The Lambskin Apron

Junior Warden’s Minute – February 7, 2017

Source: The Educator, Bro. Norman McEvoy, creator and curator.
Adapted from a paper by Bro. Auri Spigelman, Grand Lodge of California.

The apron is the initial gift of Freemasonry to a candidate. The English word “apron” is derived from the French word “napperon,” meaning a cloth, and from the expression “a napperon,” which evolved to “an apron” in English. The candidate is instructed to wear this distinctive badge throughout an honorable Masonic life.

Our speculative use of the apron derives from both historical and operative sources. From an historical perspective, initiates into ancient Orders progressed through a so-called Rite of Passage, whereby they symbolically matured from the naïveté, or spiritual darkness, of a child, to “enlightenment” as an adult. They became symbolically “cleansed of impurities” of both mind and spirit.

White aprons were worn upon initiation into the ancient mysteries of Mithras, a mystery religion centered around the god Mithras, practiced in the Roman Empire from about the 1st to the 4th centuries.

White aprons were worn by the Jewish cult of the Essenes and by Chinese secret societies. They also were worn by ancient Jewish and Druidic high priests.

Early Christians wore white aprons when baptized. Persians used the white apron as a national banner. White aprons also adorned Greek and Egyptians gods.

White aprons were used by the Mayans, the Incas, the Aztecs, and the Hopi Indians, as well as by the Vikings, the Zulus, and the Anglican clergy.

Because men wore aprons as emblems of their high office or position, the apron acquired an aura of authority and respect in many diverse cultures.

From the religious or mystical standpoint, the white apron was regarded as a sign of purity.

It covered the lower portion of the body, which was associated with uncleanness and immorality. The sash or band used to tie the apron separated the upper and lower parts of the apron, and, when worn at prayer, reminded one of the functional priority of heart and mind.

From the operative perspective, the apron, no doubt, developed for practical reasons and became necessary equipment for medieval stonemasons.

The apprentice was a bearer of burdens, carrying ashlars and timbers against his body. He needed a large apron, usually made of a tough animal hide, to protect him from physical injury and his clothes from damage and soiling.

The Fellowcraft was a hewer in the mountains and quarries and required the apron to deflect lime chips and stone dust. The master, as overseer of the work, wore his apron with the corner turned up, as a mark of his special authority. The apron and other clothing, such as a cap, collar, and gloves, developed into uniforms which helped to distinguish members of one guild from another. The mason’s apron became his specific badge!

In the 17th century, when the building of massive edifices slowed, and membership in the guilds declined, the seeds of modern Speculative Masonry were sown.

The founding fathers of Speculative Masonry recognized the importance of incorporating the wisdom and experience of both historical and operative perspectives into a new moral system that would attract the interest of men whose vocations were not in the operative craft.

On this basis, how was the apron treated? Let us look to our ritual for guidance.

LAMBSKIN. The lamb is gentle and harmless. In ancient times it was often offered as a sacrifice to the gods, either to please them, or as a symbolic plea for the expiation of sins. The lamb, therefore, is associated with both redemption and purification.

The lamb’s white color is an ancient symbol of purity and cleanliness, and of innocence, conscience, good character, and discipline. It is the color that reflects the most light―speculatively the “light of understanding.”

The origin of the word “candidate” is from the Latin, “candidus,” which means white.

Candidates for office in ancient Rome often wore white togas to proclaim their qualities. Today, we also use the word “candid” to mean free from prejudice or deception, fair, or an honest and sincere expression.

BADGE OF A MASON. A badge is a mark or sign by which a person is distinguished, making his identity or membership known. The apron is a sign of rough work―either the physical labor of an Operative Mason, or the spiritual labor of a Speculative Mason.

Historically, this badge, the Masonic apron, helped to elevate Masonry’s status to that of a worthy and honorable profession―one of creating and constructing.

The Masonic apron did much to change societal attitudes toward labor, which no longer was thought to be relegated to slaves or menials.

The Lambskin Apron should “continually remind us of that purity of life and conduct” required of Masons. Only when it is “worthily worn” can we spiritually merit “gaining admission into the Celestial Lodge above, where the Supreme Architect of the Universe presides.”

This article goes further in describing the Masonic apron with respect to its place in our Ritual. See the full article for further reading.

Presented by Lynn Little, Junior Warden, Richardson Masonic Lodge.