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and an event which took place in 70 years ago on 28th November 1937
by W.Bro. B.V.S.
Masonry Universal Lodge #40
Grand Lodge Alpina of Switzerland

Note: Festive Board Speech, November 12, 2007.

Today our Lodge is celebrating its 475th meeting, What a Great Number!

Without going into numerology, the Number 4 could stand for the 4 corners of a lodge or for the 4 directions East and West, South and North from where from all over the World so many Brethren have been coming to meet at Masonry Universal for 475 times. 


475 times to gather in Geneva, in this Lodge, to net the web of our universal brotherhood - somehow to work as real webmasters well ahead the times of IT technology.


The numbers 7 and 5 are of great significance to all Masons; these numbers should therefore well deserve special reflections to be given at another occasion.


475 gatherings means a lot of time, great moments , so many initiations leading to so many achievements, but sometimes also, because this is human, to disappointments and errors, but also, because this is Masonic, to relieves and renewed regaining of strength marking the memory and history of our Lodge.


Brethren I am not a historian nor a specialist of Free Masonry in general , nor in its particular aspects in Geneva . The purpose  tonight is just to try to give you the envy to do some personal reading and research in area we do not speak that often about. Please accept, that some quotations I will make, are in the original langue in which the where  made, in French.  Let my add that it is by pure coincidence, that some aspects I will speak about, have just been considered in the last review of the Alpina magazine.


We do not know very much about the Masonic life before the 18th Century in Geneva, except from a some documents earlier to 1791 about a Lodge called “l’Union” which was one of the most active, distinguished and aristocratic one.


Briefly  mentioned , in 1791 the discipline was harsh: absent Brethren where summoned to pay a fine for absence; the membership was of  85 Br. Interesting to mention is that there where 2 categories of members, those who where co-owners of the Lodge and the others who where simple Masons.


To become a Mason was not very democratic: the entrance fee , which was of 2 Louis d’Or was extremely high; not to mention that the newly entered . apprentice had also to pay the entire cost of the reception banquet.given in his honour. 


Some of the members where therefore quite wealthy and influential, among them we find an important figure:. Prince Edward, 4th , son of King Georges III, future father of Queen Victoria. Edward was initiated on 5th August 1789. at the age of 22. Just to mention that the military education of Prince Edward was made by a Genevois, Jacob de Budé, who was a General serving England. 


The  Masonic career of Prince Edward was quite speedy. He was made a MM, two months only after his Initiation on 4th November 1789and appointed  Junior warden on 9th December.


The announcement of his departure from Geneva at is recorded  in the minutes of the Lodge meeting of 13th January 1790. as follows :


“le Vénérable en lui témoignant toute la douleur que causait à tous les différents frères son départ précipité, l’engagea à accepter les pleins pouvoirs pour entretenir et cimenter davantage de relations d‘amitié qui existent entre la Grande Loge Nationale d’Angleterre et notre Grand Orient National ; ce que le T.C.F. Edouard a accepté, en assurant que ce dont on le chargerait pour le bien de ce G.O. et notre R.L. en particulier lui serait agréable. 


Nine years after his departure from Geneva, Prince Edward became Duke of Kent.

He became Grand Master of the Grand Ancient Lodge of England in November 1813 and it was him, by the election of the Duke of Sussex , who put an end to the partition among Masonry in England with the creation UGLE.


This may explain why for more than 250 years, the Court of England had nearly always an unspoken sympathy for Geneva, just to mention as possible consequences he Victoria Hall, the Monument Brunswick, may be la  Société des Nations, etc.  etc.


May be this could also explain, among other many other reasons, why we, here in Geneva, at MUL, continuing a long Masonic tradition, feel so close to London.


In 1791 Jews  where not admitted to FM in Geneva. The candidate had to swear over the Bible that he was a Christian. The proceedings where conducted under the Scottish Right which was also adopted by l’Union des Coeurs in 1810. 


Charity was very important. Donations and all sorts of relief where granted to the poor and distressed  e.g. to people – non Masons - who lost their belongings during a fire, or  that they paid  a Watchmaker apprenticeship to a poor young man of Geneva.


