Wednesday, December 9, 2009
The Masonic Apron
The item that is most readily recognized by society as the emblem of a Freemason is, without a doubt, the apron. While the most obvious origin of the apron is from the working attire of the Operative Stone Masons, over time much symbolism has become attached to it.
The earliest aprons were, understandably, based on those of the operative masons, and, in common with many other trades, were long enough to cover the workers front down to the knees. It was normally made of linen, though leather aprons were used as well, particularly in trades which necessitated greater protection for the wearer.
Our aprons are descended from those with bibs. It is the remnant of this protective part of the apron from which the flaps of our aprons derived.
Initially, the bib, or flap, was either worn up and buttoned to the coat, or was allowed to hang down. Often, it was even cut off by the early Freemasons and dispensed with. As the apron evolved in the 18th Century, the flap became a decorative aspect, and often was cut in a semi-circular shape. The lower part of the apron would be cut in a similar fashion.
Freemasons began to decorate their aprons with the symbols of the Craft and overtime these decorations became more and more elaborate
Today, the aprons used by Freemasons are more standardized, in part due to the mass manufacturing techniques that are employed.
Additionally, as the Grand Lodges became more organized, they began to require a degree of standardization regarding the aprons employed by their members.
Today’s aprons are smaller, and simpler than those used by our operative and speculative predecessors. They distinguish the Freemason, and to the initiate conveys great symbolic meaning. I treasure my apron as it identifies me as a Mason to my brothers and sisters, and also serves to remind me of the great responsibility that comes with ownership of it.
In the Scottish Rite first degree we are told that the apron symbolizes work. I understand this to mean the work that all Freemasons are required to engage in, to work on ourselves. This work that the apron symbolizes never ceases. Unless asleep, we are always engaged in the labor which we have voluntarily sought out and taken upon ourselves.
Many Masonic writers have attributed its white color to the concept of purity. As the apron was traditionally made from a lambskin, this has also been used to symbolize innocence. Lambs, like small children, have often been used to portray that state where one has not yet been stained by exposure to the darker side of life.
White is also the color of virginity in many cultures. The newly initiated Mason is a virgin to the work of the lodge. Despite the lifetime of work ahead in the shaping and polishing of the individual’s Ashlar, the Mason’s apron remains unsullied and white, symbolizing the purity of his, or her intentions.
The triangular flap has been equated to the Delta which is a central symbol in the lodge. The delta, or triangle, has been called the perfect geometric shape, and the three sides also bring to mind the symbolism of the number three and the use of three dots in the shape of a triangle in Masonic correspondence.
The square shape of the apron can be considered to represent the finished, or “perfect Ashlar” the completion of which is the Magnum Opus of Freemasonry. One author has also attributed the Four Cardinal Virtues to the four sides of the apron, namely, Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice.
A square can also suggest Solidity. A solid foundation is essential to erecting any building. Our entire symbolism involves the building trade. Our working tools are those of the Operative Stone Masons. We as Speculative Masons labor together in lodge to build the Great Temple of Freemasonry. Without the solidity of a firm foundation are labors will be in vain.
As a symbol of being prepared for work, all Masons must be attired with the apron to be present in lodge. This relates to the gloves that are required as well. As warriors require their swords and shields to be capable of performing their duties, so must Freemasons be garbed in their aprons and gloves to able to begin their labors in the Temple.
We shape and polish our Rough Ashlars, so that we may participate in the great work of Freemasonry, which is the Progress of Humanity to the Glory of the Great Architect of the Universe.