This article appeared in No.34 of The Square in September 2012  and is Part 2 of a series of articles on Freemasonry in France


by John Belton

The Grande Loge Independante et Reguliere pour la France et les Colonies Françaises (GLNIRFC) was formed in 1913 with two lodges; this being one less than the traditional minimum number thought appropriate for the formation of a Grand Lodge. In the next five years the number grew to ten and in the next decade to around thirty lodges. This of course still made it a small Grand Lodge by French, or indeed, by any international standards. After the end of World War II the Grand Lodge changed its name in 1948 to the Grande Loge Nationale Française (GLNF). The GLNF found itself the home of many brothers of the Allied, and later NATO, troops and created lodges for them. This resulted in it spreading its activities into Spain as well.

In 1955 there was an attempt at union involving the GLNF and the Grande Loge de France (GLDF) that came to nothing; and five years later another attempt took place, this time involving the Grand Orient de France (GODF) as well, which also foundered. There have been other attempts at seeking union but all have failed. Perhaps if the history of Freemasonry in France teaches us anything, it is that as, for example, in the Christian Church, there is a tendency towards variety and schism as the norm. One could also take the view that ‘market forces’ and competition will ensure that the product remains vibrant and vital – such a thought is of course generally considered a Masonic heresy!

There were tensions between the Brethren of English origin and the French members of the GLNF and in 1958 a group of lodges left and founded what is now called the Grande Loge Traditionelle et Symbolique Opera. Also in 1958 the GLNF took in twenty-six lodges belonging to the Grand Lodge of the Rectified Rite and the Scottish Masters of St Andrew and in 1964 some 800 members from the Grande Loge de France. Around the year 2000 the GLNF had something over 1,000 lodges, which worked a rich variety of rituals. Emulation, either in English or French, accounts for 25% of lodges, the Scottish Rite Craft degrees for 33%, the Rectified Scottish Rite 19% and the French Rite 16%.

From its inception the GLNF has conducted a single-minded and extremely focussed international policy of stressing its regularity and of keeping its links with the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) close and it was thus able to consolidate its position. That is not to say that there are not substantial Grand Lodges, such as the Grande Loge de France, whose workings are regular, but the system does not allow any multiplicity of recognition.

The current problems probably started following the election of Francois Stifani by the members of the Sovereign Grand Committee (SGC) in 2007 – and the range of decisions taken by the SGC became a bone of contention. From December 2009 onwards the picture is murky, as any information is partisan and each side offers a totally different perspective.

In June 2008 the GLNF purchased an apartment of 274m2 on the Avenue Wagram at a cost of two million Euros and it is said that this is in support of Stifani’s political ambitions. There is no doubt that Stifani wants the GLNF to become the biggest Obedience in France and to carry the influence appropriate to that. Perhaps it is enough to recount that on 19 January 2009 he wrote to the President of the Republic saying ‘You will be able to count upon our Order to support your future reforms’ and Nicholas Sarkozy replied on 5 February 2009 thanking him for his ‘resolute support’. He also got involved in supporting political stances on matters subject to national political debate. It is at this point at the end of 2010 that the whole affair burst upon the public scene with articles and a blog in L’Express under the pen of journalist Francois Koch and the crisis has proved a fertile ground for news and scandal ever since.

There was ‘internal’ opposition as well. Once it was clear that whole Provinces and many lodges simply ‘disappeared’ upon the signature of the Grand Master, those in opposition to such practices could no longer let these actions go unchallenged. Thus various provinces developed blogs under the shared ‘brand name’ of Le Myosotis – which when translated is the flower, the forget-me-not. This of course has very strong connotations: remembering and hoping for better times in Freemasonry when times are bad for the Craft. There is even a blog in English for those for whom a French language blog is a struggle:

Internally Stifani has sacked all those who disagree with him (more than twenty Provincial Grand Masters); has appointed five Grand Secretaries in three years (and presumably the previous four have failed to live up to the demands made upon them).

