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In early English, napron was used of a cloth, a tablecloth, whence our napery, nap-kin; it apparently was derived from the Latin map pa, the source of "map." "Apron is a misdivided form of "a napron," and meant a cloth, more particularly a cloth tied on in front to protect the clothes. The Operative Masons wore a leather apron out of necessity; when the craft became speculative this garment, so long identified with building work was retained as the badge of Masons; also as a symbol of purity, a meaning attached to it, probably, in comparatively recent times, though of this one cannot be certain.

- Source: 100 Words in Masonry


The lambskin, or white leather apron, is the badge of a Mason, and is the first gift of Master to the Apprentice. The apron is worn by operators to preserve their garments from spot or stain; but we as speculative Masons use it for a more noble purpose. By the whiteness of the colour and the innocence of the animal from which it is obtained we are admonished to preserve that blameless purity of life and conduct, which will enable us to present ourselves before The Great Architect of the Universe, unstained by sin and unsullied by vice.

- Source: Pocket Lexicon of Freemasonry

The Apron of White Leather

The apron of white leather, made of lamb skin, is a distinguishing badge worn by every member of the Masonic Order, and without which no brother can be admitted within the portals of a Lodge, nor allowed to take part in any Masonic procession of solemnity. The Apprentice is invested with it on his reception into the Order, and it is worn by those who have attained the higher degrees, and by all those who fill the most dignified offices. An apron is worn by operative masons to preserve their garments from stain; and thus, in speculative Masonry, the apron reminds us that we must keep ourselves from moral defilement; or in the figurative language of the Holy Scripture, must keep our garments white and keep ourselves unspotted from the world. White is a color which has always been considered as emblematic of purity and joy. The apron is made of lamb-skin because the lamb has in all ages been recognized as the emblem of innocence, and was therefore chosen by God Himself to be offered to Him in sacrifice, as a type of great propitiatory sacrifice, the Lamb of God - the Lamb without blemish and without spot, that taketh away the sin of the world. The Mason's apron is, therefore, not only a symbol ever reminding him of the duty of maintaining to the utmost possible degree Purity of heart and Purity of life, and of ever seeking greater perfection in both, but also of propitiation for sin, and the pardon ready to be granted to every one who seeks it in the way appointed. It thus inspires him to work with hope, and that hope further encourages to further endeavors after those attainments which will make him a good man and a good Mason, exercising an influence for good amongst all around him - in the Lodge, in his own family, and it all the relations of life.

Fitly is the newly admitted Apprentice enjoined, in the charge addressed to him after his investiture with the apron, that he is never to put on that badge if at variance with any brother who may be in the Lodge. This rule not only secures that the Lodge shall not be disturbed by unseemly strife, but tends to keep brethren from quarreling, and to make them anxious for reconciliation when differences do arise, thus promoting that brotherly love which is the great duty of Freemasons continually to cherish and display. The Mason's lambskin apron always tells him that his mind should be filled with good thoughts and his heart with good feelings, with sentiments of piety and benevolence. It is an honorable Badge, which many of the greatest men have delighted to wear, and it ought to be the earnest desire of every Mason that he should never disgrace it, but on the contrary may every day become more worthy of it.

- Source: Wm. W. Vickers

The Canadian Craftsman, June 1898

The Mason's Apron

William Harvey, J.P.

Probably the earliest moment at which a candidate for Freemasonry recognises that he is really and truly a brother of the Craft is when the W.S.W. approaches him and in the name of the G.A.O.T.U., and by command of the R.W.M. invests him with the distinguishing badge of a Freemason. Whatever other information as to the Fraternity he may have gleaned from the outer world, he has certainly learned that Freemasons clothe themselves with aprons, and now when one of these articles of attire is girt about his waist he must realise that he is really within the pale of the brotherhood. The charge that follows the investiture - whether it be the simple dignified little address that reads like a passage from Holy Writ or the more elaborate appeal which draws its colour from the honours of Masonry and the jewels of the Eastern potentate - cannot fail to impress him with the fact that the Fraternity looks upon the apron as a badge neither to be lightly conferred not to be worn with indifference.

As the apron is common to all the Degrees so it may be said with perfect truth that it is the most comprehensive symbol of our faith as well as the clearest evidence of our long descent. In a very material way it links us to those operative masons with whom we claim the closest kinship, and to whom we look as our immediate ancestors, but when it is invested with the attributes of innocence and purity it connects us in a community of thought and aspiration with the followers of every religion and the expounders of every moral system that has sought to elevate mankind.

