Visiting a Different Museum

the rue Cadet
The rue Cadet is not long or wide or very important,
except for a museum in it.

Learning About Freemasons at the Grand Orient

Paris:- Wednesday, 5. November 1997:- A week ago, Thirza Vallois and I were snooping around the boulevard des Italiens end of the Grands Boulevards. In the course of telling me far more than I could absorb, she mentioned that I should take a look at the museum of the Francs-Maçons in the rue Cadet.

In an earlier life as a freelance press cartoonist, I was a card-carrying union member, in the cartoonist's section of one of the big French unions. In this one - out of three or four unions - there were about 120 active members at the time.

By 'active,' I mean paid-up. Once a year, we had a general meeting - to see how strong we were - and to complain about how weak we were becoming - and this used to be at some union hall near métro Cadet. The rest of the year, I wouldn't see any of these colleagues - comrades! - except by chance; passing on stairs on the way to or from editorial offices.

Before today, then, this was my sum total of knowledge of the rue Cadet. I come out of the same métro station as I did for the union's meetings. The meeting were always in November, but later in the day, and it was always raining. It is almost raining today.

The entry to the larger part of the rue Cadet is across the wide rue Fayette, but the shorter part, to the right, runs one Grand Orient building block up to the rue Lamartine. The Petit Journal took up all of that block from Fayette to Lamartine.

The Petite Journal was Paris' first 'penny' paper; founded in 1863 by Moïse Millaud; the paper was taken over in 1883 by Marinoni, the inventor of the rotation press. By 1884, the Petit Journal had a daily print run of 600,000 and it was up to 900,000 in 1893.

Across the rue Fayette, the larger part of the rue Cadet is pretty much a market street with a number of food shops.

The home of the Grand Orient; museum and bookshop.

Since 1857, number 16. rue Cadet has been the Masonic Lodge of the Grand-Orient du France and the Musée du Grand Orient is located here as well.

In 1700, the Prince de Monaco owned a 'pied-a-terre' here. Later, in 1725, it was rented by Charpentier, senior, to the duc de Richelieu. It became the property in 1760 of Savary, who was the big boss of the water and forests of Normandy. In 1780, Cordier de Bégars, marquis de La Londe, was the owner.

The other half, at number 18 - was the location of the Casino Cadet, founded by Pelagot, on top of hotel owned in turn by Maréchal Clausel in 1830, and in 1850 by Prince Murat.

When it opened on 4. February 1859, the Casino Cadet was a big hall for concerts and balls and Le Figaro gave triangle plate a big party here on 12. February 1860, for the benefit of debtors locked up in the Clichy prison. Closed and opened several times - in 1859 and 1868 - it became the printing plant in 1873 for the 'XIXe Siècle.'

Before this afternoon, what I knew about Masons or Freemasonry, could fit handily on the head of a pin.

Since I don't see any signs pointing to the museum, I go into a bookshop and ask for directions. I am directed to the next door further along.

The total length of the rue Cadet is about 300 metres and the distance from the doorway of - I guess it is number 16 - to the museum at the rear, is about half of this.

There is no entry charge; and there are no other visitors. I do a tour of the large and high-ceilinged room after the guardian tells me where to start. There are many displays with many items in them.

In Europe, from the 11th century onwards, guilds of artisans were formed. They had their distinctive - working - costumes and their own particular habits. Among these, were the builders, with knowledge of the 'art royal' - geometry and architecture - and they included the stone cutters, the carpenters and other craftsmen: these were the builders of the cathedrals.

They considered that they were participating in sacred work, in constructing virtual 'books of stone' - the carved facades of the cathedrals. From this they established a connection between the knowledge of 'how-to-do-it' and spiritualism.

As a practical matter, they lived in 'lodges' at the base of the outside the walls of cathedrals under construction. As master craftsmen - practically the only ones of their day other than weapons makers - they conceived of simple initiation rites into their trades.

As most of the big churches took generations to build, they passed on their professional secrets to apprentices; who in turn eventually became journeymen, and the at top level, there were the master-masons. With the completion of the big projects in the 14th century, this whole caste of craftsmen nearly disappeared entirely.

The discipline of the practical knowledge of building is the basis of modern Freemasonry. The masons of the middle ages were the 'operatives.' In 18th century England, the traditions of the mediaeval builders were borrowed as was their name - forming a connection between the past - mainly catholic workers, until the end of the middle boucherie Chevaline ages - and the formation of the 'symbolic' masons who were preoccupied by 'free thought.' These were mainly bourgeois and aristocratic protestants.

These philosophies were discussed by Freemasons in the back rooms of taverns; often followed by fraternal banquets. They took their ideas away from the meetings and practiced them in open society; by extending charity to those in need, for example.

There aren't a lot of butchers selling horsemeat in Paris, but there are some in this area of the ninth arrondissement.

These diverse groups eventually felt the need to assemble into an over-all group, to regulate the rules of the various lodges. In 1717, four London lodges formed the Grand Lodge of London. It became Grand Lodge of England in 1738.

The Anderson Constitution of 1723, was formulated by the Scot, James Anderson, assisted by a physics professor, Jean-Théophile Désaguliers - who had emigrated to England after the revocation of the Edit of Nantes. This constitution was based on what remained of texts by 'operative' masons, with 'speculative' Freemason text added.

At the birth of institutional Freemasonry, membership was aristocratic or intellectual, so it was immediately fashionable. This included royal members, even though it bothered the leaders of the Anglican church that this movement was not under its control. Rituals became more elaborate. Free-thinking was tolerated in the lodges, but belief in the bible was maintained. Membership was not open to slaves, servants, atheists or women.

