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One of the most famous items associated with freemasonry is Masonic Gloves. The wearing of white gloves is well-known among Freemasons. However, many people, both inside and outside the organization, are unaware of the reasons why.
Masons Gloves were originally worn by operative stone masons to protect their hands, and they were frequently given by their employers at the beginning of each construction project; on rare occasions, even via a formal presentation.
Their white colour, which is also reflected in their lambskin apron, is meant to symbolise purity and innocence. The parallels in the wider world are apparent, When Bishops, Archbishops, and the Pope celebrated Mass or gave blessings, they donned white gloves to symbolize that their hands were ‘clean.’ Both white gloves and other elements of the judicial gown, are still worn today by High Court judges as part of their ceremonial uniform to signify non-corruption. They are also worn by Standard-bearers in the armed forces on special occasions as a sign of respect for the Regimental Standard.
When are white gloves worn in Freemasonry?
White gloves are worn by Freemasons during a lodge meeting, in some lodges Entered Apprentices and Fellow Craft Freemasons don’t wear gloves at all they are reserved as part of becoming a Master Mason. However this seems to be quite rare, with most lodges in the UK allowing all masons from Entered Apprentice through to Master Mason to wear these white gloves.
These gloves must be worn throughout the meeting and never removed unless instructed by the Master of the Lodge, even then this is only really done on extremely hot days, of which are few in the UK.
Gloves are able to be removed once the Lodge Meeting has come to a close, where all regalia in general is removed prior to the evening meal or “festive board” and departing of the building.
In some cases at special events Freemasons are allowed to wear their full regalia in public. This also includes their white masonic gloves.
Why are gloves worn?
As previously mentioned, originally in the medieval period and later, operative stone masons would wear gloves to protect themselves from damaging their fingers whilst working with their tools and stones. Originally masons were formed into lodges or as part of their trade guild, where they were full of operative stone masons.
Freemasonry, having its origins in these stone masons guilds adopted the wearing of gloves. Eventually, over time, these lodges started accepting members who were not actually stone masons. They could have been “professional” men such as solicitors, doctors, office clerks etc… These men were referred to as speculative stone masons.
Now lodges were being made up of a mixture of operative and speculative masons, both within the same lodge. There is a theory that gloves also served as a way to make all men’s hands look the same from outward appearances. Both operative masons and speculative would wear gloves, in part to make their hands indistinguishable, rather than the callused and scared hands of a workman being compared to the smooth hands of a man not partaking in a physical job.
But the most widely accepted reason for the wearing of white masonic gloves is that it is a symbol of purity…
Modern Day Freemasons White Gloves
Every lodge in the UK requires members to wear white gloves during their meetings. They are usually plain white cotton gloves or in some cases a soft white leather depending on how much somebody wants to spend on a pair of gloves.
It is common to see gloves with emblems stitched onto them, this could be a simple square and compass design or even a lodge name and number.
White gloves are also available with the symbols of the different masonic side orders or appendant bodies. Royal Arch Freemasons may wear gloves with symbols of the royal arch embroidered on them or mark master masons with symbols of Mark Masonry.
Whatever gloves a Freemason wears, they are a distinct part of a Freemasons Regalia, and should always be worn when required by their Lodge.