the peace movement that emerged at the time, centered on our Nobel Prize for Peace recipient Br. Alfred Hermann Fried. The European political heritage of Br. Fried was continued by Br. Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, who’s PanEuropean Union was supported until 1938 by the Grand Lodge of Vienna.
At its peak there were 2,000 members in 24 lodges working together with community institutions such as the “Austrian Peace Society”, the “League for Human Rights”, and the “Ethical Community”. From 1919 to 1938, the “Viennese Freemasons Newspaper” was even sold to the public or could be easily found in some coffee houses.
In 1930 the Grand Lodge of Vienna received recognition by the United Grand Lodge of England, but previously the German Grand Lodges had withdrawn their recognition because they disliked the Jewish and Francophile influences, and because the Viennese had significantly supported the establishment of the Scottish Rite in Berlin as well as the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Germany in Hamburg, which too were aligned with a more pro-European feeling. Somewhat bizarre was that Austrians established the lodge “Lux Orientis“ in Shanghai, China under the auspices of the Grand Lodge of Vienna. This lodge existed until 1947.
Under pressure from the autocratic rule by the newly founded “Austrian Cooperate State”, following in 1933 the Lodges lost many of their members until by mid-1937 their exact number was only 1,167, yet they still admitted a few new ones. Police spies watched closely the Craft; public officials were forced to resign. However, the Grand Lodge of Vienna itself was neither forbidden nor hunted.
As part of the “Anschluss” to Nazi-Germany in March 1938 the remaining Lodges were finally extinguished. Their meeting house at Dorotheergasse 12 was partially plundered and Grand Master Schlesinger was imprisoned. He died soon afterwards. Some 100 Brethren were murdered in the Nazi concentration camps. Some 600 took refuge in States who granted asylum. The Deputy Grand Master Altmann from my Lodge immigrated to the United States where he established our daughter lodge, Humanitas.
Chapter 4 After World War II until now
At the first meeting after the end of the World War II in Vienna in 1945 exactly 48 Brethren (out of the more than 2,000 former members) came together to breathe new life into the Craft. This figure shows how fundamental was the break in tradition. The main objective of the meeting was consolidation, with support from US General Mark Clark who was Supreme Commander of American forces in Austria and a member of the Scottish Rite 32nd Degree.
The first ritual meeting was held on October 20, 1945 in Klagenfurt, Carinthia with the help of British Army members. In the same year in Vienna Karl Doppler, also Deputy Grand Master before 1938 became the new Austrian Grand Master and convened an assembly of former lodge members. As such Austrian Freemasonry was the first victim of Nazi terror but also the first organisation that resurrected. Doppler and his successor Scheichlbauer did outstanding work in re-establishing Freemasonry and founding the Grand Lodge of Austria. Support of Jewish brethren in exile was particularly important for renewing recognition by the United Grand Lodge of England in 1952. The English and their obediences in amity laid great value on the Austrians clearly recognizing the principles of the ancient and pure Freemasonry, as defined in the “Aims and Relationships of the Craft” in 1938.
In May 1969 the English-speaking Sarastro Lodge and in 1980 in the French-speaking Aux Trois Canons Lodge were founded.
HGM Kurt Baresch was in negotiation for 15 years with the Austrian Cardinal König over normalizing relationships with the Roman Catholic Church, which resulted in a modification of the Code of Canon Law on 26 November 1983, ending the excommunication which had been automatic until then.
Chapter 5 Austrian Freemasonry of Today
The 274 years of Freemasonry in Austria and its changing fate have left their mark on the quality of our organization. Public education in the tradition of Enlightenment, attention to social policy, and demanding philosophical and esoteric work are the characteristics of the debates through essays which are important in Austria. Our independent and lay view of the ritual gives us a special position for spreading FM in regions where a tight Christian straitjacket would be seen as an obstacle.
Besides the strict structures of our organisation and constitution, this way of working and specifically the essays (“Baustück” which means “building blocks“) is an important element of the Austrian style. Equally important are the private (but not secret) nature of the organization and the self-effacing public image, which are part of the appropriate restraint and low-key approach to the public. In this way, we arouse positive interest by making ourselves special. Our admission procedure is particularly stringent and high-quality, with charity an important but not decisive characteristic, in contrast to PR work which is often misunderstood elsewhere. We still have a continuous development, today there are 79 Lodges in Austria with a total of 3,700 members. They are based in all regional capitals and even in smaller towns. As a special feature Austrian Lodges are not numbered.
Particularly notable is Austria’s work in restoring or introducing Freemasonry to Eastern Europe. This has led to Austria being frequently described as a model of correct Masonic “missionary work”, and we are constantly being called on for this, including supporting quality assurance in existing systems. With Austrian involvement between 1997 and 2009 the Grand Lodges of Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Ukraine, and Slovakia were established. This is not only true for blue Masonry but also for the higher degrees.