The nature of running such organisations in France is that the Masonic affairs of the GLNF are managed by its Constitutions (and thus the Grand Master), while the administrative ones are governed by French Civil Laws. So when it came to late accounts and unresolved financial matters an application to the courts provided a court appointed administrator to manage the civil side of things. The cost of all this had (and has) to be borne by the GLNF.

From hereon matters get even messier and more confused. There were several Extraordinary General Meetings, scenes of unbelievable confusion and frustration with, for example, the opposition drowning out all attempts of the Grand Master to speak by singing the national anthem, and none of these meeting produced any conclusion, indeed no real progress at all.
From the three general assemblies held in 2010! Indeed things got far more bizarre and extreme, for on 3 December 2010 at the meeting held at Levallois, delegates arrived to find twenty buses full of the CRS (the French elite riot police) awaiting trouble – and there were never more than 150 Brethren outside demonstrating. There were checks to enter the building and then more checks to establish if one was entitled to vote. When the Grand Master and party arrived on the stage they were greeted by an outbreak of shouts of a derogatory nature. These were drowned out by music that seemingly was Mozart’s Requiem, probably a rather strange choice. After half an hour order was still not restored. Whatever side one takes it was clear that matters had gone beyond the point at which anyone was either prepared or willing to listen to the other side.

Eventually even the friends of the GLNF in Europe had had enough. UGLE issued a warning on 9 December 2010 regarding the letter to the President of France and a similar message, dated 13 December 2010, was jointly signed by the Grand Masters of Switzerland, Luxembourg and Belgium. On 18 May 2011 the Grand Lodges of Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Germany and Belgium instituted procedures leading to the suspension of the GLNF and were followed on 21 July by a similar statement from UGLE.

This was followed on the same day, 21 July, by a four-page letter from the GLNF, curiously back-dated to 14 July, in which they say ‘it seems preferable to temporarily suspend our relations with the United Grand Lodge of England’.

The members of those lodges who had been struck off the GLNF lists eventually decided that they had had enough and formed the Union des Loges Regulieres Française (ULRF) to act as a focus to look after their interests. Created in October 2011, it had, in three months, 512 lodges and another 12,000 individual brothers. Any figures quoted are those offered by the parties involved – they are probably indicative even if not with any guarantee of accuracy. Their main themes are set out in their ‘White Book’ that can be read in French at They were not the only ones to despair either. In the middle of December the Grand Lodges of Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and Switzerland met, and in the public letter they issued, noted their ‘consternation, sadness and indignation’ at ‘the shocking process of moral disintegration and organisational decomposition which culminated in the events surrounding GLNF’s General Assembly of the 2 and 3 December 2011’. The letter finishes by stating that they ‘have therefore agreed to initiate, without delay, within their respective Grand Lodges the procedure of withdrawal of their recognition of the GLNF, each according to its specific bye-laws’.

In December 2011 the ULRF contemplated the various legal actions being pursued by a variety of parties and hoped that at the February meeting of the GLNF Association they would have reached a stage that ‘should enable us to gain a definitive victory and finally throw the merchants out of the Temple’. They were in no doubt as to the task that awaited them, whatever the outcome of events in courts or conventions. ‘No matter what, the reconstruction task will be colossal and no-one has the slightest doubt that henceforth it will require a profound reforming of the statutes and constitutions of the Obedience as well as the practices and management methods of out institutions’.

In February 2012 out of the original 1,629 lodges at the start of this crisis 587 have refused to pay their dues, and some 350 of the remaining lodges while still ‘on the books’ are said to be dissident. The situation is impossible to clarify because the slightest hint of any dissidence and a lodge will immediately be struck off by the current GLNF management. One would have to be of a supremely optimistic nature to see any return to normality and harmony within the GLNF. Clearly the Grand Master Francois Stifani has no intention of leaving, indeed he has even managed to get himself re-elected by a Sovereign Grand Committee that has had its membership ‘suitably adjusted’! Actually there currently seems to be some doubt about the validity of the re-election and this is at present before the French courts with the GLNF Grand Master versus Maitre Monique Legrand, the Civil Administrator – presumably the GLNF will end up paying both sets of legal fees!

