Museum of Freemasonry - Masonic Library

This symbolically represents the diverse character of the life we lead with its dark and light periods, its difficulties and achievements, its promises and disappointments. But what of its origin and why has it been deemed so important, being used, not only in the tracing boards but in the design of Lodge carpets.

In the middle of the 16th century, after Henry VIII had at last reluctantly accepted the need for a Bible in the ‘vulgar tongue’ i.e. English, new translations of the scriptures began to flourish. In 1560 the Geneva version Bible was published, so called because the translators of it had been exiles in that city when it was being produced. One of the new features of this particular Bible were its illustrations, the first to appear in any printed Bible. These illustrations were all, of course, in black and white since no printing press at that time could produce the coloured pictures of the earlier monastic documents.

Thus whenever the Temple of Solomon, or even Solomon’s house and throne are shown in these pages the floor is always depicted as made up of black and white chequered squares. Thus was born the 17th century idea that this was the correct indication of the Temple of Solomon. There might be medieval towers, characters in medieval dress, or even a long Christian type altar but to make sure that the reader knew it was the Temple of Solomon the floor was black and white mosaic squares. In the first chalk floor drawings in early lodges, tracing boards and then lodge carpets, for Masons the mosaic pavement was then the only way to depict Solomon’s Temple. It was called ‘Mosaic’ because in that same Bible the precursor of the Temple was the Tabernacle in the wilderness built by Moses on God’s instruction. The floor of the same holy meeting place was also always shown as black and white squares and referred to as mosaic.

The Queensland Freemason, February 2008 issue by Martin P.S. Haywood