|Rivista di Massoneria - Revue de Franc-Maçonnerie - Revista de Masonerìa - Revista de Maçonaria|
|History Literature Music Art Architecture Documents Rituals Symbolism|
by R.W.Bro. LEON ZELDIS
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, then, must have been mostly ceremonial, and their
adoption in speculative Freemasonic ritual must be explained by their symbolism.
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.
To present a glove, then represented giving up the means of protection, and
granting power to the receiver.  On the other hand, throwing the glove represented
unfaithfulness and condemnation, as in the case of medieval judges who threw the
glove to the convict.
Gloves do not appear to have
been used in biblical times. In fact, the two names for glove in the Hebrew
language (kfafah and ksaiah) are of modern coinage, the one derived from the
word for hand and the other from the verb to cover. Probably the warm climate of
the Holy Land made gloves superfluous.
In medieval times, the use of
gloves by the aristocracy became more frequent, being worn in some sports
(hunting with falcons, archery) and simply as ostentatious displays of luxury.
In the courtly etiquette, if the knight offered perfumed white gloves to a lady
and she accepted them, this established a relation of dependency between them.
The custom of presenting a
pair of white gloves to the neophyte at the conclusion of an initiation ceremony
has a long historical tradition, and it is recorded already in the 10th century.
A chronicle relates that in the year 960, the monks of Saint Alban’s Monastery
in Mainz (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.
Similarly, the kings of France
received a pair of gloves at their coronation. The consecrated hands of the
king, like those of the bishop, should not be soiled by contact with impure
things. After the ceremony, the Hospitaler burned the gloves, to prevent their
later use for profane purposes. 
Durandus of Mende (1237-1206)
interpreted gloves as symbols of modesty, since the good deeds performed with
humility must be kept secret. 
The use of gloves by medieval
masons is confirmed by documentary evidence. In the year 1322, at Ely (a
cathedral city of England), the sacrist purchased gloves for the masons engaged
in the “new work”, and in 1456, at Eton College, five pairs of gloves were
presented to the “layers” of the walls, “as custom may have required”.
Another document indicates
that in Canterbury College, at Oxford, the Head Steward noted in his accounts
that “twenty pence were given as glove money to all the masons occupied in
rebuilding the College”. 
In the year 1423 at York
(England) ten pairs of gloves were supplied to the masons (“setters”) with a
total cost of eighteen pence. 
There are numerous reports of
gloves being supplied to “hewers” and “layers” in Scotland, from 1598 to
In England, during the
Elizabethan and Jacobean eras (1558-1625) gloves enjoyed a prestige that we can
hardly appreciate today. They were articles of luxury, having great symbolism,
and they constituted treasured gifts.
In 1571, Robert Higford sent a
pair of gloves to the wife of Larence Banister. In 1609, J. Beaulieu
communicated to William Trumbull that “My lord has given 50 shillings and a
pair of gloves to Monsignor Marchant, as reward for having sent the design for
the stairs”. In New Year day of 1606, each of the royal musicians presented a
pair of perfumed gloves to king James I, and in 1563 the Earl of Herford, with
whom the queen was displeased, wanting to regain her favor, wrote to Lord Robert
Dudley, the queen’s lover, begging the Lord to present in his name a pair of
gloves to the Queen as proof of his devotion. 
Gloves were a customary New
Year gift, sometimes substituted by “glove money”. Also, gloves were a traditional present of lovers to their
Shakespeare, as we know, was
the son of a glove-maker. In his play Much Ado about Nothing, the female
character Hero declares “these gloves the count sent me; they are an excellent
perfume” (Act III, Scene 4). In The Winter’s Tale, Autolycus sings of
“Gloves as sweet as Damask roses”, and the clown proclaims: “If I were not in love with Mopsa, thou shouldst take no
money of me; but being enthralled as I am, it will also be the bondage of
certain ribbons and gloves” (Act IV, Scene 4), and in King Henry V, the king
exchanges gloves with the soldier Williams, as pledge to meet again after the
battle (Act IV, Scene 1).
The documents quoted at the
beginning refer to operative masons. The tradition, however, was continued in
Speculative Masonry. Since 1599 there is evidence that each mason, at his
initiation, had to receive a pair of gloves (paid out of his own pocket!). The
oldest document on this matter is known as the Shaw Statutes, addressed to
Kilwinning Lodge and dated 28 December 1599, which prescribe that Fellows of the
Craft, at their reception to that degree, were to pay a fee of 10 Scottish
pounds and 10 shillings for the gloves.
Sometimes, 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 cloath the Lodge, that is, all the Brethren present...”.
