Brazilian Freemasonry


Brazilian Freemasonry

Source: Fernando Finianos O Jr.

The world’s academic historians would probably agree that the basic goal of History is to present a systematic and unprejudiced narrative of facts discovered from evidence of primary and secondary sources about the life of peoples and their institutions.

Our History of Masonry in Brazil does not differ from this discipline, and aims not only to describe the major events of the beginning of Freemasonry in Brazil but also to organise them Consistently in accordance with their order of occurrence. It is not our primary intention to study the subject matter under nay particular perspective, but rather to present them as they were collected from the many books and historical documents we were able to peruse. So that the study of the History of Masonry in Brazil could be made easier for the reader, we have divided it into four distinct phases, which broadly follow the general History of Brazil:

1) Proto History (1500-1803)
2) Early History (1803-1822)
3) Modern History (1822-1927)
4) Contemporary History (1927- )

1) Proto History: embodies all tenuous evidence related by visiting Freemasons, especially those from England and France. Unfortunately little written matter has been preserved, but what survives has been only passed down through oral transmission.
2) Early History: comprises the earliest record of written references to existing Lodges, and their struggle to secure the Independence of Brazil from the Portuguese colonial system. It ended when the Delegate of the Grand Orient of Lisbon (Portugal) cut off relations with Brazilian Masonry.
3) Modern History: constitutes the most active period of the History of Masonry in Brazil. It is characterised by the prominence of the two leading characters of the Brazilian Independence Movement: Joaquim Gonalves Ledo and José Bonifácio de Andrade e Silva.
4) Contemporary History: links the dissidence of the Grand Orient of Brazil (of French orientation) and the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite, with that of the nationalist movement, which led Getúlio Vargas to executive power in Brazil, following the 1930 Revolutionary Movement (also known as The New State).
Each of these divisions was specifically written to provide a framework for an overall vision of the main events which affected Brazilian History in the context of the advent of Freemasonry in Brazil. A list of selected books which may help serious students of History to carry out more thorough research into these events is given at the end of this brief study.

The text was written by Bro. Getúlio Medeiros, F&AM, Lodge Deus & Fraternidade Serrinhense, #53, United Grand Lodge of Bahia, Brazil, and edited by Bro. Grame Bruce Fletcher, F&AM, JW Phoenix Lodge # 94, 2AS Chapter de Lambton # 94, Province of Durham, United Grand Lodge of England.

We were only concerned with the supervening facts that appear conclusively to have determined the evolution of the Craft in Brazil. These facts are merely summarised in accordance with the purpose of this work, to present a clear but basic understanding within a brief document. It has not been our primary goal to present new evidence about the Brazilian people’s struggle for their emancipation nor to expose facts and principles which may have affected subsequent events. Yet, considered as a constant fight for civilised principles and ideologies, some readers may reflect that all of these events have a significance and relevance to the present day.

Through the History of the Craft in Brazil we have seen evidence which encourages us to hope for an even brighter future. We take no political stance, but hope that this History will illuminate the path of those who will feel themselves called upon to become members of the Craft, thereby to continue the traditions of Brotherly Love, the relief of distress and the pursuit of the timeless Truth which can enable mankind to find peace and harmony. We acknowledge that this work contains errors and omissions which stem from the limitations of space and the difficulties inherent in attempting to gather complete and reliable evidence from primary and secondary sources. We also request that you write to us, if you have nay suggestion, comment or nay other views about this simple text, as we hope to produce further Masonic documents on the World Wide Web.

We would be grateful for nay further evidence which will enable us to improve this work. May the Great Architect of the Universe guide and protect us all.

