A Short History of Freemasonry in France
When only a minority of the population could read and write, a travelling mason had difficulty in proving to fellow masons outside his own town that he was an experienced craftsman and a trustworthy man. To avoid this difficulty, masons in important towns decided to share with all groups of masons or Lodges the same professional secrets. This was so that all masons in the country could recognise all the other masons of the country as experienced craftsmen and trustworthy men. Thus when an apprentice was considered as sufficiently capable in his work and was an honest God-fearing man, he was admitted into a professional Lodge and entrusted with the secret signs, tokens and words which permitted him to be readily accepted as a good mason throughout the country.
The membership of certain of the Masons’ Lodges became so important that certain well known and trustworthy men, who were not operative masons, were admitted into a Lodge to undertake organization and other duties. Such “speculative masons” appreciated so much the good work of the “active masons” that they formed new lodges in which they in turn admitted other honest God-fearing men who were not operative masons. The “free and accepted masons” lodges prospered and were active for many years and they adopted means to fraternise with the members of similar lodges in other countries and created in each country a “Grand Lodge” to maintain the pure aims and organization of the early lodges.
Thus in 1717 the first Grand Lodge was formed in England, followed by others in Scotland and Ireland. English seamen frequenting French ports formed some of the oldest Lodges in France, one of which is our Lodge Anglaise No. 2 at Bordeaux. Together with lodges created by refugees coming from England and Scotland, such lodges formed the basis of the first Grand Lodge in France, which took eventually the name of Grand Orient.
In its early days masonry in France met with a certain hostility by both the King and the Pope and the fundamental basis of freemasonry was difficult to follow. Indeed, in 1877 the Grand Orient was led to suppress the more important “Landmarks of Masonry” which included a belief in the Great Architect of the Universe.
Soon after that the United Grand Lodge of England, followed by all regular Grand Lodges, withdrew recognition from the Grand Orient.
The Grand Lodge of France was created in 1894 with the blessing of the Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. It followed pretty much the same path as the Grand Orient and so regular masonry was in consequence dead in France until 1910.
At that time, some eminent masons of the Grand Orient, headed by Edouard de Riboucourt, perturbed to see their Obedience deviate so far from the true aims of masonry, decided to react. They reopened under the Grand Orient a lodge named “Le Centre des Amis,” which had been in darkness for quite a century and which adopted the ritual of the Rectified Rite. After three years activity, the then Grand Master withdrew his recognition, saying that the reference to the Great Architect had no significance.
The consequence was that the “Centre des Amis” and “La Loge Anglaise” left the Grand Orient and on 5th November 1913, with the help and encouragement of English masons, particularly Bro. Roerich of Swiss nationality and a Grand Officer of the United Grand Lodge of England, they founded the Grande Loge Nationale Independent et Reguliere [since changed to Grande Loge National Française]. At that time a number of English masons in Paris were contemplating the formation of a lodge in Paris, but it was only on 30th June 1914 that St Georges Loge No. 3 was consecrated, thus providing the three lodges necessary for the nucleus of a true Grand Lodge.
The Great War broke out in August 1914 and the progress of the new Grand Lodge was slow and difficult. However, a number of lodges were consecrated during those four terrible years, mainly English speaking lodges, military in origin including Jeanne d’Arc No. 5, Rouen & Donoughmore No. 6 in Boulogne-sur-Mer [now “Godefroi de Bouillon”].
After the war progress was difficult but 20 new lodges were created and are still flourishing, including English speaking lodges, Britannic No. 9, Fidelity No. 10, Georgian No. 11 and Builders of the Silent City No. 12. Despite the work of M. W. Bro. Vivrel and Rt. W. Bro. Hewson, only 9 lodges used a ritual in French, French candidates, being so rare.
During the Second World War all masonic lodges in France were closed and the Grande Loge Nationale Française lost its premises and records. After the war, headed by M.W.Bro. Vivrel and R.W.Bro. W. H. Robinson, who had put on one side certain charitable funds, a few devoted Brethren found new premises and created an entirely new internal organisation. At first a few lodges were reported in cold temporary premises [overcoats were worn in Loge], pre-war members were contacted and contacts were renewed with regular Grand Lodges all over the world. Many of our French members were so occupied in opening again their homes, so that our English Brethren, more numerous than them at the time, took over most of the hard work, even to undertake membership of some of the French speaking lodges to avoid closing them down. The reopening of the Godefroi de Bouillon Loge No. 6 in 1948 was a great encouragement to the team of “reorganisers” in Paris. The frequent visits and help from the members of La France Lodge from London, stimulated our hard worked team.
In November 1913 the founders of Grande Loge Nationale had hoped that many of their friends in lodges, which in themselves were regular except for the fact that they belonged to an irregular obedience, would eventually join them in their new regular Grand Lodge. Unfortunately two wars in France had delayed the realisation of their hopes. In 1958 however negotiations were undertaken with the non-recognised obedience’s in France with a view to find means for all the masons who accepted the “Landmarks” to become regular. By special dispensation, R.W. Bro. W. H. Robinson visited lodges outside the Grande Loge Nationale and found that many of the members and lodges visited, welcomed our initiative.
In 1958 the Grand Lodge of the Rectified Rite joined forces with the G.L.N.F. Two years later 1,200 members of the Grande Loge de France and the leading dignitaries of the Supreme Council, anxious to work in the spirit of regularity, came over to the G.L.N.F.
And it was in 1967 that the effort and patience of many years was finally crowned.
On 9th June 1967 we inaugurated our building with ceremonies of hitherto unknown glory, 14 Grand Masters, 10 Past Grand Masters, 55 guests and delegates from all over the world were present at the ceremony and various receptions were held in their honour, including that at the Pavillon Henri IV at Saint-Germain-en-Laye where about 160 Grand Officers were present including the Grand Masters of England [Lord Scarborough], Scotland, Ireland, Germany and Holland as regards Europe and numbers of Grand Masters from the United States as well as Scandinavia.
The dedication of our building was an act of faith in our conviction that Freemasonry will develop amongst men of good will.
After these great movements candidates joined our lodges in greater numbers and many new lodges were opened but unfortunately Storm Clouds were around the corner and with the New Grand Master in 2007 came problems which resulted in withdrawal of recognition from most Regular Grand Lodges around the world.
Thankfully these were finally resolved and recognition regained under the leadership of our new Grand Master M.W. Bro. Jean-Pierre SERVEL who supports and continues this the realisation of the dreams of the original founders of our Grand Loge.
It is a great joy for those remaining of the English and French masons who worked so hard to help regular Freemasonry flourish in France, to know that the French masons in the G.L.N.F. coming from all directions, are working together in harmony and in complete control of the organisation.
At the end of 2014, the G.L.N.F had 1152 Loges and over 24,000 Members.