In spite of all these efforts the ‘re-election of the current Grand Master’ must have felt like the final straw for the ULRF; and as a result the fallback plan of creating a new Grand Lodge swung into action. On 28 April 2012 the Grande Loge de L’Alliance Maconnique Française (GL-AMF) was consecrated. Some 1,500 masons were present to see Bro Alain Juillet declared Grand Master of this new Masonic body. The website claims that they stand for:

– Inalienable authority over the three degrees
– Primacy of the spiritual over the temporal – clearly separating civil activities from masonic ones
– Sovereignty of the Lodge

Alain Juillet, the newly-installed Grand Master, made a speech (which one can find easily with the aid of Google) and I offer just a few lines which seem to me to epitomise the aspirations of both the Grand Master and the GL-AMF:

‘After those leaden years where, as victims of the image of a certain Obedience, we were considered to be the depository of politicised business deals, now we can return to true Masonry. Masonry that is not selected by the level of dues, the glitter of the apron or the sound of the title’.
‘We don’t become Masons to gain proud satisfaction or power that escaped us in professional life. We don’t become Masons to make deals of every sort’.
‘We become Masons to advance our self knowledge, to continue our quest to understand the eternal world around us’.
‘The Light which spreads within us opens the spiritual way. It gives birth again to faith in Man, hope in the future and the practice of charity which differentiates us from those who have not received the Light’.
‘We become Masons to advance our self knowledge, to continue our quest to understand the eternal world around us’.

While the last few years will have been traumatic for all members of the GLNF, one cannot help but have a slight pang of jealousy that in passing through these traumas they have been obliged to review and reconsider those essential values of Freemasonry that they hold dear. I am sure they will come through the process of renewal greatly rejuvenated and invigorated.

It is perhaps part of the weft and warp of French Freemasonry that it has multiple Grand Lodges and that these they can mostly accept as they co-exist in the fraternal world and accord each other respect. It is also a feature of French Masonry that it has regular (as in recurring) breakaway Grand Lodges being created – while that may be uncomfortable, it does offer some sort of free market in Masonic fraternalism which requires each and every Grand Lodge to stay in touch with attitudes in society and the desire of men to seek Masonic Light; or risk the penalty of loosing its membership. While they admit to working toward recognition, they seem aware that this will happen more perhaps in the fullness of time rather than instantly. That however is a matter for various Grand Masters, Grand Secretaries and Grand Chancellors – a decision I can happily leave to them.

BREAKING NEWS: The day after I finished writing this article a new declaration was issued jointly by the Grand Lodge of Austria, the Regular Grand Lodge of Belgium, Grand Lodges of Germany, Grand Lodge of Luxembourg and the Grand Lodge Alpina of Switzerland called the Declaration of Basel of 10 June 2012. In it they acknowledge with sadness ‘the demolition of an almost one hundred- year-old masonic heritage … by the fault of the present leaders of the GLNF’.

They go on to say that ‘Among all the actors of this reconstruction process, the Grande Loge de France could play a major role, having already been greatly esteemed for some time by the five Grand Lodges not only because of the quality of its brethren and their ritual work but also for their vivid and well known desire to become part of the universal chain of recognized freemasonry’. While they express some minor caveats they say that they ‘seriously wish to support and to counsel the Grande Loge de France in this matter and declare their willingness to start negotiations with a view to its eventual recognition’. While there were many who felt that the Grande Loge de France was regular in practice and who hoped that it might take a proper place in the European Masonic community – there can be few who anticipated such words of public endorsement. As they say: watch this space.

Grande Loge de L’Alliance Maconnique Française GL-AMF
Grande Loge Nationale Française GLNF
Grande Loge de France GLDF
Grand Orient de France GODF
La Grande Loge Nationale,
Independante et Reguliere pour
la France et les Colonies Françaises GLNIRFC
Supreme Council,
Rite Écossais Ancien et Accepté REAA
United Grand Lodge of England UGLE
Union des Loges Regulieres Française ULRF