Freemasonry is a scary word. In short, it’s a group dedicated to bringing progress and brotherhood to civilisation. Association with them got Jay Z in hot water back in ’08, Disney in the 50’s and plagued me with nightmares after falling down a Youtube conspiracy theory looking glass when just an impressionable youth. But the group spans much further than pop culture. The Freemasons have embedded themselves tightly into history, with enough global, political and religious influence to inspire more speculation and thorough analysis than most groups on the planet, religions included. Naturally, with a history simultaneously confusing and clear, writing an introduction or description is difficult. What we’re focusing on is their impact in Barcelona, where to see it and why Barcelona’s turned a blind eye to their contributions.
It’s interesting to take a glance at how Freemasonry has affected a city’s landscape. The buildings, language, general contributions and how a city chooses to recognise it. Spain has 170 Masonic lodges, the central one being in Barcelona, so why isn’t any of it open to the public? What’s the secret? A project that’s made a mission to put a magnifying glass over the Freemason’s contributions to the city is The Chronicles of Thot. The Spanish title for Thoth, the ibis-headed Egyptian God of the scribes, Thot has been tenuously linked to the Freemasons with sources claiming the association links back to 70 AD. Xavi, the man behind Thot, has been compiling the group’s contributions to Barcelona, meticulously noting every building, gargoyle or mark that the Freemasons have emblazoned into Barcelona’s landscape over the past 300 years. ‘I always have been interested in mysteries. ‘When I started to write in my blog (Las Cronicas de Thot) and discover Barcelona, I realized that freemasonry was very well established in the city’.
1. Barcelona’s Griffins
Appearing in media as diverse as My Little Pony and Paradise Lost, the Griffin is a mythical beast, half eagle, half lion. Originating in Syria after the middle ages and traced back to Greece in 14th century, you can find statues, models and engravings of Griffins all around Barcelona. From the bustling fountain in Parc de la Ciutadella, the walls of Palau de la Justicia and even Palau de la Generalitat, Barcelona’s government building in the renowned Placa de Sant Jaume.
The creature is a Christian symbol for duality, being compared to Christ’s divine-human nature. The statues are also pagan solar symbols, as the animals were written to come from the far east, where the Sun rises, and were apparently involved in an eternal fight with the moon.
What Thot says:
“In that sense of protection, over time, it became a decorative element that was located in places where they kept something valuable (not necessarily material). It is very typical to see them on the sides of coats of arms or cities.”
2. Taller Masriera
Camouflaged amongst Eixample’s contemporary apartment blocks and busy intersections lays a Roman temple. More specifically, a replica of the Temple of Augustus the Roman Forum Barcino. Commissioned to Josep Vilaseca, the man responsible for the Arch de Triomf and built by the Masriera brothers, two men from a lucrative family of jewellers the temple has seen many guests and uses since its construction in the late 19th century.
The brothers used the temple as a workshop for their jewelry, as well as sculpture and painting. The sanctuary also saw use as a theatre, and is now utilised by the Little Company of Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, a reclusive religious congregation. Unfortunately the group doesn’t permit entry, but the guarding griffin statues, beautiful garden and the gateway, emblazoned with five-point-stars is worth scoping out if you want to take a glance at some arcane masonic architecture.
Tied to Freemasonry’s original craft guilds, the work of the Masriera brothers is still being sold in Barcelona’s jewellers to this day, try Passeig de Gracia’s assorted sellers if you want to take home a piece.
What Thot says:
“Built in the late nineteenth century, and blackened by pollution, this neoclassical building rises majestically with its 6 Corinthian columns that support a triangular pediment.”
3. Arus’ Public Library
Barcelona’s first library open to public, Biblioteca Pública Arús was actually a donation from freemason journalist and dramatist Rossend Arús i Arderiu. Music, medicine and military are the amongst the topics of the 75,000 literary documents inside. Also included on the shelves are the Rivals of Sherlock Holmes and Freemason exhibitions.