Proto History (1500-1803)

Some of the earliest evidence of Masonic activities in Brazil was recorded by a few French travellers in Rio de Janeiro at the end of the XVIII century, though the Grand Orient of Brazil was only founded in 1822. There is another tale about an imprisoned English Mason, named Lindley, who got in touch with his Brethren in Bahia, who helped him to get out of prison and flee the country aboard a vessel which belonged to a Masonic brother. The majority of the membership of the revolutionary movement against Portuguese colonialism in Brazil is also said to have been constituted of Freemasons, although there is no evidence whatsoever linking its leader, Tiradentes, to the Craft. According to the most accepted version of events, he was supposed to have been initiated by José Alvares Maciel. The ideology of this Revolutionary Movement coincides with the Masonic ideology of that period, which also influenced the plot against the Portuguese presence in Rio de Janeiro in 1794. Ostensibly to undertake some scientific research, Dupetit-Thouars came to Brazil in 1791. In Bahia he founded a secret order called ‘Knights of Light’ and taught the basic theory of French Enlightenment: – a lifelong battle against intolerance, injustice, and obscurantism. He was indeed both a French revolutionary, and a Freemason. He soon had to return to France, and his work was continued by Larcher, who arrived in 1797 and directly influenced the 1798 conspiracy against the Portuguese crown. It was due to the influence of this order that the majority of the conspirators escaped from being prosecuted by the Portuguese authorities in Brazil.

According to the comments of Oliveira Lima, given in “The History of the 1817 Revolution”, written by Monsignor Munis Tavares, there are references to many secret orders influenced by the French Revolutionaries, including “The Areopagus of Itambe”, founded by Manuel de Arruda Cmara, of which the Catholic priest Joo Ribeiro Pessoa was a member.

The so-called Academias, which maintained a close link with other similar and congenerous orders in both English and Spanish Americas, were also derived from these secret orders. The most famous were located in the state of Pernambuco. The founders and supporters of “Academia de Suassuna” were Cel. Francisco de Paula Cavalcanti de Albuquerque (known as Cel. Suassuna), Free Caneca (a Catholic Friar), and the Provincial Chief Justice of Pernambuco, Antnio Carlos Ribeiro de Andrada. “Academia do Paraíso” was run by the Catholic Priest Joo Ribeiro Pessoa; its name is a tribute to Our Lady of Paradise, whose chapel was adjacent to the library of the Hospital – the place where its members used to meet.

All of these secret orders came into practical operation when a series of recurrent uprisings against colonialism spread throughout the North-eastern part of Brazil – mainly in the province of Pernambuco. They also served as a perfect liaison network amongst the Brazilian intelligentsia, who were struck with amazement by the new ideals coming from the Old Continent. It was within the many Masonic Lodges of that time that the motto of the independence movement:- “Independence or Death”, was forged.

Early History (1803-1822)

Arguably, the most significant event in Brazil’s Masonic History took place in 1803, when the Delegate of the Grand Orient of Lisbon (Portugal), finding hostility in the Lodges and a frank unsubmissiveness to the control exerted by the Metropolis, cut off relations with almost all of them, making an exception of the Lodges “Constncia” and “Filantropia”. From that time the majority of Brazilian Masonry withdrew from Portuguese control and forged ahead in pursuit of its own autonomous direction. In 1807-08, during the Napoleonic Wars, King JOHN VI of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarve took refuge in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil, now the seat of government for its mother country, witnessed great economic growth. When a threatened revolution in Portugal forced John VI to return to Lisbon, he left here his son as Prince-Regent.

Meanwhile, three Lodges in Bahia, (namely:- “Virtude e Razo Restaurada”, “Humanidade”, and “Unio (or Reunio)”), tried to organise the first Grand Brazilian Orient, under the direction of Antnio Carlos Ribeiro de Andrade, the Provincial Chief Justice of Pernambuco. This attempt, however, was prevented when the 1817 Revolutionary Movement was savagely destroyed by the Portuguese rulers.

In South Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, the capital city of Colonial Brazil, a Masonic Lodge was founded in 1812 with the name of “Saint John of Bragana”, a visible and explicit tribute to King John VI. Although the King never knew of it, this Lodge worked in the Town Hall of Rio de Janeiro. In 1815, the old Lodge Reunion (or Union), now renamed “Commerce and Arts”, joined the Grand Orient of Portugal, but was closed three years later by a Royal Decree that stifled all secret societies in Brazil, leading to the resignation of many of their members. In 1821, an old recreational and cultural society was revived, with a clearly Masonic nature, by Joaquim Gonalves Ledo. Taking into consideration the real importance of the influence of Masonry on the campaign for the Independence of Brazil, Jose Bonifacio de Andrada e Silva, counsellor to the Prince-Regent, acceded to the office of ‘Grand Master of the Grand Orient of Brazil’. In a speech he revealed that he was initiated abroad. He then looked for support from within English Masonry, through Hipólito José da Costa, a Brazilian Freemason residing in London.