The initiate is told that the badge is more ancient than the Golden Fleece or the Roman Eagle. Indeed, it is probably the oldest article of clothing in the world, and there is general agreement in the view that it was devised to preserve just that purity and innocence of which the Freemason regards is as an emblem. Out first parents in their earliest act of self-conscious pride wove fig leaves together to cover their nakedness, and this desire to veil the organs of creation is found as a natural instinct even among savage races. The grass skirt of the South Sea Islanders, the body cloths of the natives of India and Africa, and the conventional attire of civilised peoples may all be traced to this one primal instinct that it is good that a sense of innocence should be preserved.

It may have been just because of this moral significance that the apron was imported into religion and became one of the vestments of the priesthood. It is found as an article of the accepted dress of the priests of the Jewish faith, as well as of the officials of many other religions. The suggestion has been made that the apron is allied to the girdle of the prophets - the girdle of Elijah in the Old Testament, and the girdle of John the Baptist in the New. Both of these were of leather while is is also recorded that, on one occasion, Isaiah wore a girdle of hair-cloth, and that, on another occasion, Jeremiah donned one of linen. And it may have been that the priests borrowed the idea from the garments of the gods. Dr. Albert G. Mackey tells us in his "Lexicon of Freemasonry" that all the ancient statues of the heathen gods which have been unearthed in Greece, and Asia, and American are decorated with superb aprons.

If the Masonic apron is derived from early ecclesiastical clothing so also is its prevailing colour. We read in the Book of Revelation that which is an emblem of purity and thus has it been esteemed in all ages. The Arch-Druid clothed himself in white ere he cut the sacred mistletoe; the priest of the Roman gods wore a vestment of white during the hour of sacrifice, and the priests of the Hebrew people wore ephods of white while engaged in the service of the sanctuary. These varying faiths met on the one common ground of making the white garment a symbol of the need that men should be pure in heart if they would enter into the presence of God.

Those Masonic students who like to trace all our Speculative system to the work of our Operative brethren say that as the Craftsman wore an apron to save his clothing from being soiled at work, so the Speculative brother dons it as a symbol of his desire to be kept unspotted from the world. But is has a longer lineage and a closer affinity with moral and spiritual purity than anything that can be drawn from the leather apron of the humble worker with mallet and chisel. Down through the ages a white garment has been the distinguishing feature of initiation. In the mysteries of Mithras in Persia the candidate was invested with a white apron, as he also was in certain Japanese initiations. The garment of initiation in Greece was of the same hue, because, says Cicero, white is a colour most acceptable to the gods. As an emblem of holiness, the Essenians arrayed their postulant in a white robe which was bordered with a fringe of blue ribbon, and it may be a survival of this border that we have in the blue binding of some of our "working" aprons. If we pass from heathen to Christian practice we find the same colour in evidence. It was customary in the primitive Christian Church for baptised converts to be impressively clothed with a white garment, and in that vision of the Grand Lodge above vouchsafed to the Apostle John at Patmos, we are told that there was "a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation, and of all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white aprons."

I have said the apron is the most comprehensive symbol of our faith, and if, on the one hand it is derived from the garment which the Divine Creator bestowed upon fallen man in Eden, and on the other is an emblem of the robes of Paradise that have been washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb, then surely it is the fitting badge of the whole human race in their age-long march from darkness unto light!

And as that march of the whole creation is epitomised in the life of every individual it is fitting that the apron should be presented to the young Mason in the First Degree since his admission into the Craft in a state of helpless indigence is an emblematical representation of the entrance of all men on their mortal existence.

The Masonic Apron worn by the Initiate like everything else in our elaborate ceremonial, must conform to certain standards. It should be of pure white lambskin from fourteen to sixteen inches wide, and from twelve to fourteen inches deep with either a semi-circular or a triangular flap which falls to about four inches at its greatest depth. Often it is embellished with the name and number of the Lodge, but it should be without ornament of any kind. The yong Mason, accepting the plain undecorated apron as his chart, may trace upon it his upward career in the craft. When he reaches the Second Degree he may embellish it with two rosettes at the bottom, and when he becomes a Master Mason he may add a third rosette, line and edge it with silk of that colour adopted by his Lodge, and further adorn it by adding tassels. The origin of tassels and rosettes has given rise to considerable discussion. It has been suggested that the tassels have been evolved from the two long ribbons by which early aprons were girt about the body. These ribbons passed round the waist and were tied under the flap, with the ends pendant in front. The ends were ornamented with a silver fringe, and had become so characteristic that, when the strap and buckle arrangement was devised, they were retained, being gathered up into the form of tassels and placed one on either side. No satisfactory explanation of the origin of rosettes has been furnished. One theory is that they represent the point within the circle with which all Freemasons are familiar, but it is not generally accepted. Other details, always in the way of more elaborate decoration, are added according to the taste of the wearer. Sometimes the rosette bears a five-pointed star in relief. Occasionally the flap is embellished with the compasses and square and the sacred symbol in the centre. Now and again we find it ornamented with the Sun, the Moon, the Seven Stars, and the All-Seeing Eye. There does not appear to be any limit to the scheme of decoration which a brother may adopt so long as he confines himself to purely Masonic symbols. Office, of course, carried with it, its own ornaments. The apron of every office-bearer should display the particular jewel of his office; and in the case of a R.W.M. or P.M. the two rosettes at the bottom are replaced with levels of inverted "Taus" while the rosette on the flap gives way to the compasses and square enclosing the Sun and resting upon the segment of a circle, all which denote the rank of the brother.

