The average Poles' knowledge about Freemasonry is largely based on myth. In Poland, the movement is still thought of as a secret organisation ruling the world, while it was actually thanks to the Freemasons that some of our country’s greatest achievements took place – from the reforms of the Four Year Sejm and the Constitution of the 3rd of May, through to the tradition of liberum conspiro.
While in Poland, the movement was somewhat demonised and surrounded with the air of a disturbing secret, in the West, Freemasonry was much more a part of the public life from its very outset. Thus, countries to the west of Poland were a lot more aware of the positive influence and impact that the movement had on world history. We owe numerous great works and institutions to Masonic thought, such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Great French Encyclopaedia, as well as the idea of public museums and libraries. It is also this line of thinking that birthed the idea of respect for nature, as well as a concept of the garden as man’s natural environment, and a new concept of education. And how about Poland?
The exhibition at the National Museum titled "Masoneria. Pro publico bono" reveals the true face of the Freemasons’ movement, with its battle for equality and fraternity between humans and the ideals of progress and wisdom. At the same time, it depicts the significant role Freemasonry played in Polish culture, without which the latter seems much poorer, at times perhaps mysterious, but also prone to appropriation.
What do we owe to the Masons in Poland? In other words, what were the ties of such prominent figures as Stanisław August Poniatowski – Poland’s last king –, Adam Mickiewicz, and Janusz Korczak with the movement? Here are some of the less obvious relations between Freemasonry and our national culture, with its extraordinary achievements.
Architecture - "geometry at work"
Symbolism based on architecture and construction laid the basis of all Masonic iconography. The trowel, the bevel, the compass and Solomon’s Shrine are among the most recognised symbols of Freemasonry and they refer to its roots – the medieval builders’ guilds (architects, masons, sculptors). The legend of masonry appears as early as 1723, in James Anderson’s The Constitutions of the Free-Masons. In it, the movement is associated with the art of architecture, and, in a wider perspective, with the liberal art of geometry. This is the reason why treatises of the Freemasonry (those of Palladio and Vitruvius) served not only as a base and source of inspiration for the work of architects, but also became an object for contemplation for the Freemasons. Some lodges were also equipped with copies of them.
Polish Freemasons’ Classicism
The Freemasons’ cult of reason and admiration for the laws of geometry found its expression, as well as fulfillment, in the Italian architecture of the late Renaissance, with the works of Andrea Palladio (1508-1580). The English Freemasons played a significant role in popularising his cult. It was thanks to the members of the Great Lodge of London that Palladio’s style became dominant in England, and later also in the United States.
Polish propagators of the style were architects connected to the king Stanisław August Poniatowski, and among them most notably Dominik Merlini. His designs for the White House and the Palace on the Water in Łazienki Park, as well as the Królikarnia pavillion were straightforward allusions to Palladio’s Villa Rotonda, which was raised in 1582.
The Masonic architects that formed the Polish 18th century classicist current were Szymon Bogumił Zug (responsible for the Evangelist-Augsburg Church in Warsaw), the architect of the Vilnius cathedral Wawrzyniec Gucewicz and Jakub Kubicki, who authored the project of the Shrine of Highest Providence in Warsaw. Marcello Bacciarelli, Antoni Smuglewicz and Zygmunt Vogel, painters and printmakers, were also part of the movement.
King Stanisław August Poniatowski’s membership in the Freemasons found expression in the construction of the Łazienki Royal Park. The very first Polish treatise on English-style parks was written due to the adaptation of the terrain on commission for the monarch. It was written by Fryderyk August Moszyński, a Freemason, alchemist, and advisor to the king. His work is saturated with references to the Masonic symbolism and ideology – but the actual construction of the site did not run in exact agreement with his advice.