Modern History (1822-1927)

The personal rivalry between Gonalves Ledo and José Bonifácio led Peter I, the Prince-Regent, to assume the office of Grand Master, with the support of Ledo’s followers. After this time, Peter I, always influenced by his private advisor, José Bonifácio, tended to give preference to a paramasonic order known as the “Knights of Saint Cross”. The majority of the membership of this group were José Bonifácio’s followers. There are few reliable references about what really happened, but it is clear that, after the Independence, Peter I, crowned as Emperor and Perpetual Defender of Brazil, closed all Masonic Lodges and oppressed Ledo’s followers. Gonalves Ledo, chased by the police, went into exile in Argentina. Even the supporters of Masonry under the Portuguese Orient were oppressed and compelled to close all Lodges in the Brazilian territory. Two men; one lifetime. – José Bonifácio de Andrade e Silva, and Joaquim Gonalves Ledo. While Ledo was pleased to work behind the scenes of History, José Bonifácio liked to do everything on its public stage. It was Ledo who proposed Peter I to be initiated into Masonry, persuaded him to call a Constituent Assembly, and wrote some of the most important political documents in the pre-independence era, including the Manifesto of 1st August, 1822 (just thirty-six days prior to Independence Day), addressed by the Emperor Peter I to all the peoples of Brazil. His counterpart, José Bonifácio, to whom the History-books refer as the ‘Patriarch of Independence’, was a true and skilful master of the public political arena. In the month of July, 1823, however, he dissented from the Emperor’s political camp and strengthened the opposition’s lines. Subsequently, he was arrested and banished into exile in France.

Six years later he was assigned as the preceptor of Peter of Bragana, the Emperor’s five-year-old son, when Peter I abdicated the Crown, and left Brazil to his own exile in Portugal where he tried to be crowned King. These events favoured the growth of several Masonic Lodges which had been operating secretly, such as ‘Moral Education’, directed by Gonalves Ledo, and ‘Commerce and Arts’, directed by Canon Januário da Cunha Barbosa. The Grand Orient of Brazil was re-established under the leadership of José Bonifácio who called for the unity of all Masonic Lodges in Brazil, but he faced strong opposition from many Lodges, arguing that his term in office had ended in 1822 when the Emperor Peter I closed all secret orders in Brazil, including the Masonic Lodges. The opposing Lodges gathered together and founded the Grand Brazilian Orient under the direction of Senator Vergueiros. By this time a new Constitution of Brazilian Masonry had been approved, a manifesto defending its regularity was launched, and the various Provincial Grand Orients were established throughout Brazil.

As we have seen, when Brazil was declared an Empire, there were two rival Grand Orients. The Grand Orient of Brazil, also known as The Orient of Lavradio, because of the name of the street in Rio de Janeiro where it was located, was led by José Bonifácio. The Grand Brazilian Orient, or The Orient of Passeio, (another street-name), was directed by Senator Vergueiro. In 1837 Senator Vergueiro was succeeded by Counsellor Cndido José de Araújo Vinana, future Marquis of Sapucay, in the office of Grand Master of The Orient of Passeio. All attempts to join with The Orient of Lavradio failed and caused severe damage to the Orient of Passeio. In 1842 The Orient of Passeio was invigorated by the addition of the Brazilian Supreme Council, under the direction of Count of Lajes, in association with its French counterpart. In 1846, however, this Orient faced a considerably large number of schisms and suffered an irreversible crisis. With the election of Manuel Alves Brnaco (the second Viscount of Caravelas), who was keenly supported by Aureliano Coutinho, things apparently eased. The standing of the Orient of Passeio received a fatal blow when The Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite, under the presidency of the mighty Duke of Caxias, a legendary Brazilian military leader, left The Orient of Passeio and tried to establish an autonomous Orient, but finally chose to be incorporated with the Grand Orient of Brazil (Lavradio). Slowly, but with fierce determination, The Orient of Lavradio took over the majority of the Lodges, their officers, their historical archives, and – most significantly of all – the recognition of all foreign Masonic Grand Lodges including the United Grand Lodge of England and Le Grand Orient de France. All efforts exerted by Pedro Ernesto de Albuquerque de Oliveira and Manuel José de Freitas Travassos to recover the situation on behalf of The Orient of Passeio were in vain.