But, no matter what the decoration or the rank it denotes every brother - even the Grand Master upon whose honoured shoulders rests the purple of the fraternity - must bear in mind that no adornment can add anything to the moral grandeur of the symbol, and that the badge of a Mason is found not in fine gold nor in silken fabric, but in the pure and spotless surface of the lambskin which is the common mark - as it should be the common object of veneration - of every member of our ancient and honourable fraternity.

The thoughtful Freemason who lingers over the charge which is addressed to him at his investiture cannot fail to appreciate that the apron is an emblem of all that is highest and best in human life. Bro. W. Harry Rylands, in an article on "The Masonic Apron," which he contributed to the "Transactions of the Lodge Quatuor Coronati," says that he has found nothing which would lead him to believe that much of the symbolism of the Freemason's apron which is commonly received at the present time is of very early date. He inclines to the view that it may have come in when the newer symbolism was introduced as otherwise it would be difficult to account for so many aprons being made of silk, velvet, satin, cloth, canvas and even chamois-leather, which he suggests, with a touch of subtle humour, might be called "the skin of the goat!" But while lambskin and the moral teaching deduced therefrom may belong to modern Freemasonry, Dr. Oliver tells us that in ancient days the apron or girdle of whatever material composed was universally received as a symbol of Truth and all nations have ever regarded Truth as serenely throned upon a mountain high above the strife and turmoil of men and the warrings of races. Locke, the author of "The Human Understanding", writing to Anthony Collins, says, "to love truth for truth's sake is the principal part of human perfection in this world, and the seed-plot of all other virtues." We are told that the Apron is the badge of Innocence and the bond of Friendship. What is Innocence but the kindly smile on the face of Truth? And there cannot be any Friendship worthy of the name either between men or between nations that has not Truth as its one and only foundation. Friendship based upon anything else is but an Apple of Sodom - fair to look upon and false when put to the test.

In addition to being the badge of Innocence and the bond of Friendship, the apron is an ever-present reminder of that purity of life and action which should at all times characterise a Freemason. The outer world, because it does not know us, regards us with rather dubious eyes. We are constantly wrapt about with an air of mystery and occasionally invested with an unworthy tradition; and if we were to seek to persuade the uninitiated that our mission was the uplifting of humanity they might smile in derision, and point a mocking finger. These things need not cause us to blush for the badge we don, nor deter us from our work in raising the Temple of character. Our legends tell us that the Master Architect was slain by men who could not appreciate the value of Truth and Honour, and the greatest Builder the world has ever seen was crucified at the behest of a mob who were blind to His great purpose. But the presence of three unworthy workmen at the Temple detracts in no way from the grandeur of the House which Solomon raised to Jehovah; just as the treachery of Judas, the denial of Peter, of the desertion of John in the Galilean drama dims not the glory of the sacrifice on Calvary. So if, in building the great temple of brotherhood, we meet with Masons who are not always true to their great ideals, that is no reflection upon the work to which we are called and no justification for the sneer and contempt with which many people, in their ignorance, regard Freemasonry. At the same time it is obvious that, if we would be true to the emblem which is our earliest tangible possession as Craftsmen, we must convince the world by exemplary conduct that merit is our title to the privileges we enjoy.

The Apron has inspired many, more or less indifferent poets to sing its praises, and, generally speaking , the effusions, like almost all Masonic verse, have hardly been worth the paper upon which they were printed. I came across some stanzas the other day entitled, "The White Leather Apron," and while the poem as a whole was neither better nor worse than the generality of such things, I thought there was one quatrain that struck a rather inspiring note. After dwelling upon the fact that the badge was more ancient than the Golden Fleece and more powerful than the Field-Marshal's baton, the poet proceeded:--

'Tis the shield of the orphan, the empblem of love,
'Tis the charter of faith from the Grand Lodge above;
While the high and the low, in its witeness arrayed,
Of one blood and one kin by its magic is made.

