Prejudice conquered in Krakow

The intrepid travellers of Bryn Lodge No 6553 are now renowned for their globetrotting expeditions as they continue their tradition of annually visiting a lodge in a different country/jurisdiction.

The gem of a lodge room in Krakow.

The gem of a lodge room in Krakow.

In previous years the team of lodge members have visited Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Czech Republic, Spain, Holland (to a lodge working under the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts), Portugal, Majorca, Jersey, Greece, Gibraltar, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Hungary, Belgium, France and Slovakia, as well as a special trip to London to celebrate the tercentenary. On each occasion, they have visited an English-speaking lodge, and seen many variations of ritual, customs and culture. This year it was to be no different. Krakow in Poland was the destination, and 20 members made the trip.

A meeting for lunch and liquid refreshment on Wednesday preceded the journey to Liverpool airport and a late afternoon flight to Krakow. The hotel was in the centre of the city, close to the lively and bustling area housing the many bars and restaurants. The lodge met on Thursday evening, so the day was spent exploring the city.

Prejudice conquered is the English translation of the name of the lodge in Poland that hosted the visit by the members of Bryn Lodge in what was trip number 19 on their annual pilgrimage. It seems ironic that the members of a lodge with such a name should still feel the need to avoid the slightest glare of publicity. The members of the lodge were perfect hosts, but kindly asked not to be photographed or referred to personally in any publicity. It appears that attitudes in Poland are not as liberal towards Freemasonry as they are in the UK, and their wishes were rigorously adhered to.

Enjoying the festive ‘agape’.

Enjoying the festive ‘agape’.

Lodge Przesąd Zwycięążony No 3 was founded in 1786, soon after the first Polish Grand Lodge had been established. The ritual used today is the version of the Scottish Rite that Polish Freemasonry accepted from its very beginnings. Given very close ties linking Poland with France as well as with Scotland, accepting the Scottish Rite was an obvious step. Poland was France’s ally; France supported the restoration of the House of Stuart, many Scots in avoidance of persecutions, or being on forced exile, came to Poland, at that time a model state of religious freedom in Europe. Unfortunately, due to historical turmoil, during the 19th and 20th centuries the lodge was forced to suspended activities for different periods of time. Eventually, after the years of communist regime, it was re-established in 1991.

Over the centuries, the lodge meetings were held in various places. The Masonic hall once owned by the lodge was permanently lost, but it is still standing in the centre of Krakow. It now housing the department of medical biochemistry of the Jagiellonian University and there is an information plate attached to the building.

The Bryn boys enjoying the good food, beer and great company.

The Bryn boys enjoying the good food, beer and great company.

The current lodge itself was a little gem hidden away in the suburbs of Krakow. You just wouldn’t find it. Met in the road outside, the visitors were led through a yard into the entrance to an apartment block, then through another door into another yard and into the lodge, where a vodka and snacks reception awaited.

The meeting was in two parts, the first with opening and closing in Polish with a lecture delivered in English on the history of the lodge. It was very interesting, and during that meeting, gifts were exchanged. From Bryn, a handmade gavel and base, made from oak, ash and elm, with a commemorative plaque attached, was presented to the lodge. The lodge in turn presented a shot glass and lodge jewel to WM John Tabern, and further gifts of the Krakow nativity scene to senior lodge members David Ogden and Barry Dickinson. The glass, designed for toasts, is called ‘a Szymbark glass’. Szymbark is a mountain village a 100 or so kilometres away from Kraków, where Past Grand Master of National Grand Lodge of Poland, and a member of the lodge, resides.

WM John Tabern and some of his officers exploring Krakow.

WM John Tabern and some of his officers exploring Krakow.

Each year the lodge run an event in Symbark, the workings and family picnic, dedicated to commemorating the adoption of the first Polish constitution on May 3, 1791. This tradition is now 25 years old, and each year brings a unique glass design. The ‘Szopka Krakowska’, a nativity scene, or Kraków Crèche, is one of the symbols of Kraków.

The tradition of Kraków Crèche in some way might be associated with operative Masonry The tradition dates back to the 19th century, when Krakow’s craftsmen, mainly stone and woodworkers, due to lack of work in the winter season, and in order to earn some money began to make them as Christmas decorations. The custom soon grew in popularity; the works were being made in wide range, in small sizes as well as structures up to two-three metres high.

Following the closing of the lodge, the Bryn members then took over and occupied the chairs and offices and gave a demonstration of emulation opening, closing and working tools. This was really well received by their hosts at the social gathering that followed. This they call ‘agape’, which is much less formal than an English festive board, and involves gathering round a table amply filled with meats, delicacies, cheese and pastries and copious amounts of Polish vodka and local beer. There were a few official toasts and lots of conversation, light heated banter and some singing. It was an excellent evening.

Friday morning started with an early breakfast, as a full day was ahead catching the bus for a trip to Auschwitz and Birkenau. It was a very poignant visit, something not to be missed, as a stark reminder of the inhumane atrocity of the Nazi regime. Amidst all the horrors of that period, we must also remember that Freemasons were also targeted and incarcerated in such places. It’s not surprising then that local Freemasons are still wary about broadcasting their membership.

Saturday saw the opening of the Christmas markets in Krakow, and after a day in the city, everyone got together for a meal in a local restaurant and visited the local hostelries for the final time, as it was an early flight home on Sunday. An uneventful flight saw everyone safely home in time for a relaxing afternoon. What a fabulous weekend. And next year, surely it must be something special for the 20th anniversary of this remarkable tradition.

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