The Grand Orient of Brazil (Lavradio) adopted the French rite, as well as the Constitution of the Grand Orient of France. On 24th October, 1832, it published the first Constitution of the Grand Orient of Brazil, written by Gonalves Ledo who had re-established fraternal ties with his former rival José Bonifácio. But the intense political activity of José Bonifácio prevented him from directly exercising personal high office in the Grand Orient which was led on a practical day to day basis by Colonel Manuel José de Oliveira, his Assistant Grand Master. Under the auspices of the Grand Orient of Brazil were established the Scottish Rite (1834), the Sovereign Council Kadosh (1834), the French Rite (1835), as well as an English Lodge sponsored by the United Grand Lodge of England. In 1837 the Grand Chapter of Rites was also established under The Grand Orient of Brazil. The Grand Orient of Brazil was itself recognised by the Grand Orient of France (1841), and established relations with the Grand Lodges of Hamburg, New York and Prussia(1845), Uruguay (1856), Portugal (1858), and Argentine (1859). In 1843 the Grand Orient of Brazil acquired the building at Lavradio Street, one of the most important Masonic buildings in Brazil. In 1850 the Viscount of Abrantes (later; Marquis) took over the office of Grand Master. It was a profitable administration, and during his time the fundamental law of 15 September, 1852, was enacted. A formal agreement was established with the Count of Caxias (later the Duke of Caxias) in 1854, seeking the incorporation of the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite, over which he presided. Practically speaking, this act represented the first attempt made by Brazilian Freemasonry towards a world-wide recognition of the Craft in Brazil. In 1863 when peace reigned within the Craft, a new schism broke out between the followers of the French Rite and those of the Scottish Rite, provoking an emergency meeting of the self-styled Grand Orient of Beneditinos (Street), under the leadership of Counsellor Joaquim Saldanha Marinho.

The Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite, under the presidency of the Viscount of Rio Branco, who was also the powerful presiding officer of the Council of Ministers of the Empire, remained faithful to the Grand Orient of Lavradio. Under political pressure, the Counsellor Saldanha Marinho agreed to merge into the Grand Orient of Brazil, but they would be separated once more when the Counsellor wrote violently against the Viscount of Rio Branco, declaring him to be in breach of Masonic Line and Rule.

The reason for this discord resulted from the conflict between Masonry and the Roman Catholic Church. The breaking point was the process of suspension from Holy orders of Father Alameda Martins, Grand Orator of Lavradio, in 1872. The peace was re-established in 1885, when the episode known as the ‘Religious Quarrel’ was over.

Masonry did not take a leading part on the proclamation of the Republic of Brazil, the official name of which was “The United States of Brazil.” Furthermore, there are few documents which offer even circumstantial evidence of Masonic influence, but it is true that during the preceding period, the Grand Master had been the Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca, who also became the first President of the new Republic.

A new era of Masonic peace and improvement affected Brazilian Masonry under the leadership of the Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca.

Contemporary History (1927- )

Sadly, in 1927, Brazilian Masonry faced severe turmoil, when a revolutionary process that reflected the condition affecting politics, economics, and society in general, culminating in the assassination of the President of the Province of Paraíba, Joo Pessoa, brought about the inauguration of the New State, Getúlio Dorneles Vargas becoming President. In 21st June, 1927, alleging that the Grand Orient of Brazil (strictly committed to French orientation) was interfering with the Lodges by trying to enforce the use of the French Rite (then only practised by a minority group within the Brazilian Craft), The Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite in Brazil, under the presidency of Mário Behring, broke all agreements and proceeded to set up the Headquarters of the Rite at Carmo Street, and received the support of 108 Lodges from all over the Country.

The French Rite in Brazil eliminated the Holy Bible from the taking of obligations, abolished the invocation of the Great Architect of the Universe, and accepted notorious atheists into membership of the Craft, and favoured the discussion of partisan political matters inside the Lodges. Accordingly, the Grand Orient of Brazil was disowned in a public proclamation, and its new Supreme Council classified as spurious, illegitimate, and irregular by the Supreme Scottish Council of other nations.