Romania remains a mystery for most US citizens. Americans I speak to often only recognize it for romantic connections to Transylvania and the mistaken association to the Gypsies referred to as Romanis. Beyond these stories lays a country that has been a battleground between western and eastern empires throughout ancient history and in it’s more recent era was formed by a global community of intellectuals who had to sacrifice their lives for their civil rights and equal freedoms. The modern day country of Romania is only the current state of boundaries and people who’ve undergone many changes in governance and cultural revolution. Along with these changes Freemasons have ebbed and flowed through the fabric of its history. The list of famous Romanian Freemasons may not be household names here in the US, however a brief survey reveals a consistent theme of writers, philosophers, scientists, and politicians who were the most respected men of their time.
Records support that it was 1734 when Romania founded its first two Masonic lodges, which was only 17 years after the founding of the Grand Lodge of England. The two lodges, Loggia di Galazzi and Iaşi, were consecrated at a time when the country was still divided into the two Danubian Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia. The first Worshipful Master of Iaşi was the then-current reigning Lord of Moldova, Constantin Mavrocordat. For several decades Lords of the principalities would act as Masters or Brethren in the growing number of lodges. Many foreign dignitaries brought with them Masonry from surrounding territories and were among some of the most prominent members of the court until in 1777 the Turkish leadership, critical of Masonic egalitarian ideals, ordered the dethroning and murder of the then Moldovan Lord Grigore Ghica III. This marked the beginning of a new era in Romania where Freemasons were repressed, arrested, and convicted of crimes against the state. Many Masons were exiled or even executed in this period, however the Fraternity continued to inspire higher thoughts and greater deeds such as the efforts of Horea and Cloşca, who led the uprising that resulted in the abolition of serfdom in 1785 and was one of many events happening throughout Europe’s enlightenment preceding The French Revolution.
Even as Romania emerged from this dark period of Freemasonry in the early 1900’s, it can be hard to decipher the shadow of rumor from the light of truth. It’s stated that on the morning of the Paris Peace Conference in 1918, that sanctioned the internationally recognized union of Transylvania and Romania, that five members of the Romanian delegation became Freemasons or more ambiguously “received light” according to the minutes of the lodge workshop. This event is even more notable in consideration that Freemasonry had been suspended in neighboring countries including Hungary, its closest neighbor. Despite a revival of the brotherhood the most destructive event was yet to come when the Soviets imposed a communist regime in the country that outlawed Masonry and in 16 years from 1948 to 1964 shrunk the number of living identifiable Masons in the country from 1500 to a few hundred. The fraternity remained scattered and weakened until in 1990 The Grand Orient of Italy and The Grand Lodge of California with the assistance of the Grand Lodges of France and Austria reconstituted the first Romanian lodge leading to re-consecration of the Supreme Council of Romania, Portugal, and Poland in 1993. As a testament to the importance that Freemasons have had on the history of Romania, the then President of Romania, Ion Iliescu, made a speech in 2003 that declared once and for all the Fraternity’s lasting influence.
“…In particular, Masonry has contributed to the establishment of modern Romania and its unitary statehood. Yet, these facts were kept hidden in Romania for the last 50 years… In the context of globalization today, the future of a modern and civilized nation cannot be viewed outside dialogue. We need as many bridges as possible to facilitate cultural exchange. Freemasonry is part of this process. It is a communicating vessel for all the forces willing to work for the welfare of the Romanian nation, its development, and full assertion.” – Ion Iliescu
In today’s Romanian Fraternity there are similar requirements of candidates to those used here; Men age 21 and older (or 18 years if children of Masons) of any ethnic and religious background of good reputation, a belief in the immortality of the soul and in Divinity, generically called the Great Architect of the Universe, and the choice to join being of your own free will and accord. In contrast to the US, but aligned with many European lodges, is the request for a professional resume upon submission of an application. From the collected experiences of this author throughout European countries I’ve been convinced that this request is made to maintain the emphasis to bring men into the Fraternity who value education and action to support their promise to seek light and provide the duties of their kind offices to all.
Currently there are seven Grand Lodges operating in Romania, including a Grand Lodge for female Freemasons. To best understand which lodges we are in current Amity with please contact your Grand Lodge who can give the proper and recognized process for travel and Masonic correspondence.
WB:. Seann Maria, St. John’s Lodge #9
Czechia or the Czech Republic, as it is more commonly known in the United States, is a country many times divided. Like so many countries in this part of Europe it has been a part of an Empire and has had many names. The Celts were once its early settlers, later to be outnumbered by Germanic tribes and Slavs. Each one of these cultures deserves its own research to give it proper appreciation, however for the purpose of this article we will concentrate on the effect the country’s many cultures have had on Freemasonry.
In the 15th century religious division around the Catholic Church and rise of Protestantism divided the people of the area called Bohemia that would later become the largest portion of the country of Czechia. Over the next two centuries Bohemia’s ruling government, The
Austrian Empire, built an intolerance for the craft; while Brethren attuned to Protestant beliefs fled to more sympathetic lands such as England, Hungary, Poland, and the Netherlands.
