Everyone knows that Florence is a city of art and beauty, but it happens to be also a city of…mistery.
Freemasonry is an organisation which dates back its origins from the operative stone masons who built cathedrals and castles in the middle ages (indeed freemason means worker in freestone).
Through the course of the history Freemasonry developed from being operative to speculative (modern freemasonry), organised in masonic lodges.
The birth of modern Freemasonry is often referred to a precise event: 24 June 1717 (the solemnity of St. John the Baptist), when four english lodges met at the Goose and Gridiron, in St. Paul’s Churchyard, and decided to merge into the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster. After that, the spread of Freemasonry across England and Europe was unbelieveably fast.
Freemasonry eventually reached Italy in 1731 when a masonic lodge was founded in Florence (the most ancient italian lodge which we have documented knowledge about) by Charles Sackville 2nd Duke of Dorset, Earl of Middlesex. This lodge is simply known as Loggia degli Inglesi (Lodge of the Englishmen). It seems that the first Worshipful Master was Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland, followed in August 1732 by Sewallis Shirley; First Warden was Rev. Joseph Spence, tutor of Charles Sackville, who was the Second Warden. They held their meetings in an inn of via Maggio, and then at a hotel managed by the brother Collins.
The first italian to be initiated in the florentine lodge was the physician Antonio Cocchi; on 4 August 1732 he wrote in his diary Le Effemeridi (which was written in italian, english, french, german, latin, greek and hebrew and is now conserved at the Biomedical Library of the University of Florence) “…in the evening I was received among the Free-Masons and remained to supper. Their Master was Mr. Shirly (Shirley), others were Capt. Spens (Spence), Mr. Clarke, Capt. Clarcke, Mild. Middlesex, Milord Robert Montaigu, Mr. Frolik (Frolich), Mr. Collins, Baron Stosch; initiates with me were Sr. Archer and Mr. Harris“.
The birth of masonic lodges in Italy also drew the attention of the Catholic Church. On 28 April 1738, Pope Clement XII (who, irony of fate, was florentine) issued a papal bull (In eminenti apostolatus specula) which banned Catholics from becoming Freemasons. Nowadays, Catholics are still prohibited from joining Freemasonry, as confirmed in 1983 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with its Declaration on Masonic Associations.
From there on, freemasons’ life became every day more complicated; they were regarded as heretics by the Inquisition and imprisoned (notable examples include Tommaso Crudeli, Giacomo Casanova and Alessandro Cagliostro).
Freemasonry apparently pursues the personal improvement of the person, with a detailed scheme of rituals and symbols, that every member must follow through a precise path of symbolic grades.
Freemasonry is also generally known as a secret society but, if you ask a freemason about it, he probably will reply that Freemasonry is a confidential society.
At this regard, Florence is the italian city with the highest concentration of masonic lodges. The Grand Orient of Italy (the biggest masonic organisation in Italy) has about 43 lodges in Florence (and one in Fiesole)! Have you ever spotted one of them?
F. Sbigoli – Tommaso Crudeli e i primi framassoni in Firenze: narrazione storica corredata di documenti inediti, Ditta Natale Battezzati Editore, Milano 1884.
J. H. Lepper – The Earl of Middlesex and the English Lodge in Florence, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, Being the Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge n. 2076, London, LVIII, 1947.
W. J. Songhurst – The Earl of Middlesex and the Sackville Medal, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, Being the Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge n. 2076, London, XXXVIII, 1925.
M. Pellizzi – The English Lodge in Florence, Ars Quatuor coronatorum, Being the Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge n. 2076, London, 105 (1992), pp. 129–137.
C. Francovich – Storia della massoneria in Italia. I Liberi Muratori italiani dalle origini alla Rivoluzione francese, Ghibli 2013.