Freemasonry on the Riviera

If you’re going to the temple tonight, dear, I’d better iron your apron

FreemasonryThe Brits have brought a lot to France: sports like golf, tennis and rugby ... and, a less familiar example, Freemasonry. According to the usual history, traders from across the Channel settled in Dunkirk in 1721 and brought their aprons with them. After the Revolution, especially, native maçonnerie flourished. What’s been notable in the movement’s history is its tendency to dispute and division – there are half a dozen or more competing brands, sometimes only looking at each other with bared teeth. And, notably in recent times, there’s been an alleged involvement with the seamier side of French business. The campaigning Grasse judge Jean-Pierre Murciano declared “masonry is the power of money... it can ‘touch’ a judge, a policeman, a tax inspector, officer or other authority having the power to defeat a procedure.”

Locally, one major scandal involved la Grande Loge nationale française and Cannes’ later disgraced and jailed mayor Michel Mouillot; Jacques Medecin and his close collaborators preferred Le Grand Orient de France (Christian Estrosi, by the way, once elected to parliament, withdrew from active membership).

British masons arriving here might find the atmosphere a little different from that in Swindon or High Wycombe. They do, though, have the option of joining up with English-speaking masons. What are the possibilities? We spoke to Richard Dawe who’s based in La Garde-Freinet (Var): “Our English-speaking lodge – the Abbey Lodge – was set up in 1931. It’s interesting that quite a few French masons have joined us. They like our atmosphere – and maybe enjoy speaking English. Also we keep well clear of the controversies that beset French masonry. We’re about helping each other, charitable activity and conviviality. Anyone in the Alpes-Maritimes and the Var can give me a call to find out more.”

In Monaco I spoke to Derek Sutcher, a senior figure in the Principality’s English-speaking lodge. “We were founded in 1924, taking our name from the Port of Hercules. In an officially Catholic country, at that time, masons were disapproved of but in our case eyes were closed and we had no problem. Until quite recently we depended on the United Grand Lodge of England but this arrangement has been terminated and we are now part of the Grande Loge de Monaco. Incidentally, our meetings are at St Paul’s Church whose foundation stone was laid by the Duke of Connaught, a leading mason of his time. We are strictly English-speaking but apart from that we welcome any mason who wants to join us.”