In this blog, we explore the history behind the apron: the first and among the most widely recognized symbols in Masonry. Like many objects that have become Masonic symbols, its form and use has changed over time.
One of the first symbols initiates encounter is the apron; in fact, it’s the first gift a Mason receives. The candidate is told that it is “an emblem of innocence and the badge of a Mason.” The Mason’s apron comes from those worn by craftsmen that were made from the skin of an animal, worn to protect the workmen and their clothes from injury and damage from the rough stones with which they worked; it also was a vessel in which to carry tools. Eventually, these gave way to smaller, “token” aprons made of white lambskin. They became associated with innocence largely because white is universally understood as the color of innocence, and lambs have likewise been recognized as symbols of innocence. In Masonry, innocence means a purity of life, a conscience that is clear and a moral record that is unblemished. Due to its symbolic character, the color of a Mason’s apron should always be pure, unspotted white, and always made from lambskin.
The Mason’s apron reminds us of an important lesson that derives from the simple apron of the craftsman: the dignity and worth of labor, the honor that comes with being a workman, and the glory attached to life and living for one’s purpose. Masons understand the real value of the apron when they acknowledge it as a badge signifying the honor behind doing constructive work. Similarly, the apron of the worker has come to represent service as well. The apron of the laborer reminds its fraternal wearer to labor for the good of others, especially his Brethren.
One of the earliest mentions of a ceremonial apron appears in the Old Testament book of Genesis. Melchizedek was styled as “the Most High Priest” and wore the apron as a badge of religious authority. Today, the apron remains the symbol of a righteous man — purity of life and rectitude of conduct is essential to the life of a Mason just as it is to genuine faith.
During the 1750s, speculative Masons began to decorate their aprons with hand-painted designs. At this time, there was no definite universal decoration rule that existed, so each Brother was free to decorate his as he saw fit. Usually aprons included all the symbols of the various degrees they attained. Eventually, certain designs became more popular and more standardized both by producers of aprons in the emerging fraternal supply industry and various Grand Lodges that adopted rules and accepted traditions for what a Mason’s apron should be.
The apron has become one of the most recognized symbols of our craft. Even the most ornate one a Brother might receive as a gift for his service remains, underneath, a symbol of labor, service, and purity of life and thought. Every Mason cherishes his apron and remembers fondly the moment when he first wore it. Special aprons like Past Masters’ aprons or aprons received for other forms of service often become precious family heirlooms that are passed down the generations.
Our Ohio tradition holds that a Mason who has worn his first apron with honor and fidelity is buried with it, a final reminder of his life of service, character, and Brotherhood. It likewise reminds the living of the bonds that unite us, even in death, and the hope that our own apron will reflect the worth of our lives and the depth of our character as well as our attachment to the fraternity and to one another.
Are you interested in learning about more Masonic symbols? Read our blogs on the Forget-Me-Not and the Masonic Working Tools.
Have you had Masonic aprons passed down through the generations in your family? Do you have stories about an apron with special meaning to you? We’d love to hear your family’s story and see some photos! Find us at @grandlodgeohio on Facebook, @GrandLodgeOhio on Twitter, or email us at OhioLodgeLife@freemason.com.