Spotlight On: Our First Degree Tracing Cloth
Our First Degree tracing cloth is almost unique throughout Masonry. Although the identity of the painter is not known with certainty, we know the cloth was produced circa 1815 and it was likely produced locally. It is part of a set which when taken together, serve to illustrate and explain the Masonic system through allegory and symbolism.
The cloth is of great historical interest and was the subject of a paper written and delivered by local photographer, historian and Freemason, William Waples. When Waples researched the content and provenance of the cloth in the 1940s, many fine details were obscured under a layer of dirt. Following professional cleaning in the latter part of the 20th century, together with advanced imaging techniques, the cloth has since revealed new detail and even a hidden message! Who knows what other secrets may lie beneath its surface?
Freemasons will recognise that the design of this cloth is relatively unusual, in that it predates the Harris designs of the early 19th century which for all intents and purposes, became the standard design. The inclusion of the trowel, the inverted star, and the clock are particular features of our cloth, as is the fact that no symbols are placed directly upon the squared pavement, which in itself is of a diamond pattern. Freemasons with a keen eye may notice something unusual about the square and compasses.
From its first production, the cloth has been used to explain the ceremony of initiation to new members, together with the moral lessons taught therein. Occasionally the members of Phoenix Lodge receive the Waples lecture on this intriguing work of art, which together with its sisters, provokes a certain introspection into one's sense of self, life and actions, before the universe writ large. Thus the design remains as relevant and as durable as ever.