Gloves


 
 
GLOVES
 

          In Lodges in England it is the general custom for white
gloves to be worn.  Why, and what is the origin of this custom?
 
          This is a tradition which has its roots like so many of
our customs, in operative masonry.  Operative stonemasons had to
wear gloves as an item of protective clothing just as they wore
aprons for the same purpose.  Bro. A.C.P. Jackson in his Inaugural
address to the Lodge (AQC 88 1975) commented that masons must have
been enjoyed special privileges in this respect when there were
certain prohibitions in the Middle Ages against the wearing of
gloves and when there were also strict rules of etiquette about
them.
 
          In considering the use of gloves in speculative
Freemasonry we need to remember the age in which the formal customs
of the Craft were developing.  It was an age of formality;
formality in speech, dress, manners; the age of courtly elegance;
the age of the beaux and fops (but beneath this veneer, lest we
romanticize it too much, we must remember it was also an age
course, brutal and depraved).  Gloves were an item of formal male
attire and, indeed, they persisted as such into modern times in
formal evening and court dress.  So there were two influences for
the adoption of gloves as part of masonic clothing; as symbolic
(like the apron) of the operative tradition and as part of the
formal dress of polite society.
 
          There are early references in masonic exposures and
ritual documents to a newly made brother 'clothing the lodge',
i.e., presenting each of the members with a pair of gloves and/or
an apron.  One of the earliest of these exposures which appeared as
a letter in a London newspaper of 1723 under the title A Mason's
Examination went even further by stating: 'When a Free Mason is
enter'd, after having given to all present of the Fraternity a Pair
of Men and women's Gloves and Leathern apron...' (and then going on
to describe the ceremony).  This tradition of a pair of gloves for
the ladies also crops up in other places, especially in Masonry
elsewhere in Europe, and a charming echo of this 18th century
custom is still observed in Pilgrim Lodge No. 238 (EC), the London
Lodge of German speaking masons founded in 1779 which still today
works its own unique degree ritual in German.
 
          When a candidate is initiated, or a joining member
admitted on election, the Master presents him with two pairs of
white gloves, one a gentleman's the other a lady's informing him 
that one pair is for himself to wear in lodge and the other he is
to present to 'your life's faithful consort as a token of our
esteem and to renew to her your vow of inviolable fidelity.
 
          But why white gloves as an item of masonic dress today?
 
          White is an obvious symbol of purity and white gloves
express the idea of one clean of heart and hands.  One is reminded
of the custom of a maiden assize (i.e. one at which no one was to
be brought to trial) by which the sheriff of the county would
present the assize judge with a pair of white gloves symbolizing
the calendar was clear.
 
          Masonry, the candidate is told, is founded on the purest
principles of piety and virtue and then later he is invested with
a plain white apron, the 'badge of innocence', free from all
blemish.  He will later learn how fifteen trusty Fellowcrafts were
order to attend the funeral of H.A. clothed in white aprons and
gloves 'as emblems of innocence.'
 
          The very word 'candidate' in its original from the Latin
expresses the idea of whiteness as a symbol of the purity and
innocence of the aspirant; in ancient Rome the candidate for office
wore a white toga, the toga candida.  Similarly our word 'candid'
from the same root carries a meaning of being clean and pure.  The
idea of a candidate as 'one clothed in white' is expressed in the
custom observed in some lodges whereby the candidate for initiation
is required to dress, as was the writer of this note, in a special
loose-fitting white suit kept for the purpose.
 
          So we wear gloves as a reminder of our roots in operative
masonry and echoing the formal dress of a bygone age, and those
gloves are white to symbolize and remind us of the tents of our
profession, 'founded on the purest principles of piety and virtue'.
 

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THIS ARTICLE WAS PREPARED BY WOR. BROTHER  T.O. HAUNCH OF THE
QUATUOR CORONATI LODGE OF RESEARCH, LONDON ENGLAND AND WAS
PUBLISHED IN THE SEPTEMBER 1990 LODGE SUMMONS.  IT WAS DONATED TO
THE BOARD OF MASONIC EDUCATION BY V.W. BROTHER WILFRED YOUNG IN
MARCH 1991.