The first documented freemason from Bohemia was Philip Count Kinsky who was raised in November 1731 while staying in England. He spent 12 years in London as Imperial Ambassador and upon his return became the highest Chancellor of Bohemia in Prague. Within a decade the first lodges would appear in record books coinciding with the influx of French, English, Scottish, Irish, Dutch and German military officers. It was also at this time that the Queen of the Hapsburg Empire, Maria-Theresa, and her long and shaky history with Freemasonry would begin to affect Bohemian Masons. Any studies into her life will eventually note that she made several rules of law to suppress Freemasonry yet eventually seemed to embrace Freemasons as her closest advisors and eventually her husband Francis I became both a Freemason and the Holy Roman Emperor. At a later date her son and co-regent Joseph II would become one of the largest supporters of the fraternity within Austria. This later acceptance of Freemasonry in her Empire extended into Prague where funds came from the Queen’s donations to the Masonic order building an orphanage within the city.
Prague began to flourish with Masons leading important institutions like the National Museum, the Academy of Sciences, and the National Gallery. In the late 18th century, the great composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart frequented Prague seemingly more than any other city away from Vienna and seemed to keep company exclusively with fellow Freemasons. Eventually the Craft began to relax its means of selection and the Provincial Grand Lodge of Bohemia was split into six Provincial Grand Lodges of Austria, Bohemia, Galicia, Austrian Lombardy, Siebenbürgen (Transylvania), and Hungary. The Grand Lodge of Austria was set up as the central Grand Lodge and ordered limits on the number of lodges within each Provincial Grand Lodge while simultaneously making them state protected. This attempt to protect Masonry failed to last and soon lodges closed; at first voluntarily closed under political pressure from the succeeding monarchs and later were outlawed as anti-government secret societies. It wouldn’t be until the late 19th century that Bohemian lodges began to appear in neighboring regions of Slovakia and Hungary.
Lodges in Bohemia would work strictly under their number within the jurisdiction of a foreign Grand Lodge for decades. This created chaos in the form of different rituals in different languages and amounted to tension between the lodges. World War I changed the region forever and as Czechoslovakia was formed in 1918 the diversity of Masons grew wider with new groups of Germans, Slovaks, Poles, Hungarians, Ruthenes, Jews and Gypsies, each with their own cultures and own languages. Throughout the beginning of the 20th century, there were many Masons who stepped forward to help the cause of founding native jurisdictions in the country. Among them was the famous painter Bro. Alphonse Mucha who displayed symbolism of the craft in some of his best works of art. By 1923 there were two primary Grand Lodges that claimed to be sovereign bodies of Czechoslovakia, The Grand Lodge, or more specifically “Lessing zu den drei Ringen“ (Lessing at the Three Rings), and The Grand Lodge of Czechoslovakia. The former of these names derives from the influence that the German writer Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and his famous work, The Parable of the Three Rings, had over these previously German lodges.
As the Nazi’s invaded in 1938, the Fraternity would again be scattered into exile and hiding during the siege of Europe in World War II. The Grand Lodge of Czechoslovakia would preside over scattered lodges in its jurisdiction around the world for decades. When finally Masons returned to the country en masse, they again proved divided between two major Grand Lodges. Finally, in a ceremony at Prague’s Strahov Monastery, in 2008, members of the Czech Republic’s two senior Masonic organizations finally united, when the Grand Lodge of the Czech Republic incorporated the members of the Czech Grand Orient becoming the Grand Lodge of record that stands today.
“The two grand lodges were following different traditions – one was following the Anglo-Saxon or English tradition while the other was following the French, or continental, tradition. Central Europe is a specific case where both of these tendencies were strong. But the formal dispute, which was at the core of this division of Freemasonry, has nothing to do with the Czechs, the Poles, or the Hungarians. It was therefore, after a certain time, understood that the natural evolution of Freemasonry was to unite – which we did on Saturday, March 8(2008).”
Reflecting on this history can tell us what needs to be understood when considering the Masonry in Czechoslovakia. The Freemasons of this country have historically experienced so much adversity and diversity that a careful consideration of each Mason and each lodge is necessary when trying to understand the expected customs, language, and rituals they keep. Their amity with each other and with us is a product of unique observance of all these traditions they uphold. To best understand which lodges we are in a current relationship with, please contact your Grand Lodge who can give the proper and recognized process for travel and Masonic correspondence.
WB Seann Maria
St Johns Lodge No. 9
Click the link for a listen to a recent radio interview featuring Cameron Bailey (Deputy of the Grand Master in District No. 17) and Matthew Swena (Worshipful Master of Chehalis Lodge No. 28) conducted by Peter Abbarno on KELA AM.
It has been brought to the Grand Lodge Office attention there is a FRAUDULENT EMAIL coming from Sam Roberts, Grand Secretary. It is circulating today and stating the Grand Master is requesting $5,000.00 for an accident that occurred this morning.
PLEASE DISREGARD AND DO NOT SEND MONEY. THIS IS A FRAUDULENT EMAIL.