Wednesday, 09 January 2013 15:19

The History of Modern Mark Masonry

I doubt if anyone disputes the conclusion that operative stonemasons ‘marked’ stones prepared by them. Similarly, I think it safe to say that two general types of marks existed – one to identify the position and orientation of the ashlar in the final assembly, and another attesting to the workman who rendered the stone.

Unlike all other medieval trades, the stonemason was a free man. He was not bound to any Lord or Bishop; his employment was effectively piecework. Each man had his own mark which he carved into every stone he worked, in order to secure payment. Many distinctive marks can be found in the fabric of cathedrals and castles throughout the medieval western world.

Although Freemasonry has always been associated with stonemasons, Craft Masonic ceremonies make very few references to the working of stone. The Mark Degree, is explicitly related to stone working and building in stone. It takes its name from the medieval mason's "mark" (illustrated above right).

By the 14th century, building had reached a scale that required the trade to be regulated in its customs and practices. The first regulatory body was the Masons’ Company, formed in London sometime before 1375, later known as the London Masons’ Company. It was granted a coat of arms in 1472. These arms were later adopted by the first Grand Lodge soon after its foundation in 1717, and still form one half of the arms of the present United Grand Lodge of England.

The earliest records of a speculative Mark degree being worked in England are those of Royal Arch Chapter No 257 at Portsmouth on 1 September 1769 when several brethren were made Mark Masons and Mark Masters. It is apparent from this working that the Mark Man degree was conferred on Fellow Crafts and the Mark Master Degree on Master Masons.

The Mark degree ritual is a strong link between "operative" (i.e. real working stone-masons) and "symbolic" masonry. Scottish operative lodge minute books and other surviving documents bear many "marks", which would therefore have been familiar to the earliest symbolic masons. Records also show that a form of the Mark Degree was worked as early as 1599.

The Mark ritual uses the symbolism of the keystone of a stone arch to teach a lesson in morality. The Jewel of the Mark Degree (above left) is shaped as a keystone.

Mark Ritual

So why is the Mark Degree so central to Freemasonry? It is sometimes said to be an extension of the Second Degree in the Craft. But this rather simple assertion belies the fact that the ceremony of admission, called Advancement, is longer in content than the Third Degree. The present ceremony is derived from the earlier practice of conferring the degree of Mark Man on Fellowcrafts and the degree of Mark Master on Master Masons.

The ceremony of Advancement is based on the preparations for the building of KST and follows the fate of an ambitious craftsman (the candidate) seeking promotion in his trade by demonstrating his skill and ability. In the early part of the ceremony his talents go unrecognized and his hopes are dashed but eventually he triumphs over adversity and is justly rewarded for his work. It is a wonderful ceremony containing elements of drama and humor, and, above all, strong moral lessons. The concept of Masons as “living stones” being built into a spiritual house, in parallel with the construction of the Temple, is a powerful theme in the Degree.

Additionally, the Mark Degree, allows the Mason to more fully appreciate the structure and beauty of Masonry as revealed in the Royal Arch Degree.

Why Should a Craft Mason be a Mark Mason?

Many reasons could be advanced, and some have already been alluded to, but three are of special importance. Firstly, it greatly enhances his knowledge of Craft Masonry. Secondly, it teaches, in a delightful way, many important practical lessons about life. Thirdly, it gives a greater appreciation of the Royal Arch and provides an essential qualification to other Orders in Masonry.

The first reason: There are many terms and phrases, even Biblical characters, introduced in the Craft that remain a mystery to many brethren. For example, what does the Senior Warden mean, at the closing of the Lodge, by the expression “…having seen that every Brother has had his due”? This is but one many peculiarities of the Craft that become much clearer in the Mark.

The second reason: Mark is not only a true craftsman’s degree but it also teaches invaluable lessons about life, for example: The studious application of skill and ingenuity, resulting in high quality workmanship, will ultimately be rewarded, even if at first it is not understood or appreciated by others. We each have different skills to offer and different contributions to make. To be accepted we must always be honest and give of our best – the impostor will inevitably be uncovered and receive his due punishment. We cannot properly judge others unless we are sufficiently competent ourselves and exercise humility in the process. We must all accept responsibility for the tasks we agree to undertake and not blame others for our own shortcomings.

Such lessons the craftsman learns, in a dramatic way, in the ceremony. He is, of course, to apply them, not just to the immediate task of symbolically building the Temple, but in the way he conducts himself through life.



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