Sagasta (1827–1903) was one of the most distinguished
figures of 19th-century Spanish history. He trained as an
engineer and was responsible for building much of the railway
network in the north of Spain. He was anxious to see Spain
develop into a modern industrial state and developed strong
liberal views. He served in the Spanish parliament at various
times in the 1850s, but Spanish political life was marked by
violent conflict and uprisings, and Sagasta was briefly forced
into exile in France.
Sagasta served as Prime Minister of Spain at various times
between 1881 and 1902. He introduced many liberal reforms
such as extensions of the right to vote and trial by jury.
However, Spanish political life remained turbulent to the
end of Sagasta’s life. In particular, the risings against Spanish
colonial rule in Cuba proved difficult for Sagasta to handle,
and many afterwards accused him of losing the remnants of
the Spanish empire
Like many Spanish liberal politicians, Sagasta was a
committed Freemason, who from 1876 to 1881 was Grand
Master of the Grand Orient of Spain. As Grand Master, he
instigated substantial reforms of the organisation of Spanish
Freemasonry, and sought recognition from Grand Lodges
abroad, including the United Grand Lodge of England.
The paper presented at the Logroño conference by
Professor Andrew Prescott of the University of Sheffield
discussed previously unknown correspondence in 1879 about
recognition of the Spanish Grand Lodge between Sagasta and
John Hervey, the Grand Secretary of United Grand Lodge.
Sagasta was born in the small mountain town of Torrecilla
de Cameros, close to Logroño, and the proceedings of the
conference included a trip to Sagasta’s birthplace and a tour
of the town by the mayor, which included a visit to a museum
commemorating Sagasta’s life and achievements.
The conference heard over 70 papers by academics from
universities ranging from Cuba to Lisbon. The whole event
triumphantly demonstrated how the history of Freemasonry
can be a lively and vital field of academic enquiry.
The conference was also supported by the regional
government of La Rioja, and the formal opening of the
conference was held in the beautiful headquarters of the
provincial government, a converted 16th-century convent.
The opening was attended by the head of the provincial
government and attracted substantial press and TV interest.
On the occasion of the opening, Professor Benimeli gave a
masterly lecture on Sagasta and Freemasonry, which showed
how, in Spain as in many other countries, research into
Freemasonry can provide new and unexpected vistas into
Professor Benimeli (right), with
representatives of the Fondation
Práxedes Mateo-Sagasta and the
Parlamento of La Rioja, addresses
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