Such notions as “masonry” and “legend” can be considered synonyms. Over the time masonry has become surrounded by a great number of tales and conjectures because of its mystery, symbolism and ceremonialism. Some authors trace their history back to the times of Adam and Eve. The others suggest that the last members of the famous Templars became masons (most of the knights were killed though by Philip IV of France at the beginning of the XIV century). According to some reliable sources masons have been residing at the same place in Edinburg since 1599. The official version is more realistic: July 24, 1717 is considered to be the date when the Premier Grand Lodge of England was established. It is said to be the founding organization of all the other lodges.
But over a three-hundred-year period of its official activity Masonry has spread all over the world differently. The average number of Freemasons is about 4 million people. Half of them lives in the USA and that is not surprising as the founding-fathers of this country were all masons. Do you remember a 1-dollar banknote with an eye and a pyramid on it? This is one of the commonly used mason symbols. One can come across it on the facades of the Belarusian buildings, such as Bulgakov palace in Zhilichi and St. Joseph Cathedral in Volozhin.
The first Masonic establishments appeared in the Belarussian territory not long before the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth partition. Unfortunately, nowadays one can find very little information about them. Masonry starts to have a crucial role in a city when there are about several dozens members and a Masonic lodge is created. One was set up in Mogilev in 1770. On May 22, the Masonic establishment “Two Eagles” was founded. In 6 years another Masonic lodge was created. It was called “Hercules in a cradle”. The next city was Polotsk. The Masonic establishment called “Talia” that used to be situated in Moscow was moved to Polotsk in 1777. Also, in 1791 a Masonic establishment called “Wisdom” was founded in Shklow. At the end of 1809 another lodge called “Happy Freedom” was created in Nesvizh. And only in 1816 Minsk got its own Masonic establishment.
The next five years are considered to be the greatest years of Masonic activity in Belarus. Mainly because of the Russian Emperor Alexander I, who was a mason himself. Many symbolic Masonic establishments appeared at that time, such as “Ceres” based in Navahrudak (later the name was changed to “The Center of Unity”), “The Friends of Humanity” in Grodno, “The Northern Torch” in Minsk. The Minsk lodge was established on the name-day of Alexander I; in 1820 Dominic Moniuszko, a retired major of the army of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, became the head of “The Northern Torch” and Apollinary Vankovich became his deputy. There were more than 215 members in the lodge. Such Masonic establishments as “The Relic of North” and “The Tabor Mountain” were also founded in Minsk. Above all, there were such symbolic establishments as “Vladislav Jogaila” in Slutsk and “The Relic of Peace” in Nesvizh. You can find more details about them in the books “Masons and their establishments in Belarus (end of the 18th – first quarter of the 19th century)” by V. Shved and “The Freemasons in the Belarusian history (end of the 18th century –beginning of the 20th century)” by A. Smalarchuk. The landlords who were the members of “The Northern Torch” asked for permission to open symbolic lodges when given special status. They opened these Masonic lodges at their family estates. Summing up, the Masonic establishments were opened throughout Belarus. They were founded in small settlements and local intellectuals, Polish noble officials were their members. Basically, they were intellectual clubs.
In 1822 due to political tensions, Alexander I banned secret societies and Masonic establishments. Masons respected the rule of law and the word of the authorities and decided to close their establishments throughout the Russian Empire. The lodges were reopened only in 1991.
So, what’s left from those masons in Minsk? According to some sources one can still find the place where Masons organized their meetings. It’s a house at Musical Alley 5. In 2002 the restoration of this building was completed and its historical appearance was preserved. It is said that when it was first constructed it was built specially for Masons. The building resembles a Masonic cross: it has four symmetrical thumbs of the facade. But supposedly except for this shape and the fact that the landlady’s husband was a member of a Masonic establishment in 1820-s there is no other evidence. Before the October Revolution the rooms of this house were rented or were used for administrative purposes. In Soviet times it was a residential house. After the restoration the house was taken by The National Theatre Museum.
If the fact that this building was constructed by Masons is true, then we might say that this is a unique building for our country, because there are only two of them left: one in Minsk and one in Grodno.
But if we speak about Masons we must consider not houses but particular people and their deeds. There was one person who lived in Minsk for ten years (1796-1806) and was engaged in its development. It was Zachary Jakovlevich Korneev, the first governor of Minsk. He used to be a very famous mason.
It was he, who started the redevelopment of Minsk. Former Moscow-Vienna post road was transformed into Zacharyevskaya Avenue named after the governor. Nowadays it is called Independence Avenue. In 1805 under the auspices of Korneev The Governor’s Garden was created. Today it’s Gorky Park. He also ordered to create another park which in 1870 was called Alexander’s Park.
The governor is not forgotten. In Gorky Park near Svisloch River one can find a pyramid – a monument dedicated to the governor. It also takes us back to the Masonry.
Nowadays, Masons don’t hide. But they are trying to keep themselves and their activity in secret. Officially, they are engaged in charity and spiritual self-improvement. Meanwhile they postulate non-interference into politics and religion. Probably, they have learnt from the past as in the Russian Empire their establishments were banned because of politics. Nowadays, due to globalization there are not only Christians among Masons, but also Muslims, Buddhist and representatives of different religions.
You can fill an application on one of the web-sites, but becoming a Mason won’t be easy. Becoming a member of one of the Masonic establishments is difficult from the psychological point of view. Remember the situation with Pierre Bezukhov in “War and Peace”? To tell the truth, nothing has changed. Being wealthy is the main criterion. Mainly due to being engaged in charity, plus attending Masonic meetings and becoming a Mason requires a huge amount of money. In simple words, Masonic establishment is a private club for intelligent and wealthy people.
The mysterious component of Masonry is still one of the main secrets. Probably it is connected with one particular rule which obliges to keep the members’ surnames in secret. It allows to discuss the topic of absolute power.