The secretive international organisation the Freemasons tends to follow two main traditions, broadly-speaking English and French. The Czech Republic was unusual in that both traditions of Freemasonry were followed – until the weekend that is, when the country’s two grand lodges merged.
At a ceremony at Prague’s Strahov Monastery on Saturday members of the Czech Republic’s two senior Masonic organisations – known as grand lodges – came together and united, when the Grand Lodge of the Czech Republic incorporated the members of the Czech Grand Orient. Marc Verdier, who is French, is the First Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the Czech Republic. He explains the difference between the two grand lodges.
“The two grand lodges were following different traditions – one was following the Anglo-Saxon or English tradition while the other was following the French, or continental, tradition. Central Europe is a specific case where both of these tendencies were strong. But the formal dispute, which was at the core of this division of Freemasonry, has nothing to do with the Czechs, the Poles, or the Hungarians. It was therefore, after a certain time, understood that the natural evolution of Freemasonry was to unite – which we did on Saturday, March 8.”
The dispute that divided Freemasons worldwide between the followers of the English, or regular, tradition, and the adherents to the liberal French custom had to do with a formal argument over whether the Bible should be open during masonic meetings. Is it common for the grand lodges to merge?
“It is very unusual that different grand lodges unite or merge, as it has been the case here. I think it is the second or third time this has happened throughout the world. But this is also due to the fact that there are only a very few countries where you see these two streams or tendencies of Freemasonry.”
Today, there are about 500 freemasons in the Czech Republic, a country which before the Second World War had some 3000 masonic brethren. Among their midst were prominent Czechoslovak figures of the time including President Edvard Beneš, Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk, the Čapek brothers, and many others. Marc Verdier says Czechs are still very much interested in becoming members of this legendary society.
“What makes me personally very happy is to see many young people in free masonry. Young means 30, 35, 40 years old – not only, as you would see in some other countries, old and gouty gentlemen in their late 70s and early 80s. We have a young and dynamic freemasonry in this country, and this is very satisfactory.”
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