The building now considered to be the most Masonic is the White House designed by Dominik Merlini. His famous Dining Room, with its decorative painting by Jan Bogumił Plersch, was also filled with the movement’s symbols. From the figure of Venus Anadyomene – interpreted as the Egyptian Isis – through painted elements such as a beehive (symbolising a Mason’s work on himself), to the five-pointed stars surrounding the goddess Ceres. Such symbols were also present in the decorations of Solomon’s Shrine, designed by Marcello Bacciarelli for the Palace on Water. Unfortunately, these paintings were destroyed by Germans during the Second World War.
The palace in Dobrzyca is a special place for Freemasons. Created by a member, August Gorzeński, a general and adjutant of King Stanisław August Poniatowski, as well as a deputy of the Four-Year Sejm, the palace is also surrounded by an urban and park layout, as well as special interior design. The building itself was built on the plane of the letter L (evocative of the Masonic trowel) on top of a four-column Tuscan portice with the Latin quote from Horatio, "Ille terrarum mihi praeter omnes angulus ridet" (meaning, this place on earth is dearer to me than anything), while the Latin angulus apart from designating a place on earth can also mean a trowel.
But Dobrzyca was still more than that – on top of architecture, it was also a social project. Gorzeński intended to transform Dobrzyca into a Bononia – a land of goods and happiness, reigned over by a protective ruler in a just way, in accordance with the principles of the Enlightment.
A few years ago, there emerged the idea of creating a Museum of the Enlightment and Freemasonry in the Dobrzyca palace. The idea was lost, and instead the Museum of Gentry and Patriotic Tradition was founded there.
What does the garden have to do with a lodge?
Gardens became a place for social meetings, much like the lodges. Both spaces shared the role of a place to escape to and reflect. But for the Freemasons themselves, the similiarities ran deeper. God himself, as the creator of the Garden of Eden, and the Great Architect, supplied the reason.
Next to architecture, gardens, were one of the favourite sources of inspiration. They were considered a symbolic space, which also allowed an individual to develop good and love within, as well as the need for freedom. Such an imagining of harmony between man and nature can be traced in the paintings of Jan Piotr Norblin, and the drawings of Zygmunt Vogel.
Helena Radziwiłłowa nee Przeździecka also realised such an ideal of a garden in Arcadia in Nieborów, and so did Izabella Czartoryska nee Fleming, in the village of Puławy. The Freemason and architect Szymon Bogumił Zug was active in Arcadia, followed by the Italian-born Henryk Ittar, whose vision was somewhat closer to Romanticism. The rebuilding of the Pułway garden which started in 1791 also took on a sentimental English style.
Gardens built in the Masonic spirit were also found in the Łazienki park in the Mokotów district of Warsaw, as well as Jabłonna and Młociny.
This is the description used in the history of art to describe portraits of Freemasons with Masonic regalia. A special portrait of this kind in Polish painting was painted by Marcello Bacciarelli, depicting the king Stanisław August Poniatowski with an hourglass. Both the painter and the model were Freemasons (of the strictly observed Templar rite) and at times the portrait is interpreted as possessing an encrypted message.
The Constitution of the 3rd of May
Polish Freemasons played a particularly significant role throughout the Four-Year Sejm period. They paved the way towards a necessary evolution of the state and helped to implement many reforms. Almost everyone in King Stanisław August’s family was a member of the movement, and so were the key political figures: Rev. Adam Kazimierz Czartoryski, and Ignacy and Stanisław Kostka Potocki. According to Tadeusz Cegielski, the project of the constitution was formed within a Masonic triangle – King Stanisław August Poniatowski, Reverend Scypione Piattoli and Ignacy Potocki. In the circle of deputies, one in four was an adept of the symbolic trowel (74 were members out of a total of 359 deputies).
