The Masonic Apron is an easily recognizable symbol of the Freemasons and is a garment that has been worn by masons for generations.
In this post, the evolution of the Masonic apron is explored, as well as the symbolic importance of the apron and the different colors and insignia displayed on different aprons by masons in different parts of the world.
We begin with an exploration into the historical origins of the Masonic apron.
The Historical Origins of the Masonic Apron
Aprons are arguably the best-known symbol of the Freemasons, and the Masonic Apron is steeped in historical significance. At the very least, the apron is usually the first symbol that an ‘initiate’ encounters, as it is the first gift that they receive when joining.
When the Freemasons were established in the eighteenth century in the U.K. and USA, its founding members looked to the traditions and garbs of actual stonemasons when developing their rituals and philosophical beliefs.
The Masonic apron is bestowed upon new Freemasons when they join the fraternity, and members have been wearing aprons throughout the institution’s 300-year history.
Even before this, however, the apron was regarded as a symbol of a holy man’s high honor in ancient times. The earliest mention of the apron was when Melchizedek, with Abraham, started the Priesthood, and he wore the apron as a badge of religious authority (circa 2100 B.C.).
In ancient times, the Masonic apron was regarded as an honorary badge of distinction. Only the superior members of the Priesthood were allowed to adorn their aprons with grand decorations.
Throughout the world, in Ancient Persia, Hindustan, Japan, and Rome, to name but a few civilizations, aprons have been present in historic ceremonies of investiture and contribute to the evolution of the Masonic apron to the present day.
Moreover, aprons have been used in religious rites since time immemorial, mainly when delivering burnt offerings and blood sacrifices. Such practice was common in Ancient Egypt in particular. In other parts of the world, such as in Central America, Ancient Gods have been commonly depicted as always wearing aprons, and actually, this practice can be found spread all over the world, with Ancient Gods represented wearing aprons in China and Palestine as well.
In Freemasonry, it’s widely accepted that the modern-day apron is derived from the working apron of the ancient stonemasons who built iconic castles and cathedrals in days past. They also wore white leather gloves when working to protect their hands from lime. In addition to the white Masonic apron, white gloves are another badge of Freemasonry in the present day.
Traditionally, stonemasons wore aprons to protect themselves against flying pieces of stone while they were working, so they were of practical significance. Stonemasons also wore aprons to carry tools that were integral to their working life.
Historically, the apron was made of heavy leather as it was a practical piece of clothing. Today the apron is purely symbolic and is worn by freemasons at meetings and events, and the Masonic apron is an emblem of purity and the bond of friendship and peace.
The Symbolic Colors and Design of the Masonic Apron
In 1813, many significant changes were brought into effect concerning the dress and rituals of Freemasons that are still prevalent today. It was deemed essential to standardize the design of the Masonic Apron.
Ingrained in historical significance, today’s Masonic apron is always made of white lambskin and is held in high regard as a noble decoration. No other material is permitted to be used for the Masonic apron. It would be seen as a destruction of the apron’s emblematic character, and therefore one of the most important symbols of the Mason’s profession.
The white of the Masonic apron is universally understood as the color of innocence, and lambs are also recognized as symbols of innocence. The Masonic apron should always be clean, as the symbol of innocence should reflect a Freemason’s character and their ability to uphold the purity of life, alongside a clear conscience and a moral record that is unblemished.
There are many varieties of the Masonic Apron, but they are often of a similar size and design, with a variety of decorations varying from Lodge to Lodge. When you join the Freemasons as an ‘Entered Apprentice,’ the first Masonic apron you are given is plain white, but as you progress through the ceremonies, decorations are added to your apron.
As the Ancient Brethren of the Freemasons never clothed themselves in any colors except the Royal colors of red, blue, scarlet, or purple, the Masonic apron is adorned with blue. It is further enriched with silver as a reminder of Tubal Cain, who was the first artificer in gold, silver, and other metals.
As a Freemason becomes more senior, the colors of the Masonic apron are changed to dark blue and even gold. The tradition of the white Masonic apron continued into the present day and is a central part of the modern-day Freemason uniform.
Symbolically, the apron serves as a reminder of the origins of the Freemasons and as a reminder of the three degrees of Freemasonry.
The Masonic apron has two lengths of ribbon to remind all masons that they have passed through the two pillars of King Solomon’s Temple and that they are now in full possession of the password of a mason.
The Symbols Adorned on the Masonic Apron
The Masonic apron has evolved over time. As has already been shared, it began as a practical leather garment worn by stonemasons, all the way through to today’s symbolic lambskin aprons worn by Freemasons at their Lodge meetings. Each Lodge has adopted its own version of the Masonic apron, many using specific symbols and different colors to identify those that have progressed through the ranks.
The Masonic apron is uniformly white, but on it is displayed the position of the officer in a particular chapter, as well as the symbol of a Master mason, depending on who owns the apron.
During the second half of the eighteenth century, speculative masons first began to decorate their aprons with hand-painted designs. Initially, as there were no universal decoration guidelines for masons, every man was able to decorate his Masonic apron in any way he saw fit, with symbols that meant something to him. History shows that the early aprons that were decorated adorned symbols of the various degrees that individual masons attained. Many of these beautiful and unique early Masonic aprons can be seen in the Museum and Library of the Grand Lodge. From these early decorations, more standardized procedures were adopted, and Grand Lodges adopted rules and accepted traditions for what the Masonic apron should look like.
As you progress through the order of the Masons, your Masonic apron insignia changes to ensure they are easily identified by other masons. For example, when you become a Master Mason, a rosette is appended to your apron. When you become the Master of the Lodge, a square is added to signify your position of seniority within the Lodge.
In the English Lodge, the Masonic apron has three rosettes to remind masons of the three that tule the Lodge. The triangular position of the rosettes is a reminder of the equal positions of the three Grand Masters, namely: Solomon, King of Israel, Hiram, King of Tyre, and Hiram Abiff. The three Grand Masters are represented in lodges by the Worshipful Master and his wardens.
The Important Symbolism of the Masonic Apron
The Masonic apron educates masons all over the world that ‘none are admitted to that honor but such as were cleansed of all impurities of both body and mind.’
The Masonic apron is worn proudly by Freemasons as a badge and is a distinguishing feature of the institution. It is widely argued that the apron is more honorable than the Star and Garter.
For Freemasons, no symbol is more important in its teachings or more interesting in its history than the white lambskin apron.
It is impressed upon the Mason as the first symbol that is explained to him and the first tangible piece of evidence he has, as proof of admission into the world of Freemasonry.
Although the symbols adorned on the apron will change over time, and color will be added to show progress, the symbolic white of the apron will remain as a reminder of the purity of the masons.
The Masonic apron should not be seen as a mere piece of regalia, and any mason in a lodge who does not wear the apron is seen to be improperly dressed, such as the symbolic importance of the apron. The apron is an honorable garment that should be treasured, looked after, and proudly worn by Masons all over the world.