A History of the Knight Templar Apron
Ron Blaisdell ~ Knight Templar Magazine
While little has been written on the dress of the early Templars, prior to Thomas Smith Webb’s “Monitor” of 1797, there as been one suggestion as to the origin of the Templar Apron. In the early references to the history of Templary in Great Britain, the following significant reference is made. “All Templar encampments were qualified to give the degrees of “Rose Croix and the “Kadosh” which had existed in England as Templar Degrees years before the establishment of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. In the original form of the Templar Ceremonies, the “Rose Croix de Herodom” was one step above the Templar installation, followed by the “Kadosh”. The significant herein is the fact that Templary was related under British Masonry to the Rose Croix and Kadosh. It is known that the Templar Degrees were first worked in America under the sanction of the warrant of Blue Lodges. This being fact, it is possible that the Knight Templar Apron was a direct result of the modification of the Symbolic Lodges’ apron to fit the ritualistic legends of the Templar Orders.
The first written “Standard” for the Knight Templar apron was published in Webb’s “Monitor” of 1797 in which he describes it as “White, with a black border; or black, with a white border. The black flap has a skull and crossbones embroidered in silver”. It is to Webb that the first standards of Masonic ritual and ceremony are attributed, for it was not until after the formation of the Grand Encampment, and its subsequent publishing of the general statutes of 1839, that a new permanent design was agreed upon. There is some doubt as to the adoption of this resolution by all Commanderies subordinate to the Grand Encampment. In the 1859 edition of “The Craftsman and Freemason’s Guide” is described, “an apron of black velvet of a triangular form, trimmed in silver lace. On the top or flap is a triangle, with twelve holes perforated through it; in the center of the triangle is a cross and serpent; on the center of the apron is a skull and crossbones, and at equal distance from them, in a triangular form, a star with seven points; in the center of each star a red cross.”
The lack of an accepted standard caused the Grand Encampment to enact the famous “Digest of Decisions” of 1856. The “Digest” covered three subjects: Dress ~ Work and Discipline of Templary Masonry. The first area ~ “Dress” ~ was not legislated upon until the conclaves of 1859 and 1862. The original edict in 1859 changed the frockcoat from black to white, and simultaneously abolished the wearing of the Knight Templar apron. In 1862 the edict was changed to reflect the now standard black frockcoat that is worn by subordinate Commanderies. However, a mixed rule of “black” and “white” uniforms continued until 1872. As for the Templar apron, a single exception was made for Washington Commandery #1 of the District of Columbia. Today they are only worn on special occasion and installations.
Deeply rooted in the heritage of the ancient Templars, the Knight Templar apron draws its symbolism from the past, to create a tie between those ancient Templars and the modern Masonic Knight Templar. The black of the apron reminds the Sir Knight of the martyrdom of Jacques DeMolay, and the central and most striking emblem of the apron ~ the skull and crossbones ~ is the symbol of the last of mortality.
The skull and crossed bones were adopted as an emblem of the ancient Templars between the third and fourth crusades and is based upon a legend of love between a Templar and a beautiful noblewoman of Marcela. She died before they could be married, but he could not endure the separation from her. He dug up the body, and with full ceremonies married what was left of the corpse. After the body was reburied and he returned home, a voice came to him in a dream and told him to return in nine years. When he returned, he found only the skull and two large leg bones preserved enough to be moved. The voice spoke to him again and told him to guard and keep them always, and he would be successful in all his undertakings. Thereafter he prospered greatly and defeated all his enemies.
Symbolically the Skull and Crossbones upon a field of darkness (Black) points at once to the inevitable end of man as well as to one of the means by which he might accept and come to peace with the knowledge and anticipation of such an ending, by being tried and true to Masonic initiation.