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Some thoughts on the history of
The Tracing Boards
Presented at the Vancouver Grand Masonic Day, October 16, 1999
by Bro. Mark S. Dwor, Centennial-King George Lodge No. 171
After Freemasonry was established in France in the early 1730s, there were a number of books printed that outlined the workings of a Lodge. These were called Exposures because in theory they were meant to expose the workings to the general public, but this is probably an inaccurate description. These books were reprinted, some of them were translated and printed in English, (clearly the market for the information was not limited just to people interested in what Masons did but rather to Masons themselves) to find out how other Masons did Ritual. Much of the early information we have is from these French and English Exposures. For the longest time they were looked down on by scholars as being inaccurate but, starting, at least, from Dring's paper on Tracing Boards onwards, this has subtly changed where they are now seen as being the only accurate representations of what Masonic Ritual was.
The first pictorial representation of Floor Cloths were found in the French exposures dating back to 1742. We have some of these in the original form in our Grand Lodge Library, unfortunately the diagrams I wish to use were not complete and also unfortunately the Harry Carr book on early French exposures was unavailable when I was collecting the diagrams for this lecture. In any event, we know that Floor Cloths, in and of themselves were used as early as 1742, specifically for the Third Degree.
Floor cloths and floor coverings are in fact a separate topic but I need to go through them in some detail to tie up some loose ends. In many of our Lodge Halls, for example, 8th & Granville, Marpole, and Kamloops, there is nothing on the flooring that indicates the requirements of the First Degree Lodge, i.e. Masonic pavement and indented skirting that surrounds the pavement. This can be found in the First Degree lecture on page 42 of the Canadian work and similar wording can be found in the Senior Warden's First Degree lecture on page 47 of the Ancient Work. Why the flooring of these Lodge Halls is missing the Mosaic pavement or the indented skirting is not for me to speculate. I know in my Lodge hall in Richmond both these two items are there and in the Langford Lodge hall on Vancouver Island there is an actual Mosaic pavement, and in the newly refurbished Kerrisdale Lodge there is a wonderful carpet with Mosaic pavement and also the four tassels. I raise this because the questions of symbolism and use of Masonic symbols goes to the root of the history of where Tracing Boards come from. If we rely on the Tracing Boards themselves for our sole source of Masonic symbolism we may not only be taking too much for granted but also diminishing the Masonic experience available to our Brethren. I can explain this by talking about Lodges that meet in locations that are not permanent Masonic Lodge halls. Typically, these are church halls or otherwise which the Masons use for their meeting and have to make each hall to be a Masonic Lodge. Usually, the Lodge will have some form of Masonic flooring. I refer you to photographs of the AQC Vol.107 (1994) on pages 201 and 205 showing temporary tassels in the four corners and a temporary Mosaic floor cloth of Lamont Lodge No. 94 of the Grand Lodge of Alberta, and also the picture on page 157 of the AQC Vol.110 (1997).
I contacted some of the Lodges in our jurisdiction that don't have permanent Masonic homes, and I can report that in Kitimat Lodge No. 169, which is Canadian, they have a carpet that's about six feet by ten feet which on one side has mosaic pavement and tassels, on the other side there's a coffin for the Third Degree work. In McKenzie Lodge No. 168,which is an Antient Lodge, they have a black and white mosaic pavement about six feet by six feet with tassels; and in Queen Charlotte Lodge No.189, which is Antient, they have a Second Degree Floor Cloth about two and a half feet by seven feet. In Light of the Rockies Lodge No. 190, which is Emulation, they have a three foot by six foot painted canvas Floor Cloth which is a mosaic pavement with tassels. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. I also do not want people to believe that only Lodges that do not have a permanent home would use Floor Cloths. For example, Prince of Wales Lodge No.100 (which meets at the Kerrisdale hall) has a black and white Masonic pavement Floor Cloth which it uses; and Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary's Chapel) No. 1, which just celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of its earliest extant minute dating back to July 1559, also uses a Floor Cloth in what is clearly a permanent Lodge hall. I refer any of you interested, to the Grand Lodge of Scotland website to see a lovely picture of this.
This is as good as a place as any, to make some simple comparisons between Antient and Canadian work. In Canadian work we typically only use the Floor Cloth in the Third Degree. In Antient work there are no Tracing Boards as such but there is usually a chart which is used by the Senior Warden in the First Degree Lecture. In the Second Degree many Antient Lodges have wonderful Floor Cloths, such as Vancouver Lodge No. 68. Richmond Lodge No. 142 lays out the steps on separate pieces of wood marked with the appropriate names for the three, five and seven steps. There are some Lodges in England that have constructed winding staircases that the Candidate is actually guided up. In the Third Degree, there is no specific reference to floor cloths in the Antient work except in a wonderful lecture which is listed as Appendix "H"–Alternate Lecture in MM Degree. The instructions in the Ritual are that this lecture is to be delivered with slides or master's carpet. I wish to thank the Grand Secretary for informing me of this piece of Antient ritual.
If you were to only have read that Grand Lodge of Scotland reference about the Floor Cloth, you might assume that Masons were opposed to decoration. Far from it. In the Eighteenth Century Masons decorated not just Lodge regalia but everything that could possibly be decorated. The Masonic museums are full of drinking cups and glasses and plates and serving utensils covered in Masonic emblems. Masons used to paint their aprons–in fact, that was one of the compromises I mentioned earlier at the Lodge of Reconciliation that, in English Masonry at least, there were to be no more hand-painted aprons, though this certainly continued in Scotland. I've enclosed a copy of a hand-painted English apron circa 1800 because it shows three women portraying Faith Hope and Charity. This was a common portrayal and it shows up on a number of Tracing Boards, specifically those by Bowring. (see fig. 5) I have also enclosed the reverse side of a miniature portrait of Frances Cornelia, the wife of James Ames, Master of Lodge Innocence and Morality in 1776. The vast majority of information on all three Tracing Boards, save and except the Second Degree stairway, is on the back of this miniature. I also point out that there were no Tracing Boards in existence at the time this miniature was made, in other words it is important to realize that the imagery used in the Tracing Boards was imagery already known and accepted by Masons. (see fig. 6.)

[Anti-masonry] Copyright © Mark S. Dwor October 16, 1999

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