The charitable activities of the Lodge contributed to build up a lesser negative perception towards Masonry among the Genevois. Philanthropy sustained by Masons is still vivid in Geneva, for  example  with the support of  the organisation of our school kitchens,. well known under the name “les cuisines scolaires”. serving every day many of our  kindergardens and primary schools.


In 1789 Geneva enters in troubled times, there where severe riots. 


On the 26th January Jean-François Fatio, junior warden of his lodge, a captain of the Garde de Genève, is shot dead at Saint-Gervais. 


Only two weeks later on 10th February Geneva has a new Constitution, written by the Conseil General, of which most  Br. of la Loge l’Union are members .


On the same day the Lodge gathers to thank the GAOTU for the peace brought back

entre tous les enfants de notre chère République.  


Relieved the Genevois sing a beautiful song, from which I’d like to give you an extract, sometime we should sing it today: 


Voici le brouillard qui s’élève,

Et revenir la clarté

Vois cette triste Genève

Elle a repris la gaieté

Une paix libre et sincère

Enfin chez nous a paru


Célébrons cette journée

Vive le dix février !

Que dans ce jour, chaque année

Nous puissions nous écrier :

Tout Genevois est mon frère

Et je l’avais méconnu


Ah ! L’eusse-tu cru, compère

Compère, l’eusse-tu cru.


The tradition to receive visitors was very strong. The records of visitors from abroad are indeed impressive..


May be this is also something which we have inherited from these days at MUL.


In 1794 the French Revolution touches  Geneva. Many members of the then existing 11 regular lodges are victims of the Revolution and deprived from their civic rights.


Geneva lives a social earthquake. It seems difficult to find out to which extend certain Lodges did become - or not - some sort of Clubs Révlutionnaires.  Two at least did.


In a similar context, there are still many questions to be answered about the origins of the French Revolution and to which extend French Masons participated to it. You all know about the credo of liberté, égalité, fraternité,  which seems very Masonic. 


The liberty to form associations and reunions of citizens as a “Droit naturel” dates back to years around the French Revolution. This right was already proclaimed by the American Constitution in 1776. In France, it was in 1790 as well as in Geneva where is was nearly suppressed in 1803 when he right to form an association was placed under strict government and police control. 


In 1830 a Movement of Regeneration and Independence had brought enough strength to re-establish the former liberties which where finally granted by the First Federal Constitution of 1848 in Art. 46 stating


“Les citoyens ont le droit de former des associations pourvu qu’il n’y ait dans le but de ces associations ou dans les moyens qu’elles emploient rien d’illicite ou de dangereux pour l’Etat”.


 This article granting the freedom to from associations not contrary to the law, the morality and decency and not dangerous for the State still exists in the prevailing federal Constitution in Art. 56.


As Masons of our constitution we are all aware and remembered  of our duties in this regard in an address at the closing of each Installation with the words  to square our conduct by the principles of morality…  and to be faithful to our Country and our Laws”.


Considering this, it may, among many other reasons, explain why, before this liberty and freedom to form association was granted, Masonry had to be secret and protected by king and rulers. You are all aware of the JW’s report  “Being armed with a drawn sword to keep of all intruders and cowans to Masonry”


Unfortunately freedom of ideas, religion and faith is intolerable in times of intolerance, Such times existed in totalitarian states and under the dictatorships and ideologies sympathetic to them in the 1930thies. 


It so happened in Switzerland with a Constitutional Incentive led by a Swiss Colonel (Colonel Fonjallaz from Lutry) addressed to the Federal Government on 31st  October 1934 asking to modify the article 56 of our Federal Constitution as follows:  .


“Les citoyens ont le droit de former des associations pourvu qu’il n’y ait dans le but de ces associations ou dans les moyens qu’elles emploient rien d’illicite ou de dangereux pour l’Etat. Cependant les associations franc-maçonniques et les loges Odd-Fellows, la  Société philanthropique « l’Union », les sociétés semblables et celles qui y sont affiliées, sont interdites en Suisse ». 


