"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Masonic Museum Is A Snapshot of Spain's Anti-Masonic Past

While many Masons today have at least a passing familiarity with the persecution of the fraternity under the Nazi regime, far less is widely known about similar actions under Spain's long-ruling dictator, Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde. The Spanish Civil War (often called the dress rehearsal for World War II) raged between 1936 and 1939, resulting in Franco and his Nationalist Party's ascendency to power. The two big name fascist dictators of the period, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, both fell in 1945. But Franco ruled in Spain all the way through his death in 1975.

Under Franco and his (largely Catholic) Nationalists, Freemasonry was outlawed, and Masons were often arrested solely for their membership. In the wake of Franco’s victory in the civil war, many Freemasons, some of them well-known figures, were either exiled, imprisoned or, in some cases, shot. As was done throughout Europe under the Nazi occupation forces, Franco's regime seized the property of Masonic lodges throughout Spain and occasionally set up spooky museums of Masonic artifacts as propaganda exhibits to frighten the population. In a way, you can blame some of the modern day European distrust of Freemasonry on generational fears first stoked by these attempted exposés under the fascist regimes in the 1930s and 40s.

Franco spared no expense in stamping out Freemasonry in Spain. In 1949 the Spanish government included nearly $100,000 in its budget for ongoing maintenance of a special tribunal to suppress Masonry.

The Generalissimo never tempered his anti-Masonic sentiments. Henderson and Pope's book Freemasonry Universal claims that under Franco's almost 40 years in office, more than 10,000 Freemasons were arrested for their alleged membership, and the Grand Orient of Spain went into exile in Mexico. Even in his final speech before his death in 1975 given from (where else do dictators speak from?) the balcony of his Royal Palace, Franco railed against the imaginary "Jewish-Masonic Conspiracy". 

After Franco died, Spain finally began a slow transition to democracy, but it wasn't until 1979 that the laws against Freemasons were lifted - and only then after their High Court overruled the Interior Ministry’s ongoing refusal to allow Masons to again organize.

A Masonic lodge in Gijon, Spain was plundered by the Spanish Nationalists in 1938, and a propaganda museum was created that year to display its symbols and artifacts in the creepiest manner possible. The exhibit was created by Marcelino de Ulibarri, a member of Franco’s government with the intention of frightening the public with the "dangers" of Masonry. But according to an article on the Atlas Obscura website, the museum was never officially opened during the war. It wasn’t until 1993 that it finally opened to the public as a part of a historical exhibition in the town of Salamanca’s Barrio Antiguo district, housed in a 17th-century building at Saint Ambrose College.

Chamber of Reflection at the Salamanca museum exhibit
From the article:

On display in the temple, you’ll find books, medals, jewelry, documents, ceremonial clothing, Masonic symbols, and a reproduction of a Masonic Chamber of Reflection used by new members. The most shocking details, such as skulls or black masks, received special attention with the aim of shocking the public of the 1930s. Today they look like your usual Halloween decoration.
Ulibarri made sure to include any spooky imagery he could dig up, populated it with black-hooded mannequins and skulls, and prominently displayed an apron showing a severed head.

It is of interest to Masons today in part because of this dark episode of persecution across Europe. But it is also a unique snapshot of Spanish Freemasonry from the pre-1940 era, as long as you bear in mind the sensationalistic nature of the way it's presented. 

The Masonic Lodge Museum today is located inside the National Archives building in Salamanca, Spain at 2 Gibralter in the Barrio Antiguo.  

There's a great story about Franco and American Freemasons that happened in the 1950s. This was in an article from the Spanish El Pais website called "Why did General Franco hate the Freemasons so much?":

Fall 1958, the Pardo Palace in the outskirts of Madrid: Franco’s official residence. Two US senators, along with a high-ranking military man, are received by Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Their mission is to sound out the dictator about a possible visit by the then president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower. What kind of reception would he get? Franco is delighted at the prospect, and begins expanding on the need to eradicate once and for all the Communist threat, and is willing to help the United States in its fight against the Soviet Union, hoping to win the support of the West in the process – after all, it had only been admitted to the United Nations in December 1955.
Carried away in his euphoria, Franco also declares that freemasonry must also be done away with. At which point, one of the senators politely interrupts: “Sir, President Eisenhower is a protestant, I’m a mason, and my colleague here in the Senate is Jewish. We would all be in jail if we lived in Spain.” The military man, Eugene Vidal, an old-school Yankee blueblood and head of aeronautics at West Point military academy, drove home the point with a certain degree of sarcasm: “No, no my dear sir, I’m also a mason and I too would be shot here.” The story of the meeting was told many years later by US writer Gore Vidal, the son of Eugene Vidal and the grandson of another US senator, Thomas P. Gore...
Freemasonry has slowly recovered in Spain. The Gran Logia de España today is widely recognized as regular throughout the Masonic world, and has about 2,700 members and 185 lodges.

(All Museum photos from the Atlas Obscura site)


  1. For everyone who was astonished I resisted the low-hanging fruit of an old gag, "This just in, Generalissimo Francisco Franco has been critically dead now for 44 years, and his doctors are refusing to speculate as to how long he can last in his present condition. But his medical team reports he is valiantly holding on to his in his fight to remain dead."


    1. And as a postscript, in October 2019, Franco's body was exhumed and moved.


      Doctors have confirmed that he remains terminally dead, and his condition is expected to deteriorate...

  2. I enjoyed learning about our history at home and obroad! Thank you kindly!


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