This particular weekend involved the re-election of their Grand Master, their Annual Meeting, and all of the dinners, tours, banquet, and celebratory activities associated with the event – all organized by the incumbent Grand Master. The Spanish Grand Master serves a term of four years and can run for re-election any number of times. The current Spanish Grand Master, MW Bro. Oscar Ortega, has been in the Grand East for 8 years (2 terms), and was seeking a third term.
The election of the Grand Master occurs towards the end of the two-day conference, so if an unexpected result occurs, the event can turn out to be quite awkward. Thankfully, this year there were no surprises, and MW Bro. Oscar Ortega was re-elected for his third four-year term.
One of the more interesting events to me was a conference MW Bro. Ortega organized of the attending visiting delegations held on the first afternoon of the meeting. These men were the Grand Masters and Deputy Grand Masters of countries throughout the world: Portugal, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Italy, Serbia, Albania, Moldova, Macedonia, the Ivory Coast, Paraguay, Germany, Austria, Brazil, Utah, New York, and others.
The room had place-markers for each Grand Jurisdiction and was arranged with long tables in a “U” shape. MW Bro. Ortega chaired the meeting and he went around the room in order. Each delegation was offered the opportunity to provide an update on the status of Freemasonry within their country, and to highlight any issues or concerns. The meeting proved to be a lively and unique experience for me!
In the United States, we are accustomed to a provincial outlook, where our attention tends to focus on U.S. Freemasonry and its challenges: membership growth or decline, code issues, relationship issues among state jurisdictions, budgets, buildings, Shriners, Widow’s Sons, and so on. It is a revelation to see some of the serious and life-affecting challenges that are faced by other countries.
They are dealing with wars and conflicts (Russia-Georgia, Russia-Ukraine, Serbia and the former Yugoslavia countries, the Middle-East, South America, and many more), worrying about the very survival of Freemasonry, let alone its growth.
They also face some serious challenges with whom to recognize. It is very difficult to figure out legitimate Masonic bodies, particularly when they may even share the same name! And there seems to be a constant flow of new countries and organizations who seek to legitimize their Masonic identity. Some recent applicants included Lichtenstein, and entities from Mexico and Paraguay.
That afternoon’s conference significantly helped to expose and discuss these issues in a productive and brotherly manner. This type of discussion, by the way, is not the norm for such conferences. After 8 years as a Grand Master in the midst of Europe, MW Bro. Ortega enjoys the respect of all who attended the conference, so he was in a somewhat unique position to offer advice.
There was some direct but respectful discussion. I was struck by the fact that Masonic etiquette prevailed, despite some very difficult and frank comments.
One additional benefit to the experience was a better understanding of the history of Freemasonry in Spain – and a desire to know more. Of course, Spain is proud of its long and interesting history.
Freemasonry was introduced to Madrid and Gibraltar in 1728, not long after the formation of modern Freemasonry in England. In fact, the first Lodges in Madrid (La Matritense) and Gibraltar (Lodge of St John of Jerusalem) were both English Lodges – which contributed to the suspicion that continued for centuries, that Freemasonry was a threatening foreign influence.
The Catholic Church has been tightly integrated with the long history of Spain, and it has been a major influence. From the outset of the introduction of Freemasonry in Spain, there was a conflict between the Church and Freemasons. A discussion on this topic would fill a book – and there are many good references available to explore this conflict.
Consequently, the growth of Masonic Lodges from 1728 until 1936 fluctuated with the zeal in which Masons were persecuted by the Inquisition and the Spanish monarchy. A succession of foreigners as Masonic influencers and even Grand Masters, including Napoleon and his brother Joseph, continued to reinforce the perception within Spain that Freemasonry was a tool of foreigners.
This suspicion reached a boiling point in 1936 and the Spanish Civil War, which pitted the “Nationalists” (Military, Church, and landowners, supported by Nazi Germany) against the “Republicans” (bourgeois, middle-class, communists, and socialists, supported by Russia.)
The Freemasons, although they had members in both camps, were associated with “free-thinkers” in the Republican side. They advocated things such as women’s suffrage, free and open elections, and schools free from Church control. All of this was anathema to the Nationalists. Masons were viciously persecuted by the Nationalists, led by General Francisco Franco. This is even more surprising, when one considers that General Franco’s father and brothers were all Freemasons.
By 1940, Franco had won the Civil War and consolidated control. Freemasonry was outlawed in Spain until 1979, four years after Franco’s death. To even be accused of being a Mason meant loss of all property, employment, and a prison sentence. The authorities used Lodge records to track down all members. Lodges who continued to work resorted to no meeting minutes and no membership records. Freemasonry did not disappear in Spain, but it remained hidden until it could again thrive. It is alive and well today.
Even a cursory study of the history of Freemasonry in Spain will convince a reader that Spanish members of our Craft have paid a far higher price than we can understand here in the United States. Other than the Morgan Affair (about 1826), Freemasonry has been a well-established and respected part of the fabric of our society. For interested members, I’d recommend a quick Google search on the history of Freemasonry in Spain, which will lead you to many quick reads and in-depth articles and books on the subject. It will help you to better appreciate the gifts which we enjoy as Freemasons in the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia in Washington DC.