History of Freemasonry in Russia

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Menshikov Tower where the Masonic circle of Ivan Schwarz held its meetings

Freemasonry in Russia started in the 18th century and has continued to the present day. Russian Freemasonry pursued humanistic and educational purposes, but more attention is given to ethical issues. It was a spiritual community of people united in an effort to contribute to the prosperity of the Motherland and the enlightenment of the people living in it.


Freemasonry was brought to Russia by foreign officers in the Russian service. Russian Freemasonry dates its foundation to the activities of Franz Lefort, Jacob Bruce and Patrick Gordon in the German Quarter of Moscow.[1] James Keith is recorded as being master of a lodge in Saint Petersburg in 1732-34.[2] Several years later his cousin John Keith, 3rd Earl of Kintore was appointed provincial grand master of Russia by the Grand Lodge of England.[2]

Catherine II's factotum Ivan Yelagin succeeded in reorganizing Russian Freemasonry into a far-reaching nationwide system that united some 14 lodges and about 400 government officials. He secured English authorization of the first Russian Grand Lodge and became its provincial grand master.[3] He favoured an archaic ritual of blood initiation which involved a symbolic commingling of blood.

Yelagin's chief rival was George von Reichel from Braunschweig who championed a different system introduced by Johann Wilhelm Kellner von Zinnendorf, the grand master of the Grand Landlodge of the Freemasons of Germany. At least seven lodges founded in 1772-76 acknowledged Reichel's authority. The Yelagin-Reichel feud was ended in 1776 by the unification of all the Russian lodges under the auspices of the Minerva zu den drei Palmen Lodge in Berlin. The following year Gustav III of Sweden went to St. Petersburg to initiate Grand Duke Paul into Masonry.[4]

File:Simeon Gamaleya.jpg
Semyon Gamaleya (1743-1822), a Ukrainian-born Freemason, was the first to translate into Russian the major works of Jakob Böhme.

In 1781, Nikolay Novikov and Ivan Schwarz, two professors of the Moscow University, set up the Learned Society of Friends in that city. They were dissatisfied with the Swedish Rite that was practised in St. Petersburg. Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel as the grand master of the lodges in Germany invited Schwarz to take part in the Wilhelmsbad Masonic Congress (1782) where Russia was recognized as the 8th autonomous province of the Rite of Strict Observance.[5] A schism developed between the lodges of Moscow and St. Petersburg as the former drifted toward a form of Rosicrucianism.[6]

Catherine the Great suspected the Masons of turning her son Paul against herself, of being a tool in the hands of her enemy King of Prussia, and viewed their attitude toward women as misogynist. In 1785, she clamped down upon Novikov's printing house and had some 461 titles confiscated. When she saw her new palace in Tsaritsyno adorned with ornamentation suggestive of the cryptic symbols of Freemasonry, Catherine had it pulled down. Novikov was later jailed, and other leading Freemasons had to flee Russia.

Anti-Masonic measures were revoked as soon as Paul ascended the Russian throne in 1796. Increasingly haunted by the spectre of the French Revolution, Paul came to distrust Freemasonry and Martinism.[7] Within three years of his reign all secret societies were suppressed, and the lodges closed of their own accord. Two years later Paul was assassinated. The lodges flourished under his successor Alexander I, although it remains unknown whether Alexander himself was an initiate. The most influential figure of this period was Alexander Labzin.

File:Vitberg Cathedral.gif
Alexander Vitberg's design for Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was suggestive of a Masonic temple.[8]

The Grand Lodge Astraea was formed in 1815. It united nineteen smaller lodges and counted 1404 members. Its rival was the Swedish Provincial Lodge of Russia, with seven smaller feuding lodges under its umbrella and 230 members. Leo Tolstoy describes some of the rituals in his novel War and Peace and mentions Fyodor Klyucharyov, a noted Masonic poet. According to Filipp Vigel, Freemasonry did little but to provide a fashionable pastime for bored nobles.[9] As Emperor Alexander grew increasingly conservative, the Masonic-style political clubs were outlawed in 1822. This interdict was extended by Nicholas I in the wake of the Decembrist Uprising, since the Decembrists had sprung from the Masonic lodges.[10]

Freemasonry was legalized and enjoyed a brief revival after the First Russian Revolution. The Grand Orient of Russian People seceded from the Grand Orient de France, with Nikolai Vissarionovich Nekrasov and Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky as its main leaders. The Bolsheviks had all the lodges closed in the wake of the October Revolution in 1917. In 1995, the Grand Lodge of Russia was reconstituted under the sponsorship of the Grande Loge Nationale Française. The Grand Lodge of Russia is currently recognized by Regular Freemasonry in General, including by the United Grand Lodge of England and multiple other jurisdictions, worldwide.[11]

See also



  1. Сергей Карпачев. Тайны масонских орденов. М.: «Яуза-Пресс», 2007. С. 29.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Andrew MacKillop, Steve Murdoch. Military Governors and Imperial Frontiers c. 1600-1800: A Study of Scotland and Empires. Brill Academic Publishers, 2003. Page 103.
  3. Lelliĭ Petrovich Zamoĭskiĭ. Behind the façade of the Masonic Temple. Progress Publishers, 1989. Page 90.
  4. Magnus Olausson. Catherine the Great and Gustav III. Boktryck AB, 1999. Page 170.
  5. Raffaella Faggionato. A Rosicrucian Utopia in Eighteenth-Century Russia: The Masonic Circle of N.I. Novikov. Springer, 2005. Page 251.
  6. Boris Telepnef. Outline of the History of Russian Freemasonry. Kessinger Publishing, 2003. Page 21.
  7. Henri Troyat. Alexander of Russia: Napoleon's Conqueror. Grove Press, 2003. Page 36.
  8. Konstantin Akinsha, Grigorij Kozlov, Sylvia Hochfield. The Holy Place: Architecture, Ideology, and History in Russia. Yale University Press, 2007. Page 30.
  9. http://www.krasplace.ru/vigel13
  10. Lauren G. Leighton. The Esoteric Tradition in Russian Romantic Literature: Decembrism and Freemasonry. Penn State University, 1994.
  11. Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon, Grand Lodge of Russia, accessed 15 June 2015
  12. http://www.gumer.info/bibliotek_Buks/History/Moram/index.php