The Apron
Distinguishing Badge of a Mason
Lodge of the Quest No. 587
Victoria, Australia
Why do we wear an apron, and what is its significance? Our Order is founded
on Operative Masonry, and operative Masons in common with most other
artisans, wear aprons for the protection of their clothing. Different trades
used different types of aprons, each suitable for the purpose.
Originally the Entered Apprentice wore an apron with a bib secured with a
tape around his neck. The bib was to protect the upper part of his clothing
when clasping a heavy stone, such as a pillar, with both arms. Later, as he
became proficient in his trade, he became an artisan and his job was then to
smooth and prepare the stone for its place in the building. He then had no
use for the upper portion of the apron, so he let it hang down over the lower
part--thus we have our own badge with a triangular piece overlapping the
square portion. There are several explanations of this triangular portion
of the apron all or any of which may be correct, but the following seems the
most logical of them.
The significance of the apron is "servitude." Certain dignitaries of the
Anglican Church wear an apron as part of their clerical dress. Thus a person
signifies the service that is expected of a Freemason to his neighbor.
When investing the Entered Apprentice with the badge he is informed that it
is more ancient than the Golden Fleece and more honorable than the Star and
Garter. The main object of my talk is to tell you something of these orders.
First, the wording of the investiture was compiled in about 1717 (in the
Grand Lodge of England or its Lodges) and was revised in 1813.
The Golden Fleece
According to Greek legend, King Pelias of Thessaly had ousted his brother
Aeson and to rid himself of Aeson's son, Jason he persuaded the lad to fetch
the Golden Fleece which hung on an oak tree at Ares in Colchis. It was
guarded by a dragon. The adventures of Jason and his fifty companions, who
sailed with him make one of the finest stories of Greek literature. (The
fleece came from the mythical ram on which Phrixus and Helle escaped from
death and was hung in the Grove at Ares by Phrixus, who alone survived the
flight from his native land.)
The Order of the Golden Fleece was
founded by Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, in January, 1429, on occasion
of his marriage to Isabella, daughter of King John I, of Portugal. The order
was instituted for the protection of the Catholic Church. Th fleece was
chosen as the emblem because wool was the predominate product of the lower
European countries in which the order flourished. The number of knights of
the order was twenty-four. In 1433 the number was raised to thirty-three, all
gentlemen by birth. In 1477, on the marriage of Mary of Burgundy with Duke
Maximilian, the grand mastership of the order passed to the House of
Hapsburg. The last chapter of the original Order was held by Philip II of
Spain in the cathedral of Ghent. Up to that time the knights had filled the
vacancies by their own votes, but Philip II obtained permission of Pope
Gregory XIII to nominate the knights himself.
After the Spanish Netherlands were ceded to Austria in 1713-14, the Austrians
claimed the office. The resulting dispute split the order into two parts--one
in Austria and one in Spain.
The jewel of the order (which differs slightly in the two countries) is a
golden ram hanging from a ring which is passed around its middle. This is
suspended from a scroll in very elaborate design with the motto, (in Latin)
The reward of labor is not trifling. The jewel, in turn, is attached to a
golden collar made up of links. Each link is in the form of a capital "B"
with rays issuing from it. The collar is usually worn with full dress. On
ordinary occasions a broad red ribbon collar is worn in its place.
Since its inception this order has been considered as the most important and
highest of all civil orders on the European continent. The order has no
standing in England, hence we hear little of it. No British subject is
permitted to accept this, or any other foreign order, without special
permission from the sovereign. At the time of the dispute over the order
between Austria and Spain in 1714, speculative Masonry was gaining a firm
footing and its ritual was then revised and prominence given to the Golden
The Roman Eagle
The Roman Eagle also has an interesting history. The eagle was highly
esteemed among the Romans. It was usually depicted with outstretched wings,
sometimes of gold and silver, but most frequently of bronze. It was carried
at the head of a staff in the same manner as a banner.
