Encylcopedia of Freemasonry & its kindred Sciences
by Albert C. Mackey M. D.
The Trestle-Board is defined to be the board upon which the Master inscribes the designs by which the Craft are to be directed in their labors. The French and German Freemasons have confounded the Trestle-Board with the Tracing-Board; and Doctor Oliver (Landmarks I, page 132) has not avoided the error. The two things are entirely different. The trestle is a framework for a table—in Scotch, trest; the Trestle-Board is the board placed for convenience of drawing on that frame. It contains nothing but a few diagrams, usually geometrical figures. The Tracing-Board is a picture formerly drawn on the floor of the Lodge, whence it was called The Floor-Cloth or Carpet. It contains a delineation of the symbols of the Degree to which it belongs. The Trestle-Board is to be found only in the Entered Apprentice's Degree. There is a Tracing-Board in every Degree, from the first to the highest. And, lastly, the Trestle-Board is a symbol; the Tracing-Board is a piece of furniture or picture containing the representation of many symbols.
It is probable that the Trestle-Board, from its necessary use in Operative Masonry, was one of the earliest symbols introduced into the Speculative system. It is not, however, mentioned in the Grand Mystery, published in 1724. But Prichard, who wrote only six years afterward, describes it, under the corrupted name of Trestle-Board, as one of the immovable jewels of an Apprentice's Lodge. Browne, in 1880, following Preston, fell into the error of calling it a Tracing-Board, and gives from the Prestonian lecture what he terms "a beautiful degree of comparison," in which the Bible is compared to a Tracing-Board. But the Bible is not a collection of symbols, which a Tracing-Board is, but a Trestle-Board that contains the plan for the construction of a spiritual Temple. Webb, however, when he arranged his system of lectures, took the proper view, and restored the true word, Trestle-Board.
Not withstanding these changes in the name, Trestle-Board, Trestle-Board, Tracing-Board, and Trestle-Board again, the definition has continued from the earliest part of the eighteenth century to the present Day the same. It has always been enumerated among the jewels of the Lodge, although the English system says that it is immovable and the American movable; and it has always been defined as "a Board for the Master Workman to draw his designs upon." In Operative Masonry, the Trestle-Board is of vast importance. It was on such an implement that the genius of the ancient Masters worked out those problems of architecture that have reflected an unfading luster on their skill. The Trestle-Board was the cradle that nursed the infancy of such mighty monuments as the cathedrals of Strassburg and Cologne; and as they advanced in stature, the Trestle board became the guardian spirit that directed their growth. Often have those old Builders pondered by the midnight lamp upon their Trestle-Board, working out its designs with consummate taste and knowledge—here springing an arch, and turning an angle there, until the embryo edifice Stood forth in all the wisdom, strength, and beauty of the Master's art.
What, then, is its true Symbolism in Speculative Freemasonry? To construct his earthly Temple, the Operative Mason followed the architectural designs laid down on the Trestle-Board, or book of plans of the architect. By these he hewed and squared his materials; by these he raised his walls; by these he Constructed his arches; and by these strength and durability, combined with grace and beauty, were bestowed upon the edifice which he was constructing.
In the Masonic Ritual, the Speculative Freemason is reminded that, as the Operative Artists erects his temporal building in accordance with the rules and designs laid down on the Trestle-Board of the Master Workman, so should he erect that spiritual building, of which the material is a type, in obedience to the rules and designs, the precepts and commands, laid down by the Grand Architect of the Universe in those great books of nature and revelation which constitute the spiritual Trestle-Board of every Freemason.
The Trestle-Board is then the Symbol of the natural and moral law. Like every other Symbol of the Order, it is universal and tolerant in its application, and while, as Christian Freemasons, we cling with unfaltering integrity to the explanation which makes the Scriptures of both Dispensations our Trestle-Board, we permit our Jewish and Mohammedan Brethren to content themselves with the books of the Old Testament or Koran. Freemasonry does not interfere with the peculiar form or development of any one's religious faith. All that it asks is that the interpretation of the symbol shall be according to what each one supposes to be the revealed will of his creator. But so rigidly exacting is it that the symbol shall be preserved and, in some rational way, interpreted, that it peremptorily excludes the atheist from its communion, because, believing in no Supreme Being—no Divine Architect—he must necessarily be without a spiritual Trestle-Board on which the designs of that Being may be inscribed for his direction (see Floor cloth).