The Supreme Council, however, did not have jurisdiction over Craft Masonry (the three fundamental degrees), and therefore the Lodges which dissented from the Grand Orient of Brazil formed the Sovereign Provincial Grand Lodges under the Scottish Rite. Consequently the Supreme Council performed a Masonic ‘excommunication’ on the Grand Orient of Brazil and its own Supreme Council. In 1935 the United Grand Lodge of England, which considers as essential belief in God and in a future life, signed a treaty with the Grand Orient of Brazil, establishing fraternal relations between them. Peace reigned once more over Brazilian Masonry until the beginning of 1948, when some Freemasons from the Grand Orient of the State of Minas Gerais formed the “United Grand Orient”. This orient survived for almost a decade, until Admiral Benjamin Sodré on the command of the Grand Orient of Brazil promoted the unification of all Grand Orients.

However, the dispute between the Grand Orient of Brazil and the Grand Lodges remains latent even to the present day in various parts of Brazil, inasmuch as there is a great distinction between the Lodges that follow the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (where belief in the Supreme Architect of the Universe is encouraged) and the Modern French Rite (still openly laic and materialist.) Moreover the Grand Orient of Brazil embraces the following Rites: York, Schroeder, Adoniramite, and Brazilian. The latter – re-established in 1968 – has 33 degrees, admits tradition with evolution, and proclaims the emancipation of Brazilian Masonry.

On the other hand there are United Grand Lodges, regularly constituted, all over the Brazilian states and federal territory. No recent ‘census’ survey results are yet published, but it is estimated that some 700 Lodges with more than one million affiliated members now hold regular meetings throughout Brazil.

Freemasonry is known worldwidely as an organisation of men based on the principles of Brotherly Love, the relief of distress and a shared belief in the existence of universal Truth under the fatherhood of God – to whom we refer as the Great Architect of the Universe. It is not itself a religion, though its first requirement for membership is a committed belief in God. Of special significance amongst the Craft is its respect for the peace and harmony of society and its encouragement of a sense of loyalty to one’s Nation: its anthem and its flag are usually saluted at the beginning of each masonic gathering, and the first toast on formal occasions is to the Head of State. Freemasonry is not linked to any political party or faction whatsoever, and its principles strongly support the sovereignty of nations, the authority of secular power legally constituted, and respect for existing laws. These facts – however strongly they have been affirmed by the members of the Craft – have not prevented Freemasonry from meeting political opposition, especially in totalitarian states where freedom has, from time to time, been suppressed. It is true that some men who, acting as individuals, have helped to organise political uprisings or coups-d’etat have also been Freemasons, but in every case this has been contrary to the principles of the Craft; they have acted in response to their conscience or their understanding of the laws of God and perceptions of the laws of men. Any act which would tend to subvert the state or disturb the peace and good order of society is expressly forbidden in the constitution of Freemasonry.

The earliest Masonic concepts in Brazil were markedly of French orientation with regard to political and religious freedom, a similar perspective to that expressed in the Renaissance period when man was considered by the early humanists of the time to be the leading character in the Universe. Based upon the mistaken idea that Freemasonry was a religion and a secret organisation, a Papal ban on Roman Catholic membership of Freemasonry was enforced until it was repealed in 1983. Freemasonry does not demand any secrecy of its members other than that they do not disclose the traditional signs and words privately used in formal ceremonies to distinguish their membership, and members are repeatedly told in the ceremonies that their loyalty to other Freemasons must always be subordinate to the loyalties due to God, to their fellow creatures (whether family, friends or any other people – masons and non-masons), to the State, the Law and their employer.


Menezes, Manuel Joaquim de, Exposio Histórica da Maonaria no Brasil (1857); *Mello, Mário Carneiro do Rego, A Maonaria e a Revoluo Republicana de 1817 (1912);
Amaral, Braz do, A Conspirao Republicana da Bahia de 1798 (1926);
Barros, F. Borges de, Primórdios das Sociedades Secretas na Bahia (1928); *Kloppenburg, Boaventura, A Maonaria no Brasil (Orientao para os Católicos) (1961).

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Diario Masónico

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