By Plez A. Transou
Grand Lodge of Texas: April 2002
The Lambskin or white leather apron, is an emblem of innocence and the badge of a Mason; more ancient than the Golden Fleece or Roman Eagle; more honorable than the Star and Garter, or any other order that could be conferred, at this, or any future period, by king, prince or potentate, or any person, except he be a Mason; and which, I trust, you will wear with equal pleasure to yourself and honor to the Fraternity.
With these or similar words every Mason is presented one of the most visible signs of Masonic membership, the lambskin or white leather apron. In this, the newly made brother receives the first tangible evidence of his acceptance into the Masonic fraternity and the one perpetual emblem of his Masonic affiliation. This badge, the “essential” apron of an Entered Apprentice, will figure predominately throughout his career in Masonry from the first lesson in the Northeast corner of the lodge room until both his Masonic pursuit and life’s span is ended, and he is duly called from labor.
The “Right of Investiture,” the ceremony of emblematically clothing the candidate, is neither original nor unique to Freemasonry. Use of the apron in the Hermetic ceremonies of ancient Egypt is evident. The apron was worn as a symbol of priestly power in the Levitican economy. The Persian mysteries incorporated the white apron and, in the Hindustan, the investiture consisted of a scarf being tied around the candidate’s waist. Without question, the Operative Masons used the apron as an item of protective clothing.
The origin of the apron and its early development and character in Freemasonry is obscure. The leather apron of the operative mason found its way into Speculative Masonry along with other symbols of the Craft. Over time, it became an emblem and a badge, recognized as a symbol of antiquity and was presented to the new Mason as a paramount honor. There is not the slightest hint that operative masons used the apron as a teaching tool. Moreover, there is little evidence that there was much more than a tenuous allegorical inference involved in the presentation during the formative stages of Freemasonry in the early 18th century. As the Masonic ritual went through the development and evolutionary processes, the apron progressed to a place of prominence by the 1760’s that the Mason recognizes today.
It would seem that the symbolical wearing of aprons by Freemasons in imitation of operative masons would require little explanation, as the workman wore the apron as a protective covering. However, the modern Masonic apron is a white lambskin apron, which adds two specific qualities. First, the color white is a ritualistic development to represent purity and, second, the lambskin material is emblematical of innocence. No better explanation of the Masonic apron can be found than that provided in the Apron presentation to the new Mason. It is quoted here as presented in the Monitor of the Lodge published by the Masonic Grand Lodge of Texas.
My brother, in behalf of this Lodge, I now present to you this white Lambskin Apron. It may be, that in the coming years, upon your brow shall rest the laurel leaves of victory; it may be that, pendant from your breast, may hang jewels fit to grace the diadem of some Eastern potentate.
Aye! More than these, for light, added to coming light, may enable your ambitious feet to tread round after round of the ladder that leads to fame in our Mystic order; and even the purple of our fraternity may rest upon your honored shoulders; but never again, from mortal hands; never again, until your enfranchised spirit shall have passed upward and inward, through the pearly gates, can a greater honor be bestowed, or one more emblematical of purity and innocence, than that which has been conferred upon you tonight.
This Apron, the special gift of this Lodge, is yours to wear upon all proper occasions throughout an honorable life, and at your death, is to be placed upon the coffin that contains your lifeless remains and with them shall be laid beneath the silent clods of the valley.
May the pure and spotless surface of this Apron be an ever-present reminder of “that purity of heart and uprightness of conduct so essentially necessary,” thus keeping pure your thoughts, and inspiring nobler deeds and greater achievements.
Then, when at last, your weary feet shall have come to the end of life’s toilsome journey, and from your nerveless grasp, shall drop, forever, the working tools of life, may the record of your life and actions be as pure and spotless as this Apron now is; and when your soul, freed from earth, shall stand naked and alone before the Great White Throne, may it be your portion to hear from Him who sits thereon, the welcome plaudit: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant! Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!”
It is in this apron presentation the new Mason receives a wonderful and most profound lesson and gains an understanding of the symbolic importance of his Masonic Apron. In this presentation the Mason is told that whatever he does, wherever he goes, the apron should remind him of his Masonic obligations. He is told that the apron is not only important as a symbol of his Masonic membership, but it is also a symbolic reminder to follow the noblest pursuits in life.
The apron reminds the Mason to do his duty to God, his country, his neighbor and his family. Every time he puts the apron on, he should be reminded of his obligations to God and of that purity of character and behavior necessary for his proper relationship with God. The Masonic apron is symbolic of the Masonic teachings designed to make men better citizens and servants of God. Though Freemasons are not builders of great builders, they are builders of men. As such, the Masonic apron is an emblem of innocence and the badge of a Mason. May the Mason ever strive to fulfill the tenets of Freemasonry in heart, mind, and soul.
This article has been adapted from the research paper entitled “The Origin and Development of the Masonic Apron” by Plez A. Transou which appears in Vol. X of the Transactions of the Texas Lodge of Research.