When first invested with it we are conjured to let its pure and spotless surface be to us an ever-present reminder of rectitude of life and purity of conduct; and a never failing argument for higher thoughts, nobler deeds, and greater achievements. What is all this but an appeal to the best that is in us to make this world a better place for ourselves and our fellow-men? The Freemason knows no party in politics nor does he confess any creed in religion, for, in theory as a member of a community, and in practice as an individual, he is willing to avail himself of whatever he can find in any party, and in every faith that tends to the uplifting of humanity. He takes the Temple of King Solomon as a symbol of that Temple of Ideals to the building of which he is called, but he does so only because he is a member of a brotherhood that has sought to give concrete form to its intangible design. Others are engaged in building the same Temple and are working with the same materials, for the stones are Truth, Honour, Friendship, and Purity, and the cement is Peace, Harmony, and Brotherly Love. It may be said, therefore, that all men are builders in a common cause, and yet in a very special sense the work is individual. In the erection of the Temple of Character it is not what other men do that counts. Other men may lay their courses well and truly but their work will reflect no credit upon us when the Master Architect comes to compare what we have done with what we were given to do. And it is just here that Freemasonry as an institution discharges its great function. By wealth of symbol and illustration it seeks to guide and direct its members in the paths of virtue and science, ever teaching them that the greatest happiness is found in doing good. "Any good deed that I can do,: wrote someone who would not have dishonoured Freemasonry, "or any kindness that I can show, let me do it now: let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."

And that is the thought that should be in the mind of every brother who would prove himself worthy to wear the badge that is consecrated to goodness and virtue by centuries of usage. He has worn the Apron in vain who has not learned that our ancient Fraternity exists to shed the light of love upon this darksome world. In the Third Degree we are taught that a day will come when the apron will be put off never again to be worn on this side of eternity, and as there will be no building to be done by us when it is "laid to rest beneath the silent clods of the valley,: it should be a constant reminder to us of the truth of the lines of Burns, our immortal bard and brother:--

A few days may - a few years must --
Repose us in the silent dust:
The voice of Nature loudly cries,
and many a message from the skies.
That something is us never dies;
That on this frail, uncertain state
Hang matters of eternal weight;
That future life in worlds unknown
Must take its hue from this alone;
Let us th' important Now employ,
And live as those who never die.

About William Harvey, J.P.

Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland; Pres. Dundee and District R.W.M.'s and P.M.'s Assn.; Provincial Grand Bard of Forfarshire; M.M. Stirling Royal Arch, No. 76 ; Hon. Mem. Caledonian Dundee, NO. 254; R.W.M., Progress Dundee, No. 967, 1914-.6; Charter Mem. Dundee St. Mary No. 1149; W. Sub. M. Ubique, Dundee, NO. 1192; Hon, Mem. No, 6, R.A,; Hon. Mem. No. 164, R.A; P. H., No., 27l R.A.; Hon. Mem. No- 416, R.A.; Founder and First Principal No- 421, R.A.; Hon. Mem. No. 423 R.A.; Founder No- 449 R.A. DUNDEE:

- Source: William Harvey


In Masonic symbolism the Lambskin Apron holds precedence. It is the initial gift of Freemasonry to a candidate, and at the end of life's pilgrimage it is reverently placed on his mortal remains and buried with his body in the grave.

Above all other symbols, the Lambskin Apron is the distinguishing badge of a Mason. It is celebrated in poetry and prose and has been the subject of much fanciful speculation. Some Masonic writers have contended that initiation is analogous to birth, or our advent from prenatal darkness into the light of human fellowship, moral truth and spiritual faith. Much ancient lore has been adduced in an effort to show that the Lambskin Apron typifies regeneration, or a new life, and this thought of resurrection may be the cause of its internment with the body of a deceased brother. At least it will serve until a better reason is advanced for this peculiar custom in the Masonic burial service. The association of the lamb with redemption and being born again is expressed by John, the Apocalyptic Seer, who had a vision on the Isle of Patmos, and beheld the purified and redeemed "Of All Nations, Kindreds, People and Tongues." Of them it was said, "These are they which came out of great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."

