A BRIEF HISTORY OF FREEMASONRY IN MALTA
Edited by A.A. Pisani
With special acknowledgement to Dr. Antoine J. Agius upon whose extensive researches this work is based
On 18th November 2004, Marfa, in Malta, hosted an historic event when with all due ceremony The Sovereign Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Malta was formally Instituted and Consecrated by the Grand Lodge of Ireland. This act was attended and witnessed by Delegations from: The Grand Lodge of Ireland; United Grand Lodge of England; The Grand Lodge of Scotland; The National Grand Lodge of France; The United Grand Lodges of Germany; The Grand Lodge of Norway; The Grand Lodge of Turkey; The Regular Grand Lodge of Italy; and The Grand Lodge of the Czech Republic.
This august attendance was enabled by United Grand Lodge of England, the mother of all Grand Lodges, in its Quarterly Communication of 8th September 2004, granting prospective Recognition of this Grand Lodge from the moment of formal Constitution. This significant action obviated many years it might otherwise have taken for formal Recognition to be achieved and was widely appreciated and applauded on all sides. The presence of such distinguished Representation for the Constituting of this Grand Lodge, and the installation of its Maltese first Grand Master, the Most Worshipful Brother Joseph P. Cordina, made it a notable occasion in Malta.
The circumstance of this Recognition probably owes much to the history of Freemasonry in the Islands of Malta; and to the honoured memory of the many recorded and unrecorded Brothers who practised and upheld the traditions of The Craft in face of fierce opposition and personal privation. Fact and legend are interwoven in the colourful mosaic that is Malta’s heritage, and the origins of Freemasonry in this tableau are inevitably uncertain. Men have ever bonded in brotherhood in the face of perceived threat; particularly when affecting their traditions and freedoms; often in coteries shaded from an intolerant and persecuting social order. What they called themselves was less significant than how they discreetly identified their own in the prerequisite of strict confidentiality to protect and advance the collective ambition. It is thus not surprising that terminology of ‘Brothers’, ‘Knights Templar ’, ‘Order of Masons’, ‘Grand Masters’, ‘Knights of St. John’, ‘Order of Malta’, ‘Knights Hospitaler’, and more, are bewildering and sometimes synonymous in many an appreciation of Freemasonry in Malta.
In his 1880 ‘History of Freemasonry in the District of Malta’, A.M. Broadley has it that ‘Masonry existed and flourished exceedingly in Malta during the dominion of the Knights of the Hospital’. He cites William Preston as claiming ‘at a comparatively remote period, the Order of Malta was the active protector of the Order of Masons’: and further, ‘that Masonry declined with the end (Edward V-Richard III (1483-1485)) of the English Plantagenet Dynasty but revived under the patronage of Master and Fellows of the Order of St. John at Rhodes, who assembled their Grand Lodge in 1500; identifying Henry Tudor as their Protector following his accession as Henry VII of England in 1485’.
Certainly the 24th March 1530 donation, by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V., of the Maltese Islands and Tripoli to the Knights Hospitalers of St. John of Jerusalem (subsequently ‘of Rhodes’ and later ‘of Malta’) (and the oldest Order of Christian chivalry), was a significant early event: and Malta was to remain under the authoritative control of this Order until the brief occupation by France in 1798-1800.
The earliest reference to a Masonic (Warranted) Lodge in Malta is in an extant French document dating at 14th February 1730; noting a donation of an annual 150 Scudi by Bailiff Wolfgang Philip Guttenberg, a notable dignitary of the Order of the Knights of St. John, to establish a Lodge named Parfait Harmonie, operating under the Marseilles Jurisdiction. By the year 1741 the Craft was established and practised to an extent that it attracted the unwelcome attention of the Catholic Inquisition that pursued its practitioners, obliging several Knights of the Order together with Maltese Nobles to leave these Islands. Ironically yet unsurprisingly it is the records of the Inquisition that provide most recorded evidence of Masonic activity.