In short, they wanted  Masonic associations to be forbidden by the federal Constitution in Switzerland.


The argument used by the supporters of this Incentive was easy to be found:

they just declared that these societies were a danger for the State, and therefore in breach of the Constitution.  During a long period of three years between the deposit of the incentive and the federal vote which took place on November 28th 37 there where hatred debates all over this country, fuelled by conservative church circles and Fascist friendly movements under the name of “Union Nationale”, led by Gorges Oltramarre and his press “Le Pilori”  The debates were specially fierce in Geneva,  as Gorges Oltramarre was from Geneva and “Le Pilori” published here. .


They pretended that Masons where responsible for the joining of  Switzerland to the League of Nations (UN after WWII), that they supported Pacifism and  that they where dangerous for the State because they were dependent from universal powers abroad, especially these led by Jewish Masonic alliances .


Yet, as for every vote, the federal Government had to take a position.


On 4th September 36, a year before the vote,  the Conseil fédéral strongly takes stance against the incentive and we come to the extraordinary situation on which - in his High Authority - the Government he explains Masonry and some of its origins in an address to the Federal parliament  - and thus to the public completed by the recommendations of experts of constitutional law.


Allow me to quote in the original official version of 1936:


L’ordre des francs-maçons s’est fondé en Angleterre au début du 18ème siècle environ : il dérive probablement des corporations et de « gildes »  de tailleurs de pierres et de maçons plus anciennes. Dès l’an 1730 environ, on trouve quelques « loges » dispersées (ou Bauhütten ») en Suisse.  En 1844, elles s’associèrent en « Grande Loge Alpina ».   

and then comes a review of the « Prinicpes maçonniques généraux de la Grande Loge Alpina »  in 10 different observations or descriptions based on  principles adopted at an Alpina Great Lodge meeting in Basel in 1933. such as


I. L’Alliance franc-maçonnique est une association d’hommes libres qui fait monter son origine aux corporations  ou confréries maçonniques du moyen-âge.

Elle reconnaît encore aujourd’hui, comme moyens d’enseignement les prescriptions morales autrefois en vigueur chez ces corporations et conservées dans divers documents, notamment dans ce qu’on appelle « les anciens devoirs des Francs-Maçons ».


It would be too long here to quote all statements at length. It would certainly be worth quote them all. . Let me just give you two others:


Statement VII

La loge est un milieu paisible et neutre dans lequel les passions humaines ne doivent pas avoir accès. etc.


And number  IX. L’Alliance elle-même, son histoire, ses principes et son but ne sont point un mystère. t Cependant il n’est pas permis aux Maçons de communiquer les signes servant essentiellement à se reconnaître réciproquement et les usages propres à sauvegarder l’influence morale que la loge est appelée à exercer.


Despite the reassuring explanations given by the Government the vote was very emotional. Nearly 2 million participated at the ballot. Thanks Haven the incentive was  strongly rejected by all but one canton by 66% of the voters. In Geneva by 60%. Which was not that strong as compared to Basle with 80% . May I remeber, that in these days, in Switzerland, women did not have the right to vote.


Well – all this happened 70 years ago. Did these events leave traces ? 



Let me conclude with a few questions.


What would the ballot be today ?  


How would each of us have acted when caught in a debate in 1936 ?


How do we act when somebody fears Masonry or tells  nonsense about it ?


How cautious have we to be, when travelling in to countries not that friendly to our order ?


Do we take for granted that our relatively tolerant society, will always remain tolerant ? 



Who knows  ? -  What can we do ?



What is sure, for the present and futures times, is that our constant care, task and duty as Masons, - whenever possible - is to act for the benefit of tolerance, freedom and mutual respect: - this giving us strength inside the Lodge as brethren, and outside the Lodge  as responsible citizens




François Ruchon : Histoire de la FM à Genève de 1736 à 1900. éd. Slatkine 2004

Alain Bernheim : les débuts de la FM à Genève et en Suisse. Éd. Slatkine 1994

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