By many it has been regarded as a great religious symbol. In our present conception there are three parts of man; body, soul and spirit; what the body is to the soul, the soul to the spirit; namely, a house or habitation, but in oriental thought there are seven parts of man; four earthly and three heavenly; four physical and three spiritual. The four sides of the square symbolize the four physical and the three sides of the flap, or triangle, symbolize the three spiritual parts of man. The apex of the triangle, or point of the flap, stood for the Atma, and which means the eternal spark, the Divine Flame, the indestructible spirit of the living God in every human being. In this aspect it means that:

God is not a looker on At the Life of anyone; God is under every man, God is part of every man.

A badge is either good or bad by reason of that for which it stands. Aside from mysticism, I believe there are five distinct things of which the Lambskin Apron is a badge.

Firstly, in its use, it is a badge of service. In his recent book on "Symbolical Masonry," Brother H.L. Haywood has an interesting chapter on "The Apron wherein the Builder Builds," and says it "was so conspicuous a portion of the costume of an operative Mason that it became associated with him in the public mind and thus gradually evolved into his badge." By it Speculative Freemasonry seeks to distinguish the builder and place upon the brow of labor the laurel wreath of dignity and honor.

Secondly, made of lambskin, it is in its fabric a badge of sacrifice. The lamb in all ages has been not only an emblem of innocence, but also a symbol of sacrifice, and he who wears this Apron with understanding must be prepared for the time when hard things are to be done, when trials are to be endured, and fortitude glorified. Thirdly, in its color it is a badge of purity. White is the clean color that reflects most light.

In Masonry there are three great religious rites. One is discalceation, that is, entering a holy place or standing in the presence of God barefooted as a symbol of humility. It comes from a time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary. When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, he said, "Put off thy shoes from thy feet for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." Another is the rite of circumambulation, that it, going around an Altar from east to west by way of the south. Dr. Joseph Fort Newton said: "When man emerged from the night of barbarism his religion was a worship of light; to him light was life and love, darkness was evil and death; to him light was the mother of beauty, the unveiler of color, the radiant, illusive mystery of the world; his Temple was hung with stars, his Altar a glowing flame, his ritual a woven hymn of night and day." To him the sun was the greatest of God's creations, it inspired his adoration and in all his religious ceremonies he followed its apparent course through the heavens, as though he were walking in the footsteps of the Most High. Through this rite, memories of that religion of the dawn linger with us in Masonry today.

The third is the rite of investure or purification; that is, the presentation of the Apron. In a qualified way it bears the relationship to the Lodge that baptism does to some Churches, it is the external symbol of an inner purification. The Psalmist asked: "Who shall ascend into the Hill of The Lord?" and answering his own question said, "He that hath clean hands and a pure heart." The Apron when correctly understood is the pledge of a clean life, the testimony that a candidate means to live pure, speak true, right wrong and reverence conscience as king.

When we turn to the Ritual for its interpretation, we find the Apron to be an inheritance from the past, it is a badge of antiquity, "more ancient than the Golden Fleece and Roman Eagle." A ministerial Brother once said that the Masonic Ritual was couched in stilted phrases and extravagant language, and, as an illustration referred to the ritualistic speech used in the presentation of the Apron. Let us see if he was right. The most specific way of conveying thought and expressing truth is by comparison, It is difficult to comprehend an idea unless we can correlate or compare it with something already known. The Order of the Golden Fleece here referred to was founded in the year 1429, by Phillip, Duke of Burgandy; the Roman Eagle became Rome's Ensign of Imperial Power about one century before the Christian era, while the Apron had come down to us from the very sunrise of time. "Herbrew Prophets often wore Aprons," they were used in the ancient mysteries of India and Egypt, they were used by early Chinese secret societies, by the Jewish religious sect called Essenes, they were employed as emblems by the Incas of Peru, the Aztecs of Mexico, and the prehistoric races of the American continent.

As a badge of antiquity, it emphasizes the value of the past. Blackstone, in his commentaries on the English Law, said that in the making of a new law three things must be considered; namely, the old law, the mischief and the remedy. No man can apply an intelligent remedy to a existing mischief without regard to the antecedent conditions out of which it grew. Present progress must be based on the accumulated experience and wisdom of the ages. Albert Pike said, "It is the dead who govern, the living only obey." "Every ship that comes to America got its chart from Columbus, every novel is debtor to Homer, every carpenter who shaves with a foreplane borrows the genius of some forgotten inventor."

As a badge of antiquity the Apron exalts the greatness and glory of the past in its present contribution to human good and happiness. In the fifth place, the Apron is a badge of honor. It is declared to be "More honorable than the Star and Garter." Here we have another comparison. The Order of the Star and Garter was created by John II of France at the beginning of his reign in the middle of the 14th century. It was a Royal plaything and at the time of its formation its founder was engaged in acts of despotism and destruction.