The foremost of this evidence is the ‘Processo Lante’, dated 1776, which deals in great detail with events of 1756 when Manuel Pinto de Fonesca was Grand Master of the Order of St. John (1741-1773). It further refers to the sympathetic tolerance of Masonic allegiances by Emmanuel De Rohan, Grand Master of the Order of St. John (1775-1797) (of whom A.M. Broadley writes ‘was initiated into Freemasonry, presumably in Parma, by the Duke of Parma’); and who is elsewhere recorded as having been severely censored by Rome for his failure to promptly enforce an anti-Masonic Papal Bull in Malta.
The first Masonic Lodges in Malta were under French Warrants, notably obtained from Marseilles. However, on 17th June 1788 and under the guidance of Count von Kollowrat, the ‘Scotch Lodge of St. John of Marseilles’ petitioned the ‘Grand Lodge of the Moderns’ in England to obtain an English Warrant. This petition was acceded and under the awarded Warrant was named ‘The Lodge of St. John of Secrecy and Harmony’. Significantly the petition numbered among its membership the most important members of the Order of St. John; indeed the first Master of this Lodge, Jean Baptise Tommasi, was destined to be a future Grand Master of the Order of St. John. The circumstance and date when this Lodge ceased to operate is uncertain but preceded the 1813 Union Roll of the Lodges that were to come under the jurisdiction of United Grand Lodge of England.
There is little question but that Regular Freemasonry was imported to the Maltese Islands primarily via the presence of foreign military personnel. That Maltese nationals were initiated into Masonic lodges established by these brethren is a matter of record. It is also a fact that many Maltese nationals journeyed from their homeland to return as Masons with Mother Lodges far distant from Malta’s shores.
The occupation of these Islands by Napoleonic France during 1798-1800 probably witnessed an expansion of Freemasonry although there is scant evidence to confirm this. Anecdotal witness to this, in the period following the ending of French occupation in 1800, is the French prisoners-of-war formation of a Lodge named ‘Les Amis en Captivite’, probably in 1811 under a Marseilles Warrant. The ever-present Catholic abhorrence and intolerance of Freemasonry was never better exemplified than when local priests incensed a rioting mob to attack the gaol by attributing a severe drought, and the incidence of disease stricken horses, ‘to Masonic activities by the gaoled prisoners’. This established reference then most oddly records that “when finding no Masons present, the demonstrators fell amongst themselves” !
The question of Napoleon Bonaparte himself being a Freemason remains open: some reason he never was; others suggest he was initiated whilst in Egypt; whilst yet others maintain he was initiated in a French Regimental ‘Arme Philadelphe’ Lodge (within the Ecossais-Primitive Rite of Narbonne), whilst in Malta between 12th – 19th June 1798. In the context of these notes it is perhaps more pertinent to consider Bro. Marshal Ney’s motives in permitting Prussian Bro. General Blucher to decisively influence the outcome of the 1815 Battle of Waterloo; and how this resonates of conflicting loyalties; as notably witnessed in the questionable actions of English Officers in the American War of Independence, which were attributed to Masonic beliefs and persuasions. In the case of ‘Waterloo’, a decisive French defeat shaping European history, and effectively cementing English influence in Malta for 150 years.
With the bulk of French prisoners repatriated during the summer of 1814, ‘Les Amis en Captivite’ Lodge membership was essentially non-French, and on 6th October 1819 the Lodge obtained a Warrant from United Grand Lodge of England. Numbered 716, and presumably name unchanged, it was permitted to Work in Italian and remained on the official UGLE list until at least 1824; this despite being censored and suspended in 1820 by the English Governor Sir Thomas Maitland, by reason of infiltration by the ‘carbonari’; a secret society dedicated to uniting the various States within the Italian peninsula.
Freemasonry prospered during the period of British rule in Malta, and certainly in the early years much was owed to the work and influence of Bro. Waller Rodwell Wright. In 1814, Wright was appointed President of H.M. Court of Appeal and senior member of the Supreme Council of Jurisdiction in Malta; and was to become Provincial Grand Master of the Province of Malta and Gozo until his death in April 1826. Wright figured highly in English Freemasonry and was signatory to the Act of Union of the two English Grand Lodges on the first of December 1813.
