by Christopher Hodapp
At the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, Fascist dictator Francisco Franco took power and would rule Spain for another four decades. Like his fascist contemporaries Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, Franco outlawed Freemasonry. Lodges were shuttered, many Masons were persecuted, and more than a few Masonic leaders were imprisoned or killed. And for almost three decades, the top Masonic library in Spain had to remain hidden from view.
In 1895, the Biblioteca Pública Arús (or the Arús Public Library) opened on the second floor of a downtown townhouse in Barcelona as one of the city's first public libraries. The library was donated to the people of Barcelona upon his death by Spanish playwright, journalist, philanthropist and Freemason Rossend Arús for the education of the working classes. Located at 26 Passeig de Sant Joan in Barcelona, the Arús Public Library today is home to 80,000 books, booklets, manuscripts, documents, microforms and more. In addition to being one of the largest reference libraries on Freemasonry in Spain, it also houses one of the world’s most comprehensive Sherlock Holmes collections. It is also has extensive material about labor unions, social and cultural movements, and more. But because of its large Masonic collection, the rise of Franco resulted in the owners of the library closing its doors to the public in 1939, and it remained safely closed and hidden from sight for another 28 years.
According to an article on the Daily Beast website, the closure of the library prevented it from being plundered. While books were destroyed or requisitioned from other libraries throughout Spain, the Arús Public Library’s collection was kept intact. The Library's concierge lived with his family in part of the property and would not let anyone in without express permission from the Barcelona City Council.
A close ally of Adolf Hitler in Germany and Benito Mussolini in Italy, Franco’s sworn enemies included the labor unions, Communists, Jews, homosexuals, and any groups promoting liberal or anti-clerical values, such as the Freemasons. Franco passed specific legislation to outlaw Freemasonry, and thousands of trials were held, resulting in firing squads, extensive prison sentences, property seizures, and exile, for those found guilty of Freemasonry. Following the death of Franco in 1975, it took a further four years for Spanish Freemasons to be legalized and have their rights restored.
“At the end of the war, the library had a reputation for being ‘Red and Masonic’,” explains [Maribel Giner, Director of the Biblioteca Pública Arús]. “Red—or Communist—due to its backing of the labor movement and commitment to educating the working classes, and Masonic, because of the collection it inherited from the private library of its founder.”
In 2011, it received a collection on Sherlock Holmes, donated by Catalan collector Joan Proubasta, consisting of more than 6,000 books in 42 languages, and more than 2,000 related objects, from comics to posters, stamps, statues, puppets and insignia. It is one of the most extensive collections in Europe and the largest in Spain. Why did Proubasta make this donation to the Arús Public Library? It turns out that Holmes’ creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, was a Freemason.
For any library enthusiasts staying in Barcelona, Maribel Giner believes the Arús Public Library is worth a visit.
“This is a well-preserved 19th-century library that has maintained its original design details. Stepping in here is like being transported to another era, and also an opportunity to explore a piece of Barcelona's history,” she says.
Photos by Isabelle Kliger/Daily Beast