As we are all familiar with, the first of the Capitular or Royal Arch degrees is that of Mark Master. Mark Masonry is one of the oldest degrees in Freemasonry and helps bridge operative and speculative Freemasonry. The use of the mark is quite ancient and, while modernized, is still used today. This presentation will be focusing on the symbolism of the degree of Mark Master, the history of the Mark, and the history of Mark Masonry.
Modern Freemasonry is said to have spawned from Operative Mason Guilds in Great Britain. Operative Masonry emerged in England after the Norman Conquest when the erection of fortresses was necessary. During the medieval period, the largest employer of operative Masons was the Roman Catholic Church who pushed for the erection of cathedrals, abbeys, and monasteries. However, in 1517, a Catholic Priest posted a document to the door of a local church criticizing the Catholic Church and some of its policies. This priest was named Martin Luther and his actions spawned the Reformation. As a result of the Reformation, Protestantism arose and the Roman Catholic Church lost much of its power and influence, and the requirement for the construction of new religious buildings dropped dramatically. The Operative Mason Guilds faced increasing unemployment and led to the admission of non-stone workers into the guilds and the rise of Speculative Freemasonry.
History of the Mark
These Operative Masons employed a practice of engraving symbols upon their work to either designate its placement or that they were the ones who completed the work. This practice has been found to be used as far back as 2500 BC. Marks have been found in Egypt, Greece, Rome, Asia Minor, India, Central and South America, England, France, Germany, Scotland, Spain, Portugal, and throughout the Middle East. Being Freemasons, we obviously focus on the use of the mark within our Craft, but the use of the mark is found among other trades. According to Robert Gould, a well-known Masonic historian:
Merchants, ecclesiastics, and other persons of respectability not entitled to bear arms adopted marks or notes of those trades and professions.
Today this practice of marking one’s work is seen with the placement of corporate and company logos on products. It still has the same purpose as a company or individual is placing their reputation at stake by putting their respective symbol on their work; if they produce sub-standard work then they will suffer the consequences just as our operative descendants faced if they failed to meet the parameters set out by the Master on his trestleboard.
Whether it was the stonemasons in medieval Europe or the workman at the Temple or in the quarries of Solomon, most were illiterate and their mark served a number of practical purposes. 1) It served as one’s signature and helped facilitate the payment of wages for the work rendered. 2) The mark was also said to have been used to indicate the stone’s placement in the building. 3) Marks were used by overseers to mark that the stone had been inspected and approved. This last point is of interest as we’re told each workman possessed their own mark, but in researching it seems that not every Mason was given the honor of having their own mark or pass their work directly to the overseers. Some workmen, such as Entered Apprentices, were not skilled or knowledgeable enough so either someone had to mark the stone for them or had to evaluate their work.
As with the ancient custom, we Mark Masons today choose a mark that is recorded and kept by the Chapter and can never be changed. Today, we use other devices to draw our Mark, which allows us to come up with all sorts of designs, but, in the days of old, marks were primarily a combination of straight lines as they only used the Chisel and the Mallet (two prominent symbols of Mark Masonry).
The Degree of Mark Master
A candidate for this degree is placed in a quarry among the workman who is completing their work and attempting to receive their wages. The quarries used in the erection of King Solomon's Temple were limestone which was nearly pure white in color and can be highly polished. Workman would have been paid on the sixth hour of the sixth day which for the Hebrew calendar was Friday at noon. For the Hebrew people, the day ended at sunset with Saturday being the Sabbath or Holy Day, and a day of rest.