In 1815, via Bro. Wright, twenty-five regular Freemasons in Malta wrote to the English Governor seeking permission to create a Masonic Lodge in Malta. Dispensation was granted by United Grand Lodge of England and subsequently a Warrant, signed by Grand Master the Duke of Sussex and dated 27th November 1815, was issued in the name of ‘The Lodge of St. John and St. Paul No. 349’. Never free of controversy in Malta, the weekly meetings of the newly formed Lodge soon received the public censure of the Bishop of Malta, Monseigneur Mattei, who condemned Masonic activity as ‘subversive of the Catholic religion and striking at the very roots of Christianity’. Sir Thomas Maitland dismissed the Bishop’s complaint and upheld the right to practise the Craft in Malta.
The ‘Lodge of St. John and St. Paul’ first met in Hope Tavern on South Street, Valletta, and continues to this day as the oldest Masonic Lodge in Malta. A second Lodge, the ‘Union of Malta’ was Warranted on 17th June 1831; to the chagrin of the Bishop of Malta, Monseigneur Francesco Saverio Caruana who, in 1843, railed against ‘secret societies in general and Freemasonry in particular’. Progressively, additional Lodges were founded and by 1900 there were seven with a membership of 584 Masons; increasing to an overall membership of 1484 by the end of World War I; with United Grand Lodge of England having created the ‘Masonic District of Malta’ with its District Grand Master and Officers. In addition to this English Constitution representation on the Island there were two lodges of the Irish Constitution, ‘Leinster Lodge No. 387’, founded in 1851, and ‘Abercorn Lodge No.273’ founded in 1899; together with ‘The Lodge of St. Andrew No. 966’ of the Scottish Constitution, founded in 1906.
Significant as this increase in membership was however, there was not a proportionate increase in the number of Maltese nationals entering Freemasonry within Malta itself. Opinions vary as to why this was so; perhaps the predominance of Roman Catholicism in Malta with its bitter antipathy to Freemasonry was a primary cause; possibly it was that the English, Irish and Scottish Lodges were too ‘colonial’, and unattractive to nationally-minded individuals. The answer likely lays in an amalgam of these and other circumstances.
World War II saw Malta pay an enormous price for its earlier benefits as a strategic Mediterranean port and British naval and air base. In part attributable to this, Malta achieved Independent Statehood in September 1964, with the Republic of Malta being formally created on 13th December 1974. With the rundown of British military personnel that followed Maltese Independence, so Masonic membership on the Island rapidly declined. District Grand Master Brigadier C.E. De Wolff resigned in April 1977, to be succeeded by Sir John Rowland Hodge. The British military base was finally eclipsed in March 1979 with virtually all personnel leaving the Island. The 7th May 1983 Annual Communication of the District Grand Lodge of Malta was in fact held at Freemasons Hall in Great Queen Street, London; and the District of Malta was formally dissolved on 29th March 1984 with District Grand Master Sir John Rowland Hodge resigning. Masonic Lodges had been increasingly relocated to the U.K. until only the ‘Lodge of St. John and St. Paul’ and the ‘St. John and St. Paul Royal Arch Chapter’ of the English Constitution remained Warranted in Malta.
The dissolution of the English District Grand Lodge of Malta in 1984 was followed by United Grand Lodge of England appointing a ‘Grand Inspector for the Group of Lodges (Malta)’; with Charles Carnes the initial appointee. 1985 saw Carnes succeeded by A. A. Summers who continued in office until 1992. During this period ‘Count Roger of Normandy Lodge No.9265’ was constituted on 25th October 1988. With the departure of British forces, W. E. Davies, Grand Inspector of the Irish Constitution, initiated the encouragement of Maltese membership, which move necessitated the consecration of an additional lodge, ‘Fenici Lodge No. 906’, in 1991. In 1992 E.W. Stuart was appointed UGLE Craft Grand Inspector and then additionally Royal Arch Grand Inspector, which roles he maintained until 1999. This period saw the creation of the ‘De Rohan Lodge of Installed Masters No 9670’, on 9th May 1998.
In 1999 J. P. Cordina was appointed Grand Inspector of the Irish Constitution, being the first Maltese Grand Officer of the Grand Lodge of Ireland; and J.L. Spencer held the combined role of UGLE Craft and Royal Arch Grand Inspector until his resignation in 2004. His successor, B.L. Parsons was appointed by UGLE the same year.