Documents of the Lodge of
Melrose for the years 1674-1675 demonstrate that both apprentices and
fellow-crafts had to pay entrance fees “with sufficient gloves to ye whole
An Aberdeen document of 1670
requires the Apprentice to pay four royal dollars as well as a linen apron and a
pair of good gloves for each of the brethren.  The use of linen instead of leather is remarkable, but it is
explained by the abundance of high-quality flax in the region. Leather was more
In 1724 a lodge at Dunblane is
recorded as delivering gloves and aprons to the “intrants”,
 and in 1754, in
Haughfoot, England, the local lodge established that “no one can enter the
lodge without a pair of gloves for each member of that lodge”. 
In The Natural History of
Staffordshire (1688), Robert Plot, LLD, relates
that it was a custom among Freemasons “that when any are admitted, they call a
meeting (or Lodge, as they term it in some places), which must consist of at
least of 5 or 6 of the Ancients of the Order, whom the candidates present with
gloves, and so likewise to their wives...”. 
This appears to be the first mention of the custom of presenting a second
pair of gloves for the woman as part of the initiation ceremony.
An exposure called “A
Mason’s Examination”, published in 1723 in a London newspaper, The Flying
Post, begins thus: “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
This became the tradition in
all initiations, and it is specifically mentioned in the French initiation
rituals of the 18th century, as described in the “exposures”.
Already the first know French
“exposure”, dating from 1737, called Reception d’un Frey-Maחon
(Reception of a Free-Mason), notes that in the initiation ceremony, the
candidate “is given the apron of a Free-Mason, which is of white Skin, a pair
of men’s Gloves for himself, and another [pair of] ladies’ Gloves, for her
whom he esteems the most”. 
The custom, however, appears
to have been abandoned in England and Scotland, because since the beginnings of
the 19th century it is no longer mentioned in the regulations and minutes of the
lodges. The Emulation Ritual (post 1813) ignores the practice. In Europe and
other countries, particularly in lodges working the Ancient and Accepted
Scottish Rite, the tradition remains in force until this very day. Usually, the
presentation of the gloves comes at the end of the ceremony, and the Master of
the Lodge then adds some words to the effect that the hands of the newly-made
Mason, purified by the initiation, must never be sullied again, and as for the
second pair, it is intended to stress the high respect in which Masons hold
women in general, and the one closest to one’s heart in particular.
Albert Saban mentions a
custom, according to which three pairs of white gloves were presented to the
delegates of the Grand Orient when they came to install a lodge, before they
entered the Masonic Temple. 
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 magic circle to
In the higher degrees of the
Scottish Rite, gloves of several colors: white, black or green, are prescribed
for the regalia of various degrees, the symbolism of the color being related to
that of the degree.
Vanni, Vittorio, “L’uso rituale dei guanti in massoneria”, Hiram
(Italian Masonic journal), N° 4/2000, p. 49.
Latour, A., “The glove, a badge of office”, Ciba Review , 61, Basle,
Latour, Ibid., p. 2209.
Latour, Ibid., pp. 2207-2209.
Knoop & Jones, The Mediaeval Mason, 1949, p.69, quoted by Harry Carr,
The Freemason at Work, 1976, p. 320.
Heisler, Ron, “The Impact of Freemasonry on Elizabethan Literature”,
Journal, 1990, note 36.
Salzman, Building in England,
p. 80. Quoted by Harry Carr, op. cit. p. 320.
Knoop & Jones, The Scottish Mason, pp. 43-44, quoted by Henry Carr,
op. cit. p.
Heisler, Ron, op.cit., note 34.
Vernon, W.F., History of Freemasonry in the Province of Roxburgh...
(1893), pp. 12-13, quoted by Harry Carr, op. cit. p. 320.
Miller, A.L., Notes on the Early History...of the Lodge of Aberdeen
(1919), p. 61,
quoted by Harry Carr, op. cit. p. 320
Lyon, D. Murray, History of the Lodge of Edinburgh (1873,1901), p. 204,
quoted by Harry Carr, op. cit. p. 320.
Carr, Harry, “Haughfoot”, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum # 64, p. 34.
Knoop, Jones & Hamer, Early Masonic Pamphlets, Q.C.C.C., London 1978,
Carr, Harry, op. cit. p. 320.
Carr, Harry (Editor), The Early French Exposures, Quatuor Coronati Lodge
London 1971, p. 3.
Saban, Albert, Notions Maחonniques Elיmentaires, private
edition by Lumiטre Lodge, Tel Aviv 1995.