A very Jewish Lodge


Hiram’s Lodge No. 490 



            Of all the Lodges past and present which has left a mark in the history of Freemasonry in Gibraltar, there is one Lodge in which the Brethren are relatively unfamiliar with since very little historical information exists today. The name of this Lodge is Hiram’s Lodge No. 490 E.C formed in 1774. Although few brethren may have ever heard about this Lodge its members played a vital role in granting access to the privileges of Freemasonry to the ‘native’ population of Gibraltar, that is to say, those who were not of British or Protestant stock. Among those Lodges today that can trace back their lineage to Hiram’s Lodge is the Royal Lodge of Friendship No. 275 E.C and Calpe Lodge No. 325 I.C. Hiram’s Lodge was unique in that it was the only Lodge whose membership was almost exclusively Jewish in character.


            Gibraltar has from the very beginning of British rule been a melting-pot of races and religions. British, Spanish Genoese, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims and Jews. In fact the Barbary Jews were amongst the first entrepreneurs to take advantage of Gibraltar’s new status as a ‘Free Port’. Protestant migration was slow in the early years of British occupation of the Rock since it was common in war for fortresses such as Gibraltar to exchange hands quickly and the remaining Catholic population were considered ‘Papists’ and not to be trusted. In this climate of risky but worthwhile economic opportunity Jewish merchants established a useful if not successful entrepot trade and in time gained such confidence with their British masters that not only were the relevant parts of the Treaty of Utrecht relating to Jews in Gibraltar blatantly ignored, but they were also allowed to own property[1] and by 1774 at least, a number of Jews had been already been initiated into the Inhabitant’s Lodge No. 285 (not to be confused with the present Inhabitant’s Lodge No. 153 which was not in existence at that time) that they even applied and were granted a local warrant to establish their own Lodge.[2] It is interesting that Jews were not only admitted into Lodges into which no native Catholic had been initiated before, but they were also encouraged and supported by the established Anglo Lodges to set up a Lodge of their own. This is a hugely significant step in local Freemasonry for Hiram’s Lodge bridged the language and cultural gap that existed between Protestants and Catholics living on the Rock. Whether by accident or design, Hiram’s Lodge opened the door for Catholics to enquire and seek admission into the previously exclusive ‘Anglo-Saxon’ brotherhood.







            The members of Hiram’s Lodge were to work under the authority of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Gibraltar for twelve years before applying for an official Warrant from Grand Lodge.[3] The main reason for the delay in the application of an official warrant for this Lodge lays squarely in the outbreak of hostilities between Britain and Spain and the duration of the famous Great Siege of Gibraltar (1779-1884). The Jews in particular acquitted themselves very well and were predominant in the dangerous but essential task of repairing the sea and land defences and enlisting in various regiments. One Jew, Abraham Hassan, in particular, was particularly outstanding in his contribution. He enlisted and acquitted himself so well that Governor Elliott granted him a small property near South Port after the siege.[4] It was Abraham Hassan himself who was the Master of Hiram’s Lodge in 1786 who used his own personal influence to apply for formal recognition of his Lodge with the full backing of the Inhabitant’s Lodge since ‘Mother Lodge’ as the old Lodge of St. John of Jerusalem was known at the time had by this time defected to the Ancient Constitution. The petition makes it clear that the petitioners were ‘regularly made Masons’ to clearly identify themselves as Modern Masons as opposed to the numerous Ancient Lodges now operating in the garrison. The letter stated that ‘in the late siege, they had the misfortune to lose the Sanction given them by the St. John’s Lodge of Gibraltar; which said St. John’s Lodge of Gibraltar, having thrown aside the authority of the grand Lodge of England and now working under a warrant of Dispensation granted under the authority of a Mr. McDermot’.[5]



On the 22nd November 1786 Hiram’s Lodge was officially consecrated in Gibraltar with the following Founder Members:


Abraham Hassan                      Master

Jacob Israel                              }Wardens

Joseph Gabezon                       }

Solomon Benamore

Haim Hassan

David Hassan &

Jacob Levy


Abraham Hassan was by now such an influential figure in Gibraltar that he had even been appointed Marshal of the Court [6] a remarkable appointment for a native Jew residing in a garrison such as Gibraltar. It was also through enormously influential individuals such as Abraham Hassan that civilians of Mediterranean origin finally found a door to Freemasonry in Gibraltar. The name Abraham Hassan is hardly known nowadays as a figure of importance in our history, but his impact in the social as well as Masonic development of Gibraltar should not be undermined.






