Freemasonry has been present in Italy since the beginning of the 19th century.
Several major masonic organisations exist in Italy, the Grande Oriente d'Italia and Gran Loggia d'Italia which broke away from the Grand Orient in 1910. A third group, The Regular Grand Lodge of Italy which came into being in 1993. It is this last lodge which is recognised by the UGLE.
There are an estimated 18,000 members in some 600 lodges in all.
Prior to the unification of Italy, since there was no country of Italy as such, lodges were set up in various states by foreign lodges. The first was in Florence in 1731 and others soon followed. The poltical situation at the time led to Italian lodges being politicised and generally anti-church where the general consensus within the lodges was one of non-conformism which led to a degree of antagonism with the Catholic Church.
The first papal bull against freemasonry was laid out in 1738, however many Italian states refused to register it. In Tuscany in 1739 the church asked for freemasons to be arrested and passed on to the inquisition; in the end only the poet Tommaso Crudeli was arrested under this order and jailed for one year in terrible conditions which weakened him so much he died in 1745.
What followed over the next few years depended on the state where the lodges were formed. In Rome, for example, several prominent masons were imprisoned and died; in other regions masonry flourished. Depending on the leanings of the ruler, a state may or may not allow freemasonry and as the ruler might change, so did the tolerance.
In 1805 the Grande Oriente d’Italia was founded. Over the next decades freemasonry became tied to Italian unification with many of the leading luminaries of unification being masons themselves.
With unification, masonry became freer, however the disagreements with the church were still problematic. In 1890, Pope Leo XIII sent out a papal circular condeming the course of public affairs at the time as a realisation of the "Masonic programme". This alleged "programme" was said to involve a "deadly hatred of the Church", the abolition of religious instruction in schools and the absolute independence of civil society from clerical influence.
A few years earlier in 1882 Leo XIII had blamed the way in which the unification of Italy (in 1861) had denigrated the role of the church and this was a result of masonic influence. Again in 1892 Leo XIII railed against freemasonry and complained that some members of the clergy were cooperating with masons.
In 1908 a politically motivated schism appeared in freemasonry and the Gran Loggia d’Italia was formed. This continues to this day as a co-masonic order.
In the run up to Italy's entry into the First World War, many masons were pro-war against Austria and Germany. Following the war Freemasonry was proclaimed at odds by the new Fascist rulers and in 1923 the Fasicst Council decreed that masons needed to choose between Fascism and freemasonry; later in Rome it was decided that only Nationalists, Fascists, or Liberals who were not freemasons could be eligible to fill existing vacancies in the city administration.
This step was partly undertaken by Mussolini was drew further away from freemasonry as he drew closer to Catholicism. He told Masons, "Fascisti cannot at the same time serve the cause of masonry and that of the Nation."
During this period many masons were imprisoned, punished or dismissed from public office. In 1925 the Fascists outlawed freemasonry and the following year Grand Master Domizio Torreggiani was imprisoned, only to be released when he went blind; shortly afterwards he died at home.
Although some groups met covertly throughout this period, it was not until the end of the Second World War that freemasonry took off again and prospered for many years.
However, in 1981 the scandal of Propaganda Due (P2) broke. This brought, amongst other things, a break up of masonry and a great deal of public mistrust which has not entirely been removed. Indirectly this led in 1993 to the second schism in Italian freemasonry with the formation of the Gran Loggia Regolare d’Italia, which was recognized by UGLE soon after it was formed.
- Clemente Mastella
- Ettore Ferrari
- Ernesto Nathan
- Francesco Crispi - politician; raised November 1860 in the Garibaldini Lodge, Palermo (Grande Oriente d'Italia)
- Giuseppe Garibaldi
- Giuseppe Mazzini
- Licio Gelli
In November 2004, Franco Frattini he was nominated to take up the Justice and Security portfolio in the European Commission, in place of the controversial Rocco Buttiglione. Buttiglione outed Frattini as a Freemason, something which Frattini in his interview with the EU denied.
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