The Masonic Temple
The history of the 3rd of May Constitution is also connected to the story of the Temple of Supreme Providence, the founding stone of which was laid on the 3rd of May, 1972, on the 1st anniversary of the constitution’s enactment. The temple was supposed to be a "vote for the multi-ethnic and religiously diverse Republic to Supreme Providence, which has allowed for the efficient and bloodless work of rebuilding the state’s regime". The raising of this temple was meant to be gesture of thanksgiving for the implementation of the so-called fundamental statute. And what is crucial is that the temple was supposed to be a symbol of transcendence, for all particular beliefs.
In the architectural contest – the very first in the history of Poland – the winning project was authored by Jakub Kubicki, a Freemason who possessed the highest marks of initiation.
Kubicki’s project is thus described on the Bryła.pl architectural website:
According to his project, the temple was supposed to have two levels. A lower church made up the plinth for the upper church, which gave the structure a monumental character. The project depicted a monumental church on the plane of a hexagon, with four annexes, each of which was finished with portico with a triangular peak. The building was covered over with a cupola. The project limited any decorative elements, in favour of a clear, classicist form. A very distant model for the shrine was the Roman Pantheon.
The cornerstone for the building was laid by the king of Poland himself – the trowel and the hammer were subsequently broken, in accordance with Masonic custom. Unfortunately, in 1792, construction was interrupted by the Polish-Russian war.
The idea was revived once more in the interwar period, but then it was transformed into a project for a Catholic church. Bohdan Pniewski won the contest which was announced in 1930 with a design inspired by French Gothic cathedrals as well as the American skyscrapers of the 1920s and 1930s (see the project on Bryła.pl). The realisation was once again interrupted by the outbreak of military conflict, this time the Second World War. In a way, the next instalment of the concept, and an evolving project of the Temple of Supreme Providence, could be traced in the building of the Temple of Supreme Divine Providence in Warsaw’s Wilanów. district. Today, the remains of the original Warsaw Temple Shrine of Supreme Providence can be found in the rear of the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Botanical Garden.
Is there such a thing as Masonic music?
The best known realisation of the Masonic theme in music is, of course, Mozart’s Magic Flute. The frame for this famous song-play is the legend of Osiris and Isis, popular in the freemasonry milieu (Mozart and Emanuel Schikaneder both belonged to the same Lodge in Vienna). In Warsaw, Mozart’s opera was staged in 1793, only two years after its world premiere. The directors of the Narodowy (National) Theatre, Wojciech Bogusławski and Ludwik Osiński, were both Freemasons.
Among other Freemason composers, there was Karol Krupiński, who authored the comic opera Zabobon czyli Krakowiacy i górale (Superstition, or Cracovians and Mountaineers) and Józef Elsner, the teacher of Frederic Chopin.
More literally Masonic music surface during the Lodge gatherings. Songs were performed to the accompaniment of a harpsichord, piano, or harmonium, and they were later recorded in songbooks. Some of them openly alluded to political happenings, such as the Tragiczne śpiewy massońskie (Tragic Mason Chants) collection, which was released after the fall of Napoleon and the liquidation of the Duchy of Warsaw.
The Masoneria (Masonry) record released by the National Museum in Warsaw includes compositions by Mozart, as well as the works of Jean Sibelius, Arvo Pärta and Erik Satie.
The creator of the Legions, Jan Henryk Dąbrowski was a member of the Italian Masonry, and in the Grand East of Italy, he served as the Grand Expert. The uniforms of the Polish Legion’s solidiers bore the maxim “Gli uomini sono fratelli ("All men are brothers"). Józef Wybicki, the author of the lyrics of the Polish national anthem (the Dąbrowski Mazurek) was also a Mason. In all countries, the Masons engaged in independence movements. During the Rissorgimento period, all leaders of the movement for uniting Italy were also Masons – the king of Piemonto Victor Emanuel, Prime Minister Cavour, and Garibaldi.
