Early Freemasonry in Denmark and Norway
When Freemasonry arrived in Scandinavia in the middle of the eighteenth century, Denmark and Norway constituted a dual monarchy and their early Masonic histories are thus intertwined. While Freemasonry was brought to Sweden from France through noblemen and diplomats, the first Masonic activities in Denmark and later Norway came from the Northern German states via civil servants, officers and merchants.
This difference in origins, combined with sparse inter-Scandinavian Masonic contact, suggests that Freemasonry in Denmark-Norway on the one side, and Sweden on the other, followed different traditions during the formative years. Consequently, the Craft, and to an even wider extent, the additional degrees, evolved in separate ways in the two regions.
First Masonic activities in Denmark and Norway
Freemasonry arrived in Denmark when five Master Masons met in Copenhagen on 11 November 1743 and founded a lodge which would later be named St Martin. Of the five founders, four had been initiated in Hamburg, and one in Berlin.
The following year, brethren from St Martin left to establish another lodge which obtained a constitution from the Grand Lodge in London in 1745 and exists to this day under the name Zorobabel og Frederik til det kronede Haab (i.e., Zorobabel and Frederick of the Crowned Hope, colloquially known as Z&F), the oldest Masonic lodge in operation in the Nordic countries. At this time the lodges worked a German variant of English ritual.
A Provincial Grand Master for Denmark and Norway, Count Christian Conrad Danneskiold-Laurvig, was appointed by the Grand Lodge in London in 1749, and the Craft in the dual monarchy was formally subordinate to England until 1765. Three more lodges were established during the first two decades of Danish Freemasonry, as well as three lodges working the Scottish Master’s degree, and a lodge of adoption. Rosa’s adaptation of the Clermont system was also present in Copenhagen from 1762 to 1764 in form of the chapter Capitulum Hafniense.
Circumstantial evidence suggest that the first Norwegian lodge was consecrated in Christiania (present-day Oslo) by the Provincial Grand Master Count Danneskiold-Laurvig during the summer months of 1749. This was probably never reported back to London since no relevant records are present in the English archives. Minutes from the lodge is extant from 1757 and indicate that the work was suspended for several long periods.
The time of the Strict Observance and the Rectified Rite
In 1765, Danish and Norwegian Freemasonry joined the Christian high-degree rite called Strict Observance under German leadership. The Rite of Strict Observance underwent a major revision in 1782 and became known as the Rectified Rite. A similar development had occurred in the Strict Observance lodges in France in 1778 and the Rite Écossais Rectifié (Rectified Scottish Rite, RER), survived in Switzerland from where it has spread to other countries in recent decades.
In 1775, Prince Carl of Hessen, who was closely related to the Danish royal family, was initiated into Freemasonry and became the ‘superior’ of Danish Freemasonry in Denmark from his initiation until his death in 1836. From 1765 to 1792, however, Danish and Norwegian Freemasonry was technically subordinate to the leadership in Germany. When Prince Carl was governor in Norway on behalf of the king, he also supervised the introduction of the Rectified Rite in Norway.
Norway joins Sweden and adopts the Swedish Rite
Frequent and regular activity in the Lodge in Christiania was established in around 1816. Norway had entered a union with Sweden in 1814 and in 1818 Norwegian Freemasons transferred their Masonic allegiance to Swedish Order of Freemasons and adopted the Swedish Rite that had been finalised by King Carl XIII a few years before.
Freemasonry spread slowly in Norway in the ensuing years and a second Lodge of St. John (Craft) was not founded until 1875 in Bergen. A Lodge of St. Andrew was established in Christiania in 1841 and was followed by a chapter working in the VII and VIII degrees in 1856. A Norwegian Provincial Grand Lodge was established in 1870 and in 1891 Norway set up an independent Grand Lodge and Masonic Order, with the rights to work all the degrees of the Swedish Rite. King Oscar II was Swedish Grand Master at the time and held the same office in Norway until the union between the two countries was peaceably dissolved in 1905.
Denmark adopts the Swedish Rite
In Denmark, Prince Carl was succeeded in 1836 as Danish Grand Master by Prince Christian Frederik who three years later succeeded to the Danish throne as King Christian VIII. He remained Grand Master until his death in 1848 and was succeeded by his son, King Frederik VII.
In 1852, King Frederik VII sanctioned that the new lodge Kosmos in Helsingør could start working according to Swedish Rite. That happened in 1853. In the same year King Frederik VII constituted a temporary Danish Grand Lodge with the task of preparing the transition from working the Rectified Rite to working Swedish Rite across all Danish lodges. On 6 January 1855, the formal transition took place at a special meeting of the Grand Lodge in Copenhagen. This is the historic origin of the New Year’s Festival of the Danish Order of Freemasons as it is celebrated today. Later that year the first Lodge of St Andrew working the Swedish rite in Denmark was established in Elsinore; it moved to Copenhagen two years later.
On 16 November 1858, the proper Grand Lodge of Denmark was constituted according to the fundamental laws of Swedish Rite and work in Swedish Rite chapter degrees began. The transition was completed on 22 March 1862, when King Frederik VII initiated the first Knights and Commanders of the Red Cross in Denmark, the XI and highest degree of Swedish Rite.
Thus by 1858 the Swedish Rite was fully established across the Scandinavian countries; it has been practised there ever since, spreading in the 1910s to Iceland when that country was part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Following the Icelandic independence in 1944, the Icelandic Order of Freemasons was founded in 1951.
Niels Arne Dam
Orator, Danish Lodge of Research Friederich Münter
Leif Endre Grutle
WM, The Norwegian Lodge of Research Niels Treschow
Photography © The Old Stables Press