Like any young woman with a not-so-secret penchant for true crime, I’m automatically suspicious of any mysterious, secret society. I was baptised Irish Catholic but am very lapsed now, I’m put off by the Greek fraternity and sorority system that’s so popular in the US and I’ve read enough about how cults work to distrust shady, exclusive clubs, especially those only open to men. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not into conspiracy theories, I’m just a fan of transparency and inclusivity. So it was with a healthy dose of scepticism (and perhaps a hint of trepidation) that I headed to the Musée de la Franc-maçonnerie, or Freemasonry Museum, one rainy afternoon.
The Paris Freemasonry Museum is located in the French Freemasons Lodge, or the Grant Orient de Paris, in the Cadet area of the ninth arrondissement. I’m not sure what kind of building I expected (perhaps some kind of stone monolith?) but I was surprised to find le Grand Orient is a modern glass and steel building. There’s lots of security, signs pointing to the ‘temple’ and meeting rooms on the upper levels and a small, polished museum on the ground floor.
This last one was more interesting than I had expected. Filled with documents from the earliest days of the organisation (when it was more of a guild for literal stone masons), portraits of illustrious members throughout history (in France, both Voltaire and Lafayette were freemasons) and timelines of how the organisation has evolved in France and the world. With its starry ceiling and shadowy design, I found the Musée de la Franc-maçonnerie dramatic but informative. I still wanted to get my information from a less biased source, though, so after I left I did some more reading on Freemasonry history.
I won’t be joining any secretive societies any time soon. But I also won’t be stopping my exploration of the dozens of stranger, lesser-known and astoundingly-niche museums of Paris. And this museum is a good example of all three.