150 years of Italian Masonic unity

NPR had an interesting story about the upcoming celebration of 150 years of the Italian Constitution and the apparent dis-unity between its Northern and Southern Region.

The statement was about the culminating fight in 1861 to create a liberal, unified Italy. Unified in that Italy prior to this revolution was the center occupations, revolution, and Papal monarchies, and European incursions.

In the story, the line that jumped out in the middle was about a present day conservative coalition that has espoused a separatist agenda from the unified Italy, called the Northern League.

Their present day disdain for a unified Italy comes with this condemnation about the Revolutions commander, Giuseppe Garibaldi. their comment in the piece was that “Garibaldi was a mercenary,…financed by English Freemasons.”

You can listen to the NPR story A Divided Italy Prepares For Unification Anniversary.

Just in trying to unravel the complexity of the Italian civil and political world in the 1860’s would take a few pages of preliminary explanation, but at the heart of the quote above is the idea that Garibaldi, and the revolutionary forces, were somehow Masonic in nature.

Foldout lithograph from Memoirs of the Secret Societies of the South of Italy, particularly the Carbonari - from the International Institute of Social History

Early, as Italian unity was beginning to take shape in the moral imagination of the peninsula’s inhabitants, it began to take shape in a patriotic and liberal secret society called the Carbonari, who were said to of organized in the form of Freemasonry, broken into small cells scattered across Italy – and more especially as it was populated by Freemasons attempting to separate the fraternity from the political movement.

From Wikipedia on the Carbonari:

The aim of Carbonari was the creation of a constitutional monarchy or a republic, they wanted also defend the rights of people against all forms of absolutism. Carbonari, to achieve their purpose, were ready to commit assassinations and armed revolts. The membership was separated into two classes—apprentice and master. There were two ways to become a master, through serving as an apprentice for at least six months or by being a Freemason on entry. Their initiation rituals were structured around the trade of charcoal-selling, hence their name.

It goes on to say that the Masonic revolutionaries were wiped out by 1831, but not after fomenting and revolting against the then Papal States of Pope Gregory XVI with the aid of the Austrian Army in Rome. And, the article suggests that it was the Carbonari Victory in Naples, in 1820, in which the Carbonari revolution in Naples led to King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies to promise a constitutional Monarchy and make concessions to revolutionaries.

Giuseppe Garibaldi

Giuseppe Garibaldi

What strikes me is that it was in this vein that led to the future battles of Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1860 and his push to unify the region which didn’t fully manifest for many years after in 1871 with the Franco-Prussian War to link it to the Carbonari/Freemason connection.

The Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon has a terrific article on Garibaldi – the Mason which says of his Masonic career:

Garibaldi, as Fulvio Conti recounts in an article published in “Hiram” in 2002 on the occasion of the one hundred and twentieth anniversary of his death, was initiated into Freemasonry in 1844, at the age of thirty-seven, in the “L’Asil de la Vertud” Lodge of Montevideo. This was an irregular lodge under a Brazilian Freemasonry which was not recognised by the main international masonic obediences, such as the United Grand Lodge of England and the Grand Orient of France.

Later, in 1844 he regularised his position, joining the lodge “Les Amis de la Patrie” of Montevideo under the Grand Orient of France. Garibaldi entered Freemasonry during his exile, taking advantage of the asylum which was offered by the lodges to political refugees of European countries governed by despotic regimes hostile to democratic or nationalistic movements.

Garibaldi then attended the masonic lodges of New York in 1850 and London in 1853-54, where he met several supporters of democratic internationalism, whose minds were open to making socialist thoughts their own and give Freemasonry a strong anti-papal stand.

It makes for an interesting link, Garibaldi the Mason and the Revolutionary fore-bearers in the Carbonari, which leaves one to wonder if perhaps the Northern League might not just be plucking a ill-tuned cord in Italian history.

Garibaldi, if in fact was a Masonicly influenced revolutionary, seems to of had the right idea, at least about throwing in his aid to an early Civil War president Abraham Lincoln, offering his military prowess to the embattled president, as he ardently desired to do so was upon the “declaring the abolition of slavery”, which he suggested nearly 2 years before Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

You can read more on the Carbonari and on the many years of Italian Revolution in the works of Christopher Hibbert Page – Garibaldi: Hero of Italian Unification and/or explore the group who would make just such a Masonic-politico connection by exploring the Northern League itself in Nationalism in Italian Politics: The Stories of the Northern League, 1980-2000 (Routledge Advances in European Politics) by Damian Tambini. Or, if European Secret Societies are of greater interest, check out Memoirs of the Secret Societies of the South of Italy; Particularly the Carbonari by Bertoldi

On a lighter side, why not just stay more up to date on the peccadilloes of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi which really seem to tumb-the-nose at the great achievements of his revolutionary predecessors.

In the mean time, a warm Masonic salute to 150 years of Italian Unification.

Posted in Masonic Traveler.

A devoted student of the Western Mystery Traditions, Greg is a firm believer in the Masonic connections to the Hermetic traditions of antiquity, its evolution through the ages and into its present configuration as the antecedent to all contemporary esoteric and occult traditions. He is a self-called searcher for that which was lost, a Hermetic Hermit and a believer in “that which is above is so too below.” Read more about Greg Stewart.