The organization of a Mark Lodge is similar to that of a Blue Lodge, but with some notable changes of adding the Overseers and the loss of the Stewards. However, as the Mark Lodge is under the auspices of the Royal Arch Chapter it is important to show the comparison between those two organizational units:
Mark Lodge.............................................................Royal Arch Chapter
Right Worshipful Master...........................................Excellent High Priest
Senior Deacon.........................................................Principal Sojourner
Junior Deacon..........................................................Royal Arch Captain
Master Overseer......................................................Master of the Third Veil
Senior Overseer.......................................................Master of the Second Veil
Junior Overseer.......................................................Master of the First Veil
Marshall...................................................................Captain of the Host
Before discussing the symbolism of Mark Masonry, it is interesting to note that there have been variations in the name and rituals. In researching early Mark Masonry there were two degrees conferred: Mark Man and Mark Master. Mark Man was for Fellowcrafts and Mark Master was reserved for those who had been raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason. There also have been a number of degrees that have employed the Mark such as Cain's Mark, Christian Mark, and Traveling Mark. Due to there being no governing body until the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, there was no regulation and thus there appear to be variations in the rituals used. From the History of Royal Arch Masonry (1956):
From a manuscript found in 1918, the old York Mark ritual dramatize the story of Daniel interpreting the King's dream is found in Esdras. A Sojourner, whose name is Giblum, had been discovered after diligent search throughout the kingdom. But the king in this instance proved to be Nebuchadnezzar instead of Cyrus, Darius, or Belshazzar in some other rituals.
Today, as Mark Masonry is under the Royal Arch Chapter the color associated with the degree is red. However, when the Mark Lodges were independent the aprons were said to have been white bordered with purple. Under the Ancient & Accepted Rite, the color associated with Mark Masonry was yellow.
The Mark Master Mason degree teaches and explains many valuable lessons such as how to receive the wages talked about in the Blue Lodge, the value of labor, integrity, individual responsibility, and humility. It also teaches one not to judge one by simply on outward appearances, but seek the inner, hidden truth and beauty. In this degree, we are introduced to the Mallet and Chisel, which, alongside the keystone, are prominent symbols of this degree as both of these instruments are essential for preparing stone for the builder's use.
We are taught that through the Mallet we are to correct our irregularities and superfluous habits, and is similar to the Gavel talked about in the 1st degree and can be aligned with the Cardinal Virtue, Temperance. The Chisel is to stone, what education and discipline are to our mind, which reveals the hidden beauty and virtues hidden beneath the surface. It was through these two instruments that our ancient Operative Brethren were able to place their Mark upon their piece of work.
No arch would be complete though with a keystone. A keystone is a wedge-shaped stone placed at the apex of an arch, and is the last piece placed during construction and locks all the stones into position. This keystone gives the arch its strength and ability to bear the weight. The keystone being designed by the Grand Master Hiram Abiff and sculpted by a workman represented by the candidate in Mark Masonry is a symbol of completion, the act of which is performed in the Most Excellent Master degree. The overseers show the dangers of the uninitiated passing judgment on something they lack knowledge about. As a Christian, I see the keystone as an allegory for Christ. From Ephesians 2:20, “Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” Keystone is a synonym of the cornerstone. We as living arches are nothing without God and his Word, our spiritual Keystone.
During the conferral of the degree, the Overseers repeat the phrase “Good Work, True Work, Square Work.” The word “good” can sometimes be subjective and as we see in this degree, what is considered rubbish may not be. What someone determines to be good may be determined by the knowledge and skill they possess. Good Work should be seen as that which is made from the best, most appropriate material. True Work, regardless of its shape, should be precise in its dimensions; not too thick or thin, nor too short or too long. Square Work signifies that the work is not only proportioned in size, but also that the stone will fit into the work of adjacent stones; as we are taught in the Entered Apprentice degree, the stone used for the Temple were fit together with such exact nicety that it had more the appearance of the handiwork of the Supreme Architect of the Universe than human hands.
The Mark degree reveals to a candidate the process of receiving one's wages. Previously mentioned, not everyone was allowed to have a mark so some scholars speculate that only the Mark Masons received the half-shekel discussed in the ritual while the rest would have received other wages; in the Fellowcraft degree, we are told of corn, wine, and oil. To the modern Mark Mason, the parable of labor in this degree represents study and our wages are truth.
The Timeline of Mark Masonry
While I will discuss many different dates, the first two are of particular importance. The first date is July 31, 1599, where the Lodge records are signed by the warden and attested to by his mark. However, these records make no mention of a Mark ritual; the ritual seems to have occurred with the emergence of Speculative Masons. If you research enough, this date being one of the earliest records is not