Meanwhile in September 2003, the three Lodges of the Irish Constitution, ‘Leinster’, ‘Abercorn’, and ‘Fenici’, jointly and unanimously resolved to move to the creation of a Maltese Grand Lodge, and preparatory work to bring this into effect commenced. In August 2004, the Irish Constitution Grand Inspector J. P. Cordina presided over the creation of ‘Hospitaliers Lodge No. 931’, which immediately likewise resolved to participate in the formation of a Grand Lodge of Malta.
In 2004 Malta celebrated 40 years of Independence. This, at the turn of the millennium, combined with Maltese electorate aspiration to European Union membership and coalesced in Masonic thinking as to how Freemasonry might otherwise be established in an independent sovereign State. Local circumstances were not encouraging of open debate of the subject, although interchange of opinions indicated that a number of minds were reflecting on alternatives to the status quo. Certainly some were given to pondering the future of Freemasonry in Malta might lay beyond the Concordat of English, Irish and Scottish Grand Lodges, within other Jurisdictions, although there is no evidence this was other than a vague questioning of alternatives. When the possibility of some form of Maltese ‘sovereignty’ was ventilated it was dismissed as wishful thinking of the ill-informed and immature. As things transpired, the autumn of 2002 was to provide an unlikely catalyst for changes in matters Masonic on Malta. The National television Channel aired a sensationalist ‘expose’ programme, based on secretly filmed Masonic Lodge proceedings by a brother; which served to embarrass Maltese Masons living and working in a dominantly Catholic environment known to disfavour Freemasonry. An understandable furore over disciplinary action ensued and there can be no doubt but that wavering opinions as to the potential creation of an independent Maltese Grand Lodge were swayed in favour at this time. Discussions with the Irish Constitution Grand Inspector lead to a special meeting held on June 30th 2004, when Count Roger of Normandy Lodge No.9265 EC resolved to participate in the formation of a Sovereign Grand Lodge of Malta.
A petition to the Grand Lodge of Ireland, seeking help and support with this ambition, was favourably received and, after due consultation with United Grand Lodge of England and the Grand Lodge of Scotland, the Grand Lodge of Ireland acceded to the Prayer of the referred five Lodges. Thus the Basic Principles of Grand Lodge Recognition adopted by UGLE in 1949 were doubly fulfilled, i.e.” That for Regularity of Origin a Grand Lodge shall have been established lawfully by a duly recognised Grand Lodge or by three or more regularly constituted lodges”.
Regrettably, but inevitably in a brief review spanning hundreds of years, much must go unrecorded; notably here, of what is owed to the dedicated few who undertook the onerous tasks in the formation of a Grand Lodge: conducting extensive correspondence with Grand Lodges and Masonic Constitutions around the world; balancing ideals against practical reality; formulating operating procedures; continuously debating opinions, suggestions, wordings, and phrasings; compiling an unique Constitution; conceiving and producing Regalia; and so very, very much more that was to culminate in a Masonic ‘first’, the creation of ‘The Sovereign Grand Lodge of Malta’.
Without doubt, many trials and tribulations lay ahead of ‘SGLOM’ as it develops and expands; but this Editor is quietly confident that future historical reviews of ‘Freemasonry in Malta’ will develop the story with the phrase . . . “But the best was yet to come”.
With grateful acknowledgement and respect,
Particularly to Dr. A.J.Agius; The Geneses of Freemasonry in Malta, 1730-1843 (1992) and History of Freemasonry in Malta, 1730-1998 (1998). And to A.M.Broadley: The History of Freemasonry in the District of Malta (1880). D.Caywood; Freemasonry and the Knights of Malta (AQC Vol. 83 1970). C.E.De Wolff; Floreat Melitae (1969). D.C.Kibble-Rees; The Freemasons of Malta, 1977-86 (1988). K.Mackenzie; The Royal Masonic Cyclopedia ( Reprint, 1987). J.Montalto; The Nobles of Malta. P.Shields; Villa Blye (1966)., and other sources and assistance.