The Mourning Lodge of Count Józef Poniatowski
Napoleon, who, like all of his generals, was also a Freemason, brought Poles huge hopes. Polish soliders fought in many of his campaigns, believing in the ideals of equality and fraternity, and freedom delivered to many nations and peoples. One of the last Napoleonic generals was Poland’s last king, Count Józef Poniatowski, who was nominated by Napoleon to be the last Marshal of France. The Count perished in the battle of Leipzig in 1813. After his death, a mourning lodge was organised in Warsaw in the Mniszchy Palace – and it was recorded in the drawing of Stanisław Kostka Hoffman, a Mason and an architect.
After Napoleon’s fall, and following the first years of Tsar Alexander I’s liberal reign – which still allowed for Freemasonry to freely blossom -- there came a dramatic turn of course. Freemasonry became a model for the conspirational organisations created within the army by Major Walerian Łukasiński. The structure and rituals of National Freemasonry, which was founded in 1819, were very much like regular Masonery. Some 200 younger officers were engaged in the movement, which was distributed into four Lodges. Łukasiński, who was arrested in 1822 and convicted two years later, spent the rest of his long life in prison – 46 years.
Masonry and literature
One of the movement’s most prominent members, Stanisław Kostka Potocki, was a writer. This prominent politician and deputy of the Four Years’ Sejm, member of the KEN (National Education Committee), and, from 1812, master of the Wielki Wschód Narodowy (Great National East, equivocal in Polish with Great National Rise), was the author of Podróż do Ciemnogrodu (A Journey into Darktown). This was a novel/treatise, in which the author was critical of the Polish mentality. But it was mostly the title of the work that made history, now commonly used to designate conservatism and backwardness.
Among the Masonic poets, the ones that are still mentioned today are Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz and Tomasz Kantorbery Tymowski. Adam Mickiewicz, the great romantic bard, also brushed against Freemasonry. In 1822, while working as a teacher in Kowno, Mickiewicz was initiated to the Fellow Craft degree. And the later Filomaci Society was also founded in accordance with the Freemasons’ principles.
One of the best known scenes in Polish literature inspired by Masonic ritual is the scene of initiation of Rafał Olbromski in Stefan Żeromski’s Popioły (Ashes). The Isis Shrine ritual also appears in Andrzej Wajda’s 1965 film.
Godmother of the Second Polish Republic
The people and ideals of Freemasonry of the Second Republic find their sources in the military act of the PPS, POW parties, the Legions, and the scouting movements. The living tradition of Liberum conspiro which survived in those movements made some call Freemasonry "the godmother of the Second Republic."
During the interwar period, some key politicians were active in the Great National Lodge – those also connected with the Piłsudski milieu. Among them were Kazimierz Bartel, Edward Rydz-Śmigły, Felicjan Sławoj-Składkowski, Colonel Walery Sławek, and Colonel Wieniawa-Długoszewski. Between 1921-23, Andrzej Strug was the Great Master.
At the same time, the atmosphere within the movement began to deteriorate. The first bad sign was the assassination of President Gabriel Narutowicz – a Freemason, and a member of the Warsaw Lodge called Wolność Przywrócona (Freedom Regained). Another was the turning of the reform members strongly to the right, and a growing tendency among Piłsudski’s followers to distance themselves from Freemasonry. In 1938, due to an anti-Masonic campaign, President Mościcki’s decree saw a dissolution of all the Freemasons’ organisations.
One of the members of Le Droit Humain, a concurrent order to the WLNP was General Michał Karaszewicz-Tokarzewski – a theosophist, and a member of the liberal Catholic Church in Poland. Here, Janusz Korczak also played an active part.
After the war
After the Second World War, Polish Masons were active in the Kopernik (Copernicus) Lodge, and, from 1961, at the initiative of Jan Józef Lipski, they were also active in the conspirational lodge of Warsaw. Some of its members became part of the KOR (Defenders of Labourers' Committee) in 1976. Since December, 1991, Freemasonry has been openly active in Poland.
Author: Mikołaj Gliński; source: "Masoneria. Pro publico bono" exhibition catalogue, translated by Paulina Schlosser, 19/09/2014