Five useful places for researching European freemasonry

To be honest: When I started researching European freemasonry, I absolutely didn’t know where to go. I had a scientific background in researching the history of nobility – especially the rhenish nobility and its archives.

I soon was fascinated by the masonic activities of Count Joseph zu Salm-Reifferscheidt-Dyck (1773-1861), who played a major role for freemasonry in the rhineland during the napoleonic era. Rhenish nobility and its relationships to freemasonry turned out to be the topic of my docotral thesis “At the roots of virtue. Rhenish Nobility and Freemasonry 1765-1815” at the University of Cologne.

"Aus der 'Fluchtkiste' ins WWW: Einblicke in die rheinischen Adelsarchive auf Schloss Ehreshoven" - Blogpost auf rhad.hypotheses.org.
“Aus der ‘Fluchtkiste’ ins WWW: Einblicke in die rheinischen Adelsarchive auf Schloss Ehreshoven” – Blogpost about the archives of the rhenish nobility.

Although I had lots of documents from the family archive of the Counts of Salm-Reifferscheidt-Dyck, it soon became clear that I had to do a trip to Paris to find more surrounding material. During short stays at the German Historical Institute Paris (DHIP) I visited the masonic museum of the Grande Loge de France, which was one of the most important steps during my research, as I met up with François Rognon, the librarian of the Grande Loge.  Of course: This is my first tip for you!

(Also many thanks to Dr. Stephan Geifes, former scientific coordinator at the DHIP, who encouraged me a lot during that time!)

1. Bibliothèque de la Grande Loge de France
The Bibliothèque de la Grande Loge de France is situated in an old chapelle in the rue puteaux (17th arrondissement). Beside the museum and its exhibits regarding the history of freemasonry from the 18th century to the 20th century you can find a huge library. The library contains around 15.000 books about freemasonry and related topics. The archive gives you an insight of the history of the grand lodge from 1820 to present time. Also interesting is the cabinet of coins as many lodges – especially in the 19th century – produced coins with their emblems.

Rue puteaux, Paris (Picture: Mbzt (own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) oder CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons).
Rue puteaux, Paris (Picture: Mbzt (own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) oder CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons).
 2. Bibliothèque du Grand Orient de France
Also exquisite is the library situated in the building of the Grand Orient de France, rue cadet (9th arrondissement). The building of this largest masonic Grand Lodge in France was renovated in the last years and is also hosting a very interesting museum about the history of freemasonry. The library  is visitable for non-masons after an advance notification. Besides modern books and texts about freemasonry, the library includes several historical prints – mostly regarding Parisian lodges form the nineteenth century.

By the way, you should have a look at the masonic bookstore, which is directly next to the building of the Grand Orient. Here I found several books, which became very helpful during my work on napoleonic freemasonry.

The building of the Grand Orient de France in Paris, rue cadet (Picture: By Declic (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons).
The building of the Grand Orient de France in Paris, rue cadet (Picture: By Declic (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons).
3. “Fonds maconnique”, Bibliothèque nationale de France – départment des manuscrits
The historical prints in the library of the Grand Orient are only the tip of an iceberg. You will find most of the historical documents of the 18th and 19th century lodges in the so-called “fonds maçonnique” owned by the Grand Orient and curated by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) – départment des manuscrits.

The history of the fonds maçonnique itself is worth mentioning: Confiscated in France by the Nazis and kept in Berlin, the Soviets transported the documents of the fonds to Moscow after WWII. Most of the documents returned to Paris in November 2000.

After you’ve got your permission to get in the BnF, you can study the card index regarding the fonds maçonnique.  Besides the documents of french lodges you can also find material regarding the history of lodges in Europe and even overseas, e.g. American and Carribbean Lodges, as the the Grand Orient installed lodges all over the world. Usually, the correspondence of the lodges can give you an insight of this broad historical network.

As the BnF was renovated during my stays in Paris, the ordering process of the originals sometimes took a little bit longer, as the documents were stored outwards. Ordering a microfiche-document was much faster at that time. If there is no renovation going on,  you can relax, as the ordering process should be no problem. But keep in mind that you can only order a limited number of documents per day.

Usually you are allowed to take some photos of the documents after you have filled out a formular.

Special tip for German researchers: The DHIP can help you to get entrance to the BnF by giving you a letter of recommandation. For this purpose you have to show that you have a serious research interest.

General tip for the winter: Keep your gloves and scarf on, as it can get very cold sitting in front of the microfiche-readers in the salle ovale! 😉

The "Salle ovale" of the BNF - site Richelieu (Picture: By Poulpy [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons).
The “salle ovale” of the BnF – site Richelieu. (Picture: By Poulpy [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons).
4. Culturell masonic centrum Prins Frederik, Den Haag (CMC)
My most beloved place for researching European freemasonry is the CMC in Den Haag. As you can see in the picture below the building itself is worth a journey.

The CMC is situated nearby Den Haag’s main station, so you can easily walk there. The digital catalouge makes it very easy to find and order interesting documents before your visit.

In the archive you can find lots of documents regarding the history of french lodges, which became important for me. Another highlight is the earliest ritual of the famous “Chevalier Rose Croix” degree from 1760 which also played a certain role in my thesis.

Koetshuis gebouw Orde van Vrijmetselaren te 's-Gravenhage (Picture: By BA Kneppers (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, URL: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACultureel_Ma%C3%A7onniek_Centrum_02.jpg)
Koetshuis gebouw Orde van Vrijmetselaren te ‘s-Gravenhage (Picture: By BA Kneppers (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, URL: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACultureel_Ma%C3%A7onniek_Centrum_02.jpg)
5. Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin (GSta PK)
The GSta PK curates the historical documents of more than 1000 Lodges of the 18th to 20th century. If you are interested in those archives you should read  following books first, which are also mentioned on the archives homepage (see link above):

Renate Endler and Elisabeth Schwarze-Neuß, Die Freimaurerbestände im Geheimen Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz. Bd. 1: Großlogen und Protektor; Bd. 2: Tochterlogen, Frankfurt am Main u. a. 1994, 1996 (Schriftenreihe der internationalen Forschungsstelle Demokratische Bewegungen in Mitteleuropa 1770-1850, Bde 13 und 18).

If you are interested in an archive of a specific lodge, you can study the card index in Berlin to get the exact signatures. Then you have to contact the Grand Lodge that possesses the regarding archive to get an access permission for the documents. The GStA PK-staff can help you with the whole ordering process.

Ansicht des Geheimen Staatsarchivs preußischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin-Dahlem (Bild: Sneecs aus der deutschsprachigen Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) oder CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons, URL: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGSTA_PK.jpg).
Ansicht des Geheimen Staatsarchivs preußischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin-Dahlem (Bild: Sneecs aus der deutschsprachigen Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) oder CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons, URL: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGSTA_PK.jpg).
Do you know other “useful places” for researchers of European freemasonry and secret societies? Let us know and comment on the post…

Or even better: Did you work in masonic archives, e.g. the Freimaurermuseum in Bayreuth, in England, Scotland, the US or Japan? Fine! Interested in a guest post?


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