The official establishment of Hiram’s Lodge also paved the way for Roman Catholics to gain admission into Freemasonry since before 1778 language, local custom and above all religion caused much distrust between the British military establishment and the native population. The end of the siege in which not just the commendable contribution of the Jews but also the numerous Roman Catholics who remained loyal to the Garrison despite enormous hardship facilitated the acceptance of Roman Catholics into Hiram’s Lodge. Evidence for this can be found in the Annual Return of 1790 when the following Brethren were returned as initiated members[7]:


Judah Toledano

John Arengo

Francis Traverso

Manuel Moreno

Laurence Cele

Benedeto Ramanone

Anthony Francis

Lewis Chapori


The above mentioned Brethren are of particular interest to the members of the present Royal Lodge of Friendship for they were instrumental in the creation of Friendship Lodge No. 577. There is little doubt therefore that the Royal Lodge of Friendship is a daughter Lodge of Hiram’s Lodge as can be seen from the letter received by the Master of Inhabitant’s Lodge and recorded in the Minutes.




The Minutes from the Inhabitants’ Lodge dated 1st December 1791:


‘This Night recd a letter from the Worshipful Master of Hirams Lodge No. 490, recommending Br. Jn. Arengo, Br. Francis Traverso, and Br. Antonio Francis, and several other brethren to be by our Lodge Constituted into a Regular Lodge / they having obtained a Warrant from the Grand Lodge of England sign’d by Rawden Hastings, Lord Rawden Acting Grand Master, under His Royal Highness George Prince of Wales, they praying to be Constituted on Tuesday sixth Day of Decr 1791, Br. Arengo prayed that the whole of the members of the Inhabitants’ Lodge may attend the Constituting of the Lodge of Friendship No. 577.’[8]


The new Lodge was constituted a few days later by members of the Inhabitant’s Lodge with many of Hiram’s Lodge members in attendance. That evening the following brethren were appointed to Office:




Br. John Arengo Master

Br. Domingo Marenio Senior Warden

Br. Antonio Francis Junior Warden

Br. Levigea Chapey Secretary

Br. Manuel Moreno Treasurer

Br. Boneto Remione

Br. Manuel De Concession

Br. Jn. Seociato

Br. Recano Parody


The name Arengo is still remembered today and Arengo’s Palace was indeed a magnificent edifice built by this hugely influential and wealthy philanthropist. He was a great benefactor and included substantial donations to the Apostolic Church in Gibraltar, including the beautiful altar still in use at the Cathedral today and carefully covered up to conceal the carved Masonic symbols that decorates the beautiful marble piece.[9] It is not an accident that the same members who were initiated into Hiram’s Lodge in 1790 would only a year later apply for a warrant to form their own Lodge. This was no coincidence and Hiram’s Lodge is clearly instrumental in initiating a number of Roman Catholics into the Lodge with a view of forming another Lodge for members of that faith. The Inhabitant’s Lodge was for Protestants, Hiram’s for Jews and Friendship almost exclusively for Roman Catholics, so much so that even the minutes of this Lodge was for many years recorded in Italian and evidence suggests that various degrees were often worked in either Italian or Spanish for the benefit of the candidate.[10]


The good times were not to last for Hiram’s Lodge though as indeed to most of the other civilian Lodges of the time. The Napoleonic Wars returned the Garrison to a state of emergency and in 1801 the over-zealous governor General O’Hara passed a General Order in which he decreed that ‘no Society should assemble together or hold any correspondence whatsoever’, which consequently rendered all civilian lodges from working.[11] Then in 1804 a deadly epidemic of Yellow Fever not only further decimated the civilian population but also scattered them throughout the Mediterranean. In 1813 another epidemic took its toil on the population of the Rock, in that year the Union of the Grand Lodge of England required a new census as to the state and regularity of the existing Lodges under the English Constitution. Failure to comply resulted in erasure. Civilian Freemasons in Gibraltar struggled to register their Lodges, Friendship and Calpean amalgamated to form the present Lodge of Friendship, Ordnance (Inhabitant’s No. 153) and St. John survived. However for other civilian Lodges these events delivered a mortal blow and were subsequently erased from the List of Lodges in 1813. Among them, the Venerable Lodge St.John of Jerusalem No. 52, Inhabitant’s Lodge No. 285 and Hiram’s Lodge No 490 (in 1792 re-numbered No. 400).