The eagle borne upon a spear appears to have been used first by the Persians.
The Romans took the idea from them, and used it as an emblem of honor, to be
carried before the chief ruler. In 1804, Napoleon had metal eagles carried
before his army. Austria and Russia both had double eagles as a symbol of
their empires. The symbol of the United States of America is the bald eagle.
In 1701, Frederick I of Prussia founded the Order of the Black Eagle. The
number of knights was limited to thirty, exclusive of the princes of royal
blood. The revisers of our rituals probably selected the reference to the
Roman Eagle as it was the highest emblem of dignity, honor and power of that
famous empire.
Order of the Garter
The Order of the Garter is, of course, something we know more about, being a
British Order. It is the highest order of knighthood in Great Britain, and is
considered the most honorable and exclusive in the world. Its full title
is "The Most Noble Order of the Garter."
According to tradition, King Edward III, who was dancing with the Countess of
Salisbury at a ball held on January 18, 1343, picked up a blue garter that
had dropped from her leg and tied it around his own. Observing the queen's
uneasy glances, and the consternation of the countess, he returned it to its
owner with the remark, Evil be to him who evil thinks.
At this time the king had been successful in the French campaign and was
contemplating a second expedition. He resolved to institute an order of
knighthood in honor of his success, as well as a means of rewarding his
army favorites. He placed the order under the protection of St. George. For
179 years it remained practically as instituted by Edward III but in 1522,
Henry VIII revised the statutes. The color of the emblem was blue, which at
that time was the French national color. The motto translated, Let him be
dishonored who thinks ill of it, was appropriate whether applied to the
French expedition or to the order itself.
Formerly, the knights were elected by the members, but since the reign of
George III all appointments have been made by the reigning sovereign.
Originally it was called the Order of Saint George. It now consists of the
sovereign, who is the grand master, the Prince of Wales and twenty-five
knights companions. In addition it is open to all English prices (lineal
descendants of George I ) and foreign sovereigns as may be chosen by the king
or queen. On occasions, other companions are admitted for special reasons so
that the whole order usually numbers about fifty.
The insignia consists of the garter, the collar, and the great George; the
star, the ribbon and badge, or lesser George. The garter is of blue velvet
ribbon--the particular tint being known as "garter blue." The ribbon is
edged with gold and fastened by a gold buckle on the left leg below the knee.
It bears the motto of the order in letters of gold, or sometimes in diamonds.
When the sovereign is a woman, it is worn on the left arm above the elbow.
The collar consists of twenty-five pieces alternately gold love knots and
buckled garters enameled in blue, enclosing roses. From the center link of
the collar hangs the badge of the great George. It is a figure of St. George
as a knight in gold enamel and set with jewels. He is depicted on horseback,
overthrowing the dragon with a spear.
A star was added by Charles I in 1692. It consists of eight silver rays
encrusted with diamonds, issuing from a buckled garter bearing the motto and
enclosing a white field of enamel with the red cross of St. George upon it.
When the collar and great George are not worn, the "lesser George" as it is
called, is used. It is similar to the g;eat George but much smaller and hangs
from a broad blue ribbon which passes slantwise over the left shoulder. The
robes of the order are of equal magnificence.
The order became prominent in the 17th century after Charles I added the star
to the insignia. On ordinary occasions the star is worn on the breast and the
garter below the knee. Full regalia is only worn when grand chapter meets, or
at a ceremony such as a coronation. The order meets at Windsor Castle.
So, Brethren, we have our badge of white for purity--of lamb's skin for
innocence; more ancient than the Golden Fleece, which was founded in 1429, and
the Roman Eagle, which was instituted in 1701; and more honorable than the
Garter, which is the highest order of knighthood in the world. I repeat
the charge given by the Senior Warden when investing the badge--Never
disgrace that badge, for it will never disgrace you.
Virginia Masonic Herald--May-June, 1964