Journal for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism, Vol 3, No 2 (2012)

A Lodge of Sorrow for King Leopold I of Belgium (1866): Masonic Patriotism and Spirituality on Trial

Jeffrey Tyssens
Issued Date: 25 Mar 2014


Belgian King Leopold’s connection to freemasonry was tenuous at best. He had been accepted ‘by proxy’ under the auspices of a Swiss lodge but most likely he never set a foot inside a lodge room. He was hailed nevertheless as a brother by Belgian freemasons. Leopold accepted the role of protector of the order when the young country had its own Grand Orient organized in 1832–33. But Leopold quickly developed hostility towards the Belgian lodges’ liberal positions and kept that negative opinion until his death in December 1865. In February 1866 the Grand Orient organized a widely attended lodge of sorrow for the departed monarch. The ritual explicitly echoed the then still largely proclaimed masonic spirituality and its conception of the immortality of the soul. The dead mason-king was symbolically integrated into the pantheon of national heroes, was reinvented with mythical qualities and was ‘instrumentalized’ as an icon to prove that freemasons were good patriots. The explicit expression of a deist worldview was meant to show that masons were no vile atheists either. Catholic opinion reacted vehemently against this recuperation of the monarch, but the 1866 ritual also led to a first but ever so meaningful protest by more radical freemasons who opposed this imposed deist doctrine. These polemics anticipated the progressive secularization of Belgian masonic rituals in the 1870s.

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DOI: 10.1558/jrff.v3i2.248


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