However, although the Lodge itself lapsed between 1800 and 1813 there is evidence that some of its former members continued to enjoy Freemasonry and their names were recorded in the returns of other military lodges that were clearly not affected by O’Hara’s General Order. Lodge No. 5 (Royal Artillery) working under a local warrant from the District Grand Lodge of Gibraltar and Andalusia included many members that are easily recognizable as those formerly from Hiram’s Lodge. They include:


Abram Hassan

Abram Bergi

Solomon Toledano

Judah Garson

Solomon Serfaty[12]


            In this way O’Hara’s General Order was side-stepped but at the cost of erasure of the Lodge when Hiram’s Lodge failed to register in 1813. After so many years of dormancy it is possible its former members neither had the will or more probably the relevant documentation to revive it for they continued to work under the local No. 5 Warrant throughout the period of the Union.


            In 1819, Lodge No. 5 was granted a new warrant from Grand Lodge and named Ordnance Lodge No. 715. By this time Ordnance Lodge No. 202 had changed its name to the present Inhabitants’ Lodge. However, despite the healthy numbers of this lodge as can be seen from the return of 1820 attached to this essay, the lodge was wound down in 1826. Why was this? Probably because No. 715 was in essence a Lodge for ‘Lodge-less’ Masons. At the time of the Union with so many dispersed Masons particularly from the Rock, there was little time to revive old Lodges. Warrants, Minute and Correspondence Books lost. Registration fees outstanding and Senior members of the Lodge absent it was easier to either register a new Lodge or re-join an existing one.


In 1822 a new Lodge was formed named Calpean Lodge No. 747 (erased in 1862) It is also at this time that Lodge St. John and Calpe Lodge applied for civilian warrants so it may be no coincidence that the members of Lodge No. 715 split up to strengthen the application for the formation of these lodges. Indeed The demise of Ordnance and the formation of an Irish Lodge was no coincidence for the petitioners of the Irish Warrant had specifically asked for a number with a five in it, as they owned regalia with the number 5 which they hoped to use with the new Lodge.[13] The regalia in question may well have been that of the old No. 5 Lodge who exchanged their Provincial Warrant for a Grand Lodge Warrant in 1822. Amongst the founder members of the new Irish Lodge, which was initially called ‘Gibraltar’ Lodge were four Brethren from the extinct Lodge No. 715 and who immediately made their old regalia available to the Lodge.[14]






On the 23rd January 1827 the ‘Gibraltar’ Lodge No. 325 I.C was consecrated at the Freemasons Tavern by the Masters and Officers of Lodges No. 42 and 130 I.C (No. 68 having already left the Garrison) who convened themselves as a Grand Lodge by Proxy in the name of His Grace Augustus Frederick Duke of Leinster and the other Right Worshipful Officers of the Grand Lodge of Ireland.[15] The founder members of the Lodge were:[16]


Br. Daniel Durham                    W.M    from     309      to         325

Br. Isaac Thompson                 S.W     from     68        to         325

Br. Alex Imbrie            J.W      from     68        to         325

Br. John Pratt                           Sect.    from     68        to         325

Br. Francisco Semonnetti          Treas.   from     715      to         325      E.C

Br. Charles Causton                 S.D      from     130      to         325

Br. Joseph Baggetto                 J.D       from     715      to         325      E.C

Br. Thomas Varner                   P.M     from     715      to         325      E.C

Br. Giacomo Celicia                 Tyler    from     715      to         325      E.C

Br. Job Wheatley                                  from     130      to         325

Br. Robert Moravia                              from     68        to         325



            Jewish Brethren were not founder members of Calpe Lodge No. 325, nevertheless through Lodge No. 715 and No. 5 we can trace a route back to Hiram’s Lodge. Today our Lodges are cosmopolitan in nature, but this was not always the case. It was through the endeavor and influence of our Jewish Brethren that Freemasonry became Universal for everyone in Gibraltar. This Lodge may have now been lost to history, but its impact has been historic towards the development of Freemasonry in Gibraltar.



WBro. K. Sheriff, PM of Inhabitant’s Lodge No. 153


Appendix G

[1] H.W. Howes, The Gibraltarian p. 1-10

[2] K. Sheriff, The Rough Ashlar p. 53

[3] Ibid., p. 53

[4] Sir W.G.F Jackson, The Rock of the Gibraltarians p. 164

[5] SN 1080 Petition for a Warrant for Hirams Lodge dated 17th July 1786

[6] K. Sheriff, The Rough Ashlar p. 76

[7] SN 1080 Return of Members 1790

[8] Inhabitants Lodge No. 285 Minute Book 1789-1801, GMI

[9] K. Sheriff, The Rough Ashlar p. 98

[10] Ibid. p. 97

[11] Ibid., p. 110

[12] Ibid., Appendix G, p. 325

[13] V. Power, Calpe Lodge No. 325, 175th Anniversary Booklet., p 35-36

[14] Ibid. p 41

[15] Ibid. p 43

[16] V. Power, Opcit., p 41