Freemasons well worth remembering

Lluis Salat i Gusils

Contributed by Miguel H Bronchud

In late January/early February 1939 at least half a million Spanish civilians and soldiers fled to France. The word Retirada (retreat) was used to signify this exodus, which was the biggest single influx of political refugees ever known in France.This humanitarian catastrophe followed the collapse of the democratically elected Second Spanish Republic and the brutal victory of General Franco, aided by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The last major Spanish city to fall was Barcelona on 26 January 1939, after predictable military defeat of the ad hoc Republican army at the final battle along the beautiful Ebro river. Predictable, because Franco was part of a military coup organized between 1934 and 1936 under the leadership of several Spanish generals so that the Republicans were left without a regular army from the very start of the bloody civil war in July 1936. This hopeless situation was made worse by the presence of innumerable, disorganized revolutionaries - communists and anarchists - described in George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. During the night of 27th January, thousands of Republicans, having been mercilessly pursued by Mussolini’s bombs, struggled to get in to France via the frontier towns of Cerbère, Le Perthus and Prats-de-Mollo, during a vicious winter.

They had come from all over Spain - Asturias and Santander, Euskadi, Extremadura and Castilla la Nueva, Andalucía, Aragón, Catalunya. Inevitably, many of them were Spanish freemasons because General Franco had declared them sworn enemies of the Catholic military crusade, condemning some eight thousand of them to death. (This number is from the Gran Oriente de España – the premier Spanish Grand Lodge at the time - which, oddly enough, recognized only four thousand members.) Among the desperate freemasons who managed to enter France – only to be declared foreign undesirables – was a young man from Catalonia, Lluis Salat i Gusils, who some 40 years later became the first Most Worshipful Grand Master of the regular Gran Logia de España.


Many women and children were allowed in the same night. Their only welcome was barbed wire fences, Gardes Mobiles (a special branch of the gendarmerie) and brutal Senegalese troops. Between 5 and 9 February, all the Reds, as they were called, were forced into unprepared internment or concentration camps - between 60,000 and 100,000 herded together on the beach at Argelès-sur-Mer. The camps offered no protection from the freezing temperatures and biting winds apart from a few improvised flimsy shacks. Most slept in holes dug in the ground. There was no water, no sanitation and scarcely any food. According to one of the most famous early photojournalists, the American Robert Capa,


... for sport, many mounted and armed French guards beat up dying men … One night in February seventeen had died of exposure and were buried where they lay.


Lluis Salat spent just over a month there and, as he says himself, escaped with the generous help of some French brethren. Other Spanish republican freemasons were less lucky and even eminent individuals died, including the poet Antonio Machado, whose poems were quoted by Spanish new king Felipe VI in his Proclamation, June 2014. Bro. Antonio Machado is buried in the little and beautiful village of Colliure just across the border in the Pyrenees.


Others, like the President of Catalonia, Lluis Companys i Jover, managed to reach Paris and other cities, only to be later captured by the Nazi SS squads and sent back to Spain - where Companys was sentenced to death by Franco and executed in Montjuich close to the Barcelona Olympics stadium - or sent to Nazi concentration camps in Austria, Poland, Germany.

Lluis Salat I Gusils managed to escape from France,  avoided the Nazis, and settled in Bogotá, Colombia.


He was born on 14th December 1914 in a well established family of Catalan industrialists (the Salats) and was initiated in October 1935 at Lodge Thenis, No. 13 of GOE in Barcelona. In the troubled January of 1937, he was installed as WM of his lodge. When in Latin America, Bro. Lluis became involved with the Gran Logia Nacional de Colombia becoming their Grand Secretary for a year (1951-52). He returned to Spain in 1974. (Generalísimo Franco died in November 1975.)


He became involved in underground Freemasonry until his lodge, Perseverança, was recognized by the Grande Loge Nationale Française in 1979 as their lodge number 246. Together with two other Spanish lodges (Sant Joan de Catalunya No. 208 of GLNF and Sant Jordi 227, meeting in Perpignan just across the French border), 246 became the embryo of the GLE. First, the Grand Master of the GLNF, Jean Mons, recognized Lluis Salat as the District GM of the Spanish District of the GLNF. (note 1) Finally on 17th June 1982, Lluis Salat asked the GLNF for formal recognition of the Gran Logia de España (GLE). MWGM Jean Mons created the GLE with Decree 656 of the GLNF, thereby establishing the first regular grand lodge in Spanish history (note 2). Recognition of the GLE by the United Grand Lodge of England had to wait until 1986.


A 1984 interview in the Spanish newspaper El País, reported Lluis Salat to have said that:


Yo debo a la masonería todo lo que he hecho en la vida y lo que soy. Ha sido lo que me ha mantenido con ánimos hasta en los momentos más difíciles. Comenta que la masonería en España ha estado muy politizada, que se utilizó con finalidades políticas y en luchas religiosas, cuando en realidad, según él, no tiene nada que ver ni con la política ni con la religión.


He said that owed Freemasonry everything that I have achieved in life and everything I am. It has sustained me in the most unhappy and difficult times. He said that Masonry in Spain had been highly politicized, and wrongly used for political purposes and in religious arguments, when in fact, according to him, it has nothing to do with politics or religion.


Very little is known about his personal life or business life and he left very few written documents and, as far as I have been told by GLE, no published books or papers. 

Note 1:

Among the very early English freemasons to attend those early lodge meetings I cannot fail to acknowledge W. Bro. Eric O’Hara who brought with him a great deal of ritual knowledge and spent much time, effort and personal money to help Lluis Salat and others.

Note 2:

This does not, of course, count the French Arms Lodge No. 50, created by the colourful Duke of Wharton, GM of the Grand Lodge of England in 1723. 


References (official CV by the GLE)

(biographical article published on 26th December 1984 by the Spanish newspaper El País)