In 1730 freemasonry moved to France. Reactionary tendencies caused the separation of the Grand Loge de France, begun in 1738, from the Grand Loge Nationale de France - which took the name of Grand Orient de France in 1773. The dispute between the two movements lasted until the Revolution. In 1789, the Grand Orient had 25,000 members in 700 lodges.

One of the oddities of the masons in France was the immediate hostility of the church. In 1738 and 1751 freemasons were ex-communicated, by two different popes; because Freemasons accepted Protestants, Jews and Atheists.

The established Catholic church didn't like masonic secrets either. When these 'secrets' were made public, they were relayed to the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal, but the parliament in Paris refused to recognize the pope's ex-communications of French Freemasons.

During the revolution there were masons, or 'brothers,' with the Etats Generaux. There were Republican lodges and masons who believed in 'Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité - but there were a lot of lodges closed too. Aristocratic masons went into exile. An exile priest, Augustin Barruel, wrote a book outlining the 'Masonic Plot' against the church and the royal state - and this book has never disappeared.

Masons held on during the Consulat, regained strength during the First Empire - controlled by Napoléon - increased their charitable works - and more military officers and dignitaries joined, making the lodges more resistant to the whims of passing governments. However, priests quit lodges in 1801 under papal pressure.

Officers and aristocrats quit too in 1830 when Louis-Philippe wanted to retain church support. Membership was mainly bourgeois by 1860 - and then these were replaced by artisans and petit-bourgeois; who had a direct interest in maintaining philanthropy; creches, lay schools and asylums

The period of the Second Empire from 1852 to 1870 forced Freemasons into exile. As a result, the Grand Orient became anti-Imperialist; Socialist ideals became normal.

During the Commune of 1871, Freemasons were divided, but tried to avoid bloodshed. After talking in vain with the Thiers government on 26. April, 6,000 Freemasons marched to Paris' city hall on 29. April and placed their banners on the barricades. They said they would defend them if necessary against government troops and they were forced to. After the defeat of the Commune, many Freemasons were executed, or exiled; until the amnesty of 1880.

After the Commune, royalty and church were against Republicans and.... Freemasons. The Grand Orient therefore voted in 1877 for the suppression in the belief in a deity and the concept of the immortality of the soul.

The Grand Lodge of Britain thought the French Lodges had gone too far with their liberalism, and severed relations. The French Freemasons became more Republican and helped create the League of Human Rights in 1898. From 1900, the Grand Orient became more Socialist in Paris, while being more Radical in the countryside.

Servants were admitted in 1789 and slavery was abolished by the Freemason, Victor Schoelcher, deputy of the Antilles, in 1848.

In any case, the power of Freemasons within the corridors of power was never as strong as Freemasons or their opponents believed - as was proved when they were outlawed in the Soviet Union in 1919, in Italy in 1925, in Germany in 1933, in Spain in 1936, and in Vichy France in 1940.

Vichy propaganda blamed Freemasons for the war and France's defeat and characterized Freemasons as servants of foreign Jewish interests, supporters of English resistance to Hitler as well as supporters of the Communist International.

Laws passed by Vichy in 1940 forbade 'secret' societies - even though masonic groups were legally registered under France's 1901 Law of Associations and were not, therefore, secret.

A Nazi-Vichy co-produced film entitled 'Forces Occultes' was shown in France. Lodges were looted, archives were stolen - although Mason's Tools plate some recovered after the war in Russia, where they had been kept after the Soviet invasion of Germany.

A list of Freemasons was published by the government in 1941, containing 15,000 names. This list allowed Freemasons to be excluded from government jobs as well as making it possible to be sought by the Vichy militia or the Gestapo.

Deported masons - about 1000 - re-formed lodges in the concentration camps. In France, they supported the Resistance and in 1943 General De Gaulle annulled Vichy's anti-masonic laws. In all, 545 Freemasons were shot or died in the camps.

Weakened by the war, the Freemasons have only slowly recovered. In 1985, except for one major lodge, Freemasons voted for the League Against Antisemitism and Racism and the League of Human Rights.

There are nine synagogues within 500 metres of the location of the Grand Orient lodge in the rue Cadet.

Masons make few public displays in France today. They came out in force in support of non-religious state schooling, against the Anti-Semitic bombing in the rue Copernic in 1980, and were recently active against a new government education law in 1994.

Jean-Marie Le Pen is reported to have said, "Aprés le terrorisme moyen-oriental et proche-oriental, voici le terrorisme grand-oriental." This is almost polite compared with comments made about Freemasons by Charles Maurras, Colonel François de la Roque, Adolf Hilter and Maréchal Pétain.

The following names are of some well-known Freemasons: Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, Juan Gris, Marc Chagall, Franz List, Léon Gambetta, Jules Ferry, Léopold 1st, Edouard VII, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Félix Faure, produits d'Auvergne Marcel Sembat, Henri Dunant, Joseph Joffre, Count Basie, Pierre Mendès-France, Winston Churchill, Henry Ford, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford and André Citroën.

This pleasant shop has everything you can't find at the butcher's - across the street.

The Grand Orient de France is the largest lodge in France today with about 38,000 members, divided into 900 lodges; some outside France. There are perhaps another 75,000 Freemasons in all the other lodges together.

From what I can gather, Freemasons are disliked or feared because they are not in awe of organized religion and they are generally pro-Republican and pro-Human Rights. Freemasons believe in rational thought, doing charitable works and keeping their heads down.

If they like to have some ceremonial mumbo-jumbo, that seems to be harmless enough. As for 'secrets,' there is a very public museum and bookstore in the rue Cadet, where you can find out all you want to know - and maybe much more.

The rest of the street, down to the rue du Faubourg Montmartre, has more food shops and there is a café at the end, where I treat myself to a double.


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