The Masonic Legacy as Myth and Reality, 1700–2000

Friday, June 8, 2001–Saturday, June 9, 2001
All Day

William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
2520 Cimarron Street

—a conference organized by Margaret Jacob, University of California, Los Angeles, and Paolo Fabbri, University of Bologna

co-sponsored by the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice

British freemasonry first flourished in the space opened by the Revolution Settlement of 1689. Within a few decades the lodges had migrated onto the Continent, and the specifically British cultural forms exported—frequent elections, an ideology of equality and merit, an emphasis on internal order and self-governance—made the lodges suspect to Continental authorities, particularly in absolutist countries. The Papal condemnation of 1738 enhanced the suspicion, and, in Catholic Europe, spies and police watched the earliest lodges closely. In most places, however, Masonic lodges had become commonplace by 1750 and counted perhaps as many as 50,000 men and 1,000 women as members. In Catholic Europe especially—in Naples and Venice, for example—the lodges were hotbeds of enlightened conversation. Yet hostile commentators as early as mid-century laid emphasis upon conspiracy or hinted at “sodomy” and immorality within the lodges. The trickle of anti-Masonic literature from mid-century became a torrent in France by the autumn of 1789. From then onwards finding the nature of freemasonry—separating the myths about the lodges and their propensities from the reality&mash;becomes immensely difficult, particularly in Catholic countries that were late to shed absolutist forms of government and to secularize. The conference focuses on the various eighteenth-century contexts within which European freemasonry developed.