The Order of the Garter was formed by Edward III of England in 1349. It was composed of the King and Twenty-five knights, and originated in the false pride and fantastic pomp of medieval manners. Edward A. Freeman, an English historian says: "The spirit of knighthood is above all things a class spirit. The good knight is bound to endless courtesies toward men and women of a certain rank; and he may treat all below that rank with any degree of scorn and cruelty." "Chivalry is in morals what feudalism is in law. Each substitutes personal obligations devised in the interest of an exclusive class, for the more homey duties of an honest man and a good citizen."

Freemasonry is in striking contrast to such conceptions. It stands for the dissipation of discord and dissension, for the promotion of peace, the pursuit of knowledge and the practice of brotherhood, for untrammeled conscience, equality of opportunity and the Divine right of liberty in man, for devotion to duty, the building of character and rectitude of life and conduct. Its symbolical supports are wisdom, strength and beauty; the principal rounds of its theological ladder are faith, hope and charity. Its primary tenets are brotherly love, relief and truth; its cardinal virtues are fortitude, prudence and justice. Its Temple is erected to the Master Builder, its Great Light is the Word of Revelation and at its center is an Altar of high and Holy purpose. Like the shadow of a rock in a weary land, like a shining light in a window of a home, like a mother's kiss on a trouble brow and the breath of her prayer in the hour of despair, is the spirit of Freemasonry, calling men from the circumference of life to find God at the center of the individual soul.

When we consider the messages delivered by these Orders and the Lambskin Apron - one speaking the language of class distinction, special privilege and the Divine right of Kings; the other telling the story of exact justice, equality of opportunity, and the brotherhood of man - it is not a stilted phrase and an exaggeration of speech, to say that the badge of a Mason is more honorable than the Star and Garter.

As a badge of honor, the Lambskin Apron spells out integrity, honesty of purpose, probity of character, and soundness of moral principle.


- Source: Short Talk Bulletin - Nov. 1927

Masonic Service Association of North America


“An emblem of innocence and the badge of a mason; more ancient than the Golden Fleece or Roman Eagle, more honorable that the Star and Garter, or any other order that can be conferred upon you at this or any future period, by any King, Prince, Potentate, or any other person, except he be a Mason.”

In these few words Freemasonry expresses the honor she pays to this symbol of the Ancient Craft.

The Order of the Golden Fleece was founded by Philip, Duke of Burgundy, in 1429.

The Roman Eagle was Rome’s symbol and ensign of power and might a hundred years before Christ.

The Order of the Star was created by John II of France in the middle of the Fourteenth Century.

The Order of the Garter was founded by Edward III of England in 1349 for himself and twenty-five Knights of the Garter.

That the Masonic Apron is more ancient than these is a provable fact. In averring that it is more honorable, the premise “when worthily worn” is understood. The Apron is “more honorable than the Star and Garter” when all that it teaches is exemplified in the life of the wearer.

Essentially the Masonic Apron is the badge of honorable labor. The right to wear it is given only to tried and tested men. Much has been written on these meanings of the symbol, but more has been devoted to trying to read into its modern shape and size - wholly fortuitous and an accident of convenience - a so-called “higher symbolism” which no matter how beautiful it may be, has no real connection with its “Masonic” significance.

So many well-intentioned brethren read into the Masonic Apron meanings invented out of whole cloth, that any attempt to put in a few words the essential facts about this familiar symbol of the Fraternity, either by what is said or left unsaid, is certain to meet with some opposition!

It is not possible to “prove” that George Washington did “not” throw a silver coin across the Rappahannock, or that he did “not “ cut down a cherry tree with his little hatchet. Yet historians believe both stories apocryphal.

It is not possible to “prove” that no intentional symbolism was intended when the present square or oblong shape of the Masonic Apron was adopted (within the last hundred and fifty years), nor that the conventionalized triangular flap in “not” an allusion to the Forty- seventh Problem and the earliest symbol of Deity (triangle), nor that the combination of the four and three corners does not refer to the Pythagorean “perfect number” seven. But hard-headed historians, who accept nothing without evidence and think more of evidence than of inspirational discourses, do not believe our ancient brethren had in mind any such symbolism as many scientific writers have stated. The view-point of the Masonic student is that enough real and ancient symbolism is in the apron, enough sanctity in its age, enough mystery in its descent, to make unnecessary any recourse to geometrical astronomical, astrological or other explanations for shape and angles which old gravings and documents plainly show to be a wholly modern conventionalizing of what in the builder’s art was a wholly utilitarian garget.