The library has a peculiar past: it was inaugurated by a masonic choir in 1895 and has one of the select three Statues of Liberties carved in the 20th Century. Sure, Barcelona’s edition is only a mere two metres, but the bronze-almost-black figure is a welcome surprise to visitors and those not in the know. It’s easy to say the library is one of Barcelona’s essential sites for those curious about Freemasonry; the floor is traditional masonic checkered black and white ’emblematic of human life, checkered with good and evil’. Mysteriously, a back exit opens toward the Arc de Triomf, another masonic structure.
What Thot says:
“‘One of the most emblematic places in Barcelona Freemasonry. The library has cataloged 75,000 volumes to consult on social issues and working, general history, music, medicine, military art of the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and mid-twentieth and Masonry …need I say it was a Freemason? You can consult the catalog of digitized books, here. Certainly a recommended visit.”
4. Casa Xifre
After Freemason Catalan-Indian Josep Xifre made his fortune in Cuba trading sugar and coffee, he settled in Barcelona in 1831 and built a house named after him.
The building’s pretty inactive nowadays, more or less a collage of Masonic statues, some of which are cryptic enough to earn a visit from those curious. Xifre was deeply into astrology, as made evident by ‘Urania coeli et astra scrutatur motus’ (‘The movement of the sky and the stars observed by Urania’), a message inscribed below a diorama featuring a clock, Saturn, Cronos, God and Urania herself. God has a scythe whilst the Goddess on the left holds a compass and a spyglass. The marks on the clock (12, 1, 2, 3, 6 and 9) sum up to 33, the age Age of Christ when he supposedly died on the cross. Xifre also attempted to build an astronomical observatory complete with telescope inside, something that was unfortunately never imagined.
Nearby restaurant Porxos d’en Xifré is a must if you want to see more, the checkered floor and display objects inside are all hints of Barcelona’s subtle masonic impact. A commemorative plaque nearby claims it was the first building to be photographed in Spain.
5. The Grand Lodge of Spain
Frustratingly blocked by a moving bus in Google streetview, La Gran Logia de España is probably the most essential and evasive location for those interested in Barcelona’s relationship with Freemasonry. You can’t enter, it’s barely even listed on Google, so its inclusion here is cheating, yet the lodge earns its place by how strangely it chooses to be acknowledged.
It has a website: clean, pristine and alarmingly transparent with info. In short, the site is Chaos Magic videoconferencing for the Uber age. There’s a ‘who are we?’ style opening paragraph and just about an answer to any FAQ you can think of. A heavily detailed ‘Historia’ tab with anecdotes about finding Masonic asylum in Mexico in the 1930s and a lengthy closing parenthesis on the legalities of having a secret club in Barcelona that doesn’t sell weed. You can find a pdf of every meeting of the past two years including the leaders that hosted, a paragraph on the topics discussed and even a column dedicated to how the presentation was given (USB stick is listed for every meeting).
In a bohemian metropolis, perhaps the most spot for those curious is on the internet, something very indicative of how Barcelona chooses to remember the Masons. The organisation helped the Spanish revolution, so why is its masonic past covered up? Why is its legacy restricted to a passing sentence in a tour guide monologue? Thot didn’t even list this last spot on his interactive map.
The group has made its contributions. Various Masonic journals fundraised for cases of medicine and illness throughout the 19th Century, meanwhile the Symbolic Grand Lodge of the Balearic Catalan Region supported Catalan nationalism throughout the Bourbon restoration. They actually met a horrific fate during Franco’s reign after being associated with Jewish organisations and pagan activity. Masons were tortured and killed along with the victims of the Spanish White Terror. Per the pdf, the Masons don’t have plans publicly scheduled in 2016, but they invite you to make a profile and stay updated. In the meantime Barcelona’s your oyster to peel back the layers of this thousand year family.
A Freemason’s Guide to Barcelona, by The Chronicles of Thot