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#1 – Why do we wear gloves?
As with many of Freemasonry’s traditions, the answer isn’t exactly clear, however the following answer is based on the research conducted by the Revd. Neville Barker-Cryer.
Apart from their practical uses to protect the hands from cold and injury, gloves have symbolic connotations. The old illustrations of operative Masons at work do not show them wearing gloves. Their use must have been mostly ceremonial, and their adoption in speculative Masonic Ritual must be explained by their symbolism.
In the ancient Mysteries, the washing of the hands was always an introductory ceremony to the Initiation, and, of course, it was used symbolically to indicate the necessity of purity from crime as a qualification of those who sought admission into the sacred rites.
The Italian writer Vanni considers that the origin of the symbolism lies not in their use by certain craftsmen, or as protection against the cold, but rather in their military use.
Carrying heavy weapons, such as the spear, large sword, axe or mace, involved wearing gloves for protection and to improve the grip.
Gloves were at first made of leather, but eventually became protected with steel mail. Therefore, to present a glove represented giving up the means of protection, and granting power to the receiver.
The glove’s protection is not only material but also spiritual. For this reason, when touching the Holy Book, (in the obligation, for example) the hand must not be covered. Likewise, when forming the ‘fraternal chain’
customary in some Rituals, the hands must not wear gloves. This, to allow the subtle energy of the fraternal circle to circulate freely.
The custom of presenting a pair of white gloves to the Initiate at the conclusion of an Initiation ceremony has a long historical tradition, and is recorded in the 10th century. A chronicle relates that in the year 960,
the monks of Saint Alban’s Monastery in Germany, presented a pair of gloves to the bishop at his investiture. The prayer pronounced during the investiture ceremony included a phrase beseeching God to
cloth with purity the hands of His servant.
The symbolism of the gloves is a modification of that of the apron. They both signify the same thing; both are allusive to a purification of life. ‘Who shall ascend’, says the Psalmist, ‘into the hill of the Lord? Or who
shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart’.
In his book Clavis Symbolica the author states that hands, ‘are the symbols of human actions; pure hands are pure actions; unjust hands are deeds of injustice’.
There are numerous references in sacred and profane writers to this symbolism. The washing of the hands has the outward sign of an internal
purification. Because of this, in modern times, some Masonic jurisdictions actually forbid markings of any kind upon Masonic gloves.
A more modernistic belief is that gloves would also cover both imperfections and adornments of the hands. Therefore, hiding the injuries caused from labour, as well as gold and silver rings, thus making men
of all classes equal within our Temple.
In historic times, the new Mason had to provide gloves for the entire company as part of his entrance fees. The practice was known as ‘clothing the lodge’. Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723, in article VII stipulates
that ‘Every new Brother at his making is decently to clothe the Lodge, that is, all the Brethren present’.
The acts of a Mason should be as pure and spotless as the gloves he proudly wears.