As Freemasons use it the apron is more than a mere descendant of a protecting garment of other clothing, just as Freemasons are more than descendants of the builders of the late Middle Ages. If we accept the Comancine theory (and no one has disproved it) we have a right to consider ourselves at least collaterally descended from the “Collegia” of ancient Rome. If we accept the evidence of sign and symbol, truth and doctrine, arcane and hidden mystery; Freemasonry is the modern repository of a hundred remains of as many ancient mysteries, religions and philosophies.

As the apron of all sorts, sizes and colors was an article of sacred investure in many of these, so is it in ours. What is truly important is the apron itself; what is less important is its size and shape, its method of wearing. Material and color are symbolic, but a Freemasons may be - and has been many - “properly clothed” with a handkerchief tucked about his middle, and it is common practice to make presentation aprons, most elaborately designed and embellished, without using leather at all, let alone lambskin.

Mackey believed color and material to be of paramount importance, and inveighed as vigorously as his gentle spirit would permit against decorations, tassels, paintings, embroideries, etc. Most Grand Lodges follow the great authority as far as the Craft is concerned, but relax strict requirements as to size, shape, color and material for lodge officers and Grand Lodge officers. Even so meticulous a Grand Lodge as New Jersey, for instance, which prescribe size and shape and absence of decoration, does admit the deep purple edge for Grand Lodge officers.

It is a far cry from the “lambskin or white leather apron” of the Entered Apprentice, to such an eye-filling garget as is worn by the grand Master of Masons in Massachusetts - an apron so heavily encrusted with gold leaf, gold lace, gold thread, etc., that the garment must be worn on a belt, carried flat in a case, weighs about ten pounds, and can be made successfully only by one firm and that abroad!

At least as many particular lodges cloth their officers in embroidered and decorated aprons, as those which do not. The Past Master’s apron bearing a pair of compasses on the arc of a quadrant, may be found at all prices in any Masonic regalia catalogue. So if, as Mackey contended, only the plain white leather apron is truly correct, those who go contrary to his dictum have at least the respectability of numbers and long custom.

Universal Masonic experience proves the apron to be among the most important of those symbols which teach the Masonic doctrine. The Apprentice receives it through the Rite of Investure during his first degree, when he is taught to wear it in a special manner. The brother appearing for his Fellowcraft Degree is clothed with it worn as an Apprentice; later he learns a new way to wear it. Finally, as a Master Mason, he learns how such Craftsmen should wear the “badge of a Mason.”

That various Jurisdictions are at odds on what is here correct is less important than it seems. Many teach that the Master Mason should wear his apron with corner tucked up, as a symbol that he is the “Master,” and does not need to use the tools of a Fellowcraft, but instead, directs the work. As many more teach that the Fellowcraft wears his apron with corner up, as a symbol that he is not yet a “Master,” and therefore does not have a right to wear the apron full spread, as a Master Mason should! Into what is “really” correct this paper cannot go; Jeremy Cross, in earlier editions of his “True Masonic Chart” shows a picture of a Master Mason wearing his apron with the corner tucked up.

What is universal, and important, is that all three - Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason - do wear their aprons in different ways. All are Masons, hence wear the badge of a Mason; one has progressed further than another, and therefore wears his apron differently as a sign that he has learned more.

Incidentally, it may be noted that aprons seldom are, but always should be, worn on the outside of the coat, not hidden beneath it. Alas, comfort and convenience - and, in urban lodges, the evening dress of officers and some members - have led to the careless habit of wearing the apron not in full view, as a badge of honor and of service, but concealed, as if it were a matter of small moment. The use of the apron is very old - far older than as a garment to protect the clothing of the operative craftsmen, or to provide him with a convenient receptacle in which to keep his tools.

Girdles. or aprons, were part of the clothing of the Priests of Israel. Candidates for the mysteries of Mithras in Persia were invested with aprons. The ancient Japanese used aprons in religious worship. Oliver, noted Masonic scholar of the last century, no longer followed as a historian but venerated for his research and his Masonic industry, says of the apron:

“The apron appears to have been, in ancient times, an honorary badge of distinction. In the Jewish economy, none but the superior orders of the priesthood were permitted to adorn themselves with ornamented girdles, which were made of blue, purple and crimson; decorated with gold upon a ground of fine white linen; while the inferior priests wore only white. The Indian, the Persian, the Jewish, the Ethiopian and the Egyptian aprons, though equally superb, all bore a character distinct from each other. Some were plain white, others striped with blue, purple and crimson; some were of wrought gold, others adorned and decorated with superb tassels and fringes.

“In a word, though the “principal honor” of the apron may consist in its reference to innocence of conduct and purity of heart, yet it certainly appears through all ages to have been a most exalted badge of distinction. In primitive times it was rather an ecclesiastical than a civil decoration, although in some cases the pron was elevated to great superiority as a national trophy. The Royal Standard of Persia was originally “an apron” in form and dimensions. At this day, it is connected with ecclesiastical honors; for the chief dignitaries of the Christian church, wherever a legitimate establishment, with the necessary degrees of rank and subordination, is formed, are invested with aprons as a peculiar badge of distinction; which is a collateral proof of the fact that Freemasonry was originally incorporated with the various systems of Divine Worship used by every people in the ancient world. Freemasonry retains the symbol or shadow; it cannot have renounced the reality or substance.”

Mackey’s dictum about the color and the material of the Masonic apron, if as often honored in the breach as in the observance, bears rereading. The great Masonic scholar said:

The color of a Freemason’s apron should be pure unspotted white. This color has, in all ages and countries, been esteemed an emblem of innocence and purity. It was with this reference that a portion of the vestments of the Jewish priesthood was directed to be white. In the Ancient Mysteries the candidate was always clothed in white. “The priests of the Romans,” says Festus, “were accustomed to wear white garments when they sacrificed.” In the Scandinavian Rites it has been seen that the shield presented to the candidate was white. The Druids changed the color of the garment presented to their initiates with each degree; white, however, was the color appropriate to the last, or degree of perfection. And it was, according to their ritual, intended to teach the aspirant that none were admitted to the honor but such as were cleansed from all impurities both of body and mind.

“In the early ages of the Christian church a white garment was always placed upon the catechumen who had been newly baptized, to denote that he had been cleansed from his former sins, and was henceforth to lead a life of purity. Hence, it was presented to him with this solemn charge:

“Receive the white and undefiled garment, and produce it unspotted before the tribunal of our Lord, Jesus Christ,that you may obtain eternal life.”

“From these instances we learn that white apparel was anciently used as an emblem of purity, and for this reason the color has been preserved in the apron of the Freemason.

“A Freemason’s apron must be made of Lambskin. No other substance, such as linen, silk or satin could be substituted without entirely destroying the emblematical character of the apron, for the material of the Freemason’s apron constitutes one of the most important symbols of his profession. The lamb has always been considered as an appropriate emblem of innocence. Hence, we are taught, in the ritual of the First Degree, that “by the lambskin, the Mason is reminded of the purity of life and rectitude of conduct which is so essentially necessary to his gaining admission into the Celestial Lodge above, where the Supreme Architect of the Universe forever presides.”

Words grow and change in meaning with the years; a familiar example is the word “profane” which Masons use in its ancient sense, meaning “one not initiated” or “one outside the Temple.” In common usage, profane means blasphemous. So has the word “innocence” changed in meaning. Originally it connoted “to do no hurt.” Now it means lack of knowledge of evil - as an innocent child; the presence of virginity - as an innocent girl; also, the state of being free from guilt of any act contrary to law, human or Divine.

“An Emblem of Innocence” is not, Masonically, “an emblem of ignorance.” Rather do we use the original meaning of the word, and make of the apron an emblem of one who does no injury to others. This symbolism is carried out both by the color and material; white has always been the color of purity, and the lamb has always been a symbol of harmlessness and gentleness. Haywood says:

“The innocence of a Mason is his gentleness, chivalrous determination to do no moral evil to any person, man or woman, or babe; his patient forbearance of the crudeness and ignorance of men, his charitable forgiveness of his brethren when they willfully or unconsciously do him evil; his dedication to a spiritual knighthood in behalf of the value and virtues of humanity by which alone man rises above the brutes and the world is carried forward on the upward way.”

The lambskin apron presented to the initiate during his entered Apprentice Degree should be for all his life a very precious possession; the outward and visible symbol of an inward and spiritual tie. Many, perhaps most, Masons leave their original aprons safely at home, and wear the cotton drill substitutes provided by many lodges for their members. But here again the outward and evident drill apron is but the symbol of the presentation lambskin symbol; the symbol kept safely against the day when, at long last, the members of a lodge can do no more for their brother but lay him away under its protecting and comforting folds.

Truly he has been a real Mason, in the best sense of that great word, who has worn his lambskin apron during his manhood “with pleasure to himself, and honor to the Fraternity.”

- Source: Short Talk Bulletin - Jun. 1932

Masonic Service Association of North America © 2008 Stephen Dafoe

The Lodge Room
Masonic Magazine
Templar History
Stephen Dafoe

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