One of the least known facets of the life of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal, whose 111th death anniversary is being commemorated today, was his being a member of a worldwide fraternity called Freemasonry.
According to Filipino historian Reynold Fajardo, in his book “Dimasalang: The Masonic Life of Dr. Jose Rizal,” Rizal was not only a mason, he was the only one among the leaders of the revolutionary movement during the Spanish era who “deserved to be called an international Mason since he was a member of various Masonic lodges in Spain, Germany, France and possibly, England.”
Born to educated and middle-class parents— Francisco Mercado and Teodora Alonso Realonda—in June 19, 1861 in Calamba, Laguna, Rizal was seventh of 11 children. He started his schooling in the neighboring town of Biñan.
He later went to Manila and attended the Ateneo Municipal de Manila where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1877, after which he enrolled in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Faculty of Medicine and Surgery and then in the university’s Faculty of Philosophy and Letters until 1882.
Rizal then traveled alone to Madrid, Spain where he studied Medicine at the Universidad Central de Madrid, earning the degree of Licentiate in Medicine. He also studied at the University of Paris and earned a second doctorate at the University of Heidelberg.
According to Fajardo, at the time Rizal was studying in Biñan and Manila, Masonry was relatively unknown in the Philippines. Masonic lodges were very few and most of their members were Spaniards.
However, Rizal’s half-uncle, Jose Alberto Alonzo was a Mason and lived in Spain. Alonzo was made a Knight of the Order of Carlos III and later King Amadeo, also a Mason, made him to Knight Commander of the Order of Isabel the Catholic.
Rizal’s elder brother, Paciano, also has several links with Spanish Masons in the Philippines during the latter’s student days in Manila.
The first documented exposure of Rizal to Masonry was in 1882, Fajardo said.
At that time, he had already completed his fourth year as a medical student at UST and needed just one more year to graduate “but the urge to study abroad proved overwhelming.”
On his way to Madrid, his ship docked at Naples on June 11, 1882. He took a coach for a tour and he saw numerous posters put up by Masons announcing the death of Giuseppe Garibaldi, their Grand Master.
“Rizal must have been impressed because he later wrote about what he saw in a letter to his parents and brothers. That letter marked the first time Rizal made a written mention of Masonry, but it would not be the last,” Fajardo said.
Rizal joined the Acacia Lodge No. 9 in Madrid under the Gran Oriente de España. So far, there is no exact date as to when Rizal was initiated but based on a photograph of him wearing the habiliments of the Mason, historians deduced that he must have been around 23 years old then.
“In accordance with Masonic practices then observed in Spain, Rizal selected a symbolic name by which he was to be known - Hechose “Dimasalang,” Fajardo said.
“Christianity, the essence and sum total of all religions, reflected in her virtues all the merits of the others and sanctified humility, stoicism, purity, adding to these, like a true Oriental, charity—a virtue that later Mohammedanism elevated to a sublime height,” a portion of Rizal’s Masonic speech in Spanish read.
After completing his studies in Madrid, he proceeded to France in 1885 to specialize in Ophthalmology. He then moved to Heildelberg in Germany for further studies.
In 1889, he also joined the all-Filipino Solidaridad Lodge No. 53 in Madrid founded by Marcelo del Pilar, Julio Llorente, Antonio Luna, Teodoro Sandico and others.