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THE GRAND HISTORIAN'S NOTEBOOK

by R:W:Bro David "Bud" Gillrie
September 2002

The Masonic Apron Part I

There are other symbols, used by many organizations, orders and businesses to demonstrate or proclaim their identity. However it has to be admitted that one most closely associated with Freemasonry, by its appearance, is that of the Masonic Apron.

A symbol which is equally important for its teaching as well as its history.

One of the earliest lessons a new Freemason receives is the gift of his lambskin or white leather apron, the first tangible acknowledgement that he has been accepted and admitted into the fraternity. The new Freemason may advance over time to the most exalted of positions within the order, however that initial gift or presentation at the time of his admission amongst his brethren must surely ever remind him of the first lessons taught.

It is certain that he as well as many other Freemasons have pondered the question, "Why an Apron?"

To answer the question, doubts as to the origin of Masonry have to be set aside and some credence given to a relationship to early workers in stone, the stonemasons, the builders of cathedrals.

We cannot imagine that the investiture or clothing ceremony of the new initiate with a distinctive badge of a profession was made without some deep meaning or symbolism.

Various cultures and religions have used an apron or girdle in their practices; therefore this symbol cannot be credited to the modern mind or the more recent times.

Recorded evidence suggests that the apron or a similar form of symbolic investiture was common from the earliest times amongst the nations of the earth. The Israelites investiture into their priesthood used a girdle. The Mithra mysteries of Persia invested the candidate with a white apron. The Hindustani investiture ceremonies of an initiate rather than an apron presented a sash called the Sacred Zennar. The Jewish Essenes clothed their novices in a white robe. There are records that certain Japanese initiatory rites required a white apron to be bound around the loins with a girdle.

We can view the apron in ancient times as being presented as a distinctive badge of honour. In the Jewish priesthood the lower or if your prefer the inferior priestly ranks wore openly a plain white apron, while the higher ranks of the priesthood were permitted to adorn the plain white apron with blue, purple and crimson decorated with gold.

The principal honour of the apron is its reference to the innocence of conduct and the purity of heart of its recipient, through many ages references indicate it was an exalted badge of distinction. In early times it may well have been an ecclesiastical rather than a civil decoration of respect.

Freemasonry it might be said has retained the shadow or symbolism of the apron notwithstanding it can not renounce the reality or substance of its meaning.

Does the Freemason's apron derive from a symbolic use of some ancient culture or has its origin come from a more practical background.

Some Masonic research considers that the Freemasonry we know can be referred as far back as the Comacine Guilds, or if your prefer, the Cathedral builders.

When the fraternity of builders first appeared in what is now Britain cannot be realistically confirmed. Evidence would say that "Benedict, the Abbott of Wearmouth" crossed over to Gaul in 676 AD and returned with stonemasons to build a church in the Roman Fashion. These remarks are not meant to rekindle a discussion nor are they meant to begin to follow a trail back to the Comacine or to the Guild Masons, merely to prepare the way to consider that the origin of the apron may have originated with the old or ancient Operative Masons.

In the next part of this subject, a discussion on why Scottish Aprons vary widely.

With that last paragraph, we will leave the reader for a time while the remainder of this topic is reviewed for the next edition of the Historian's Corner.

Note: If you have any comments on this, or any historial article, you may reach R:W:Bro: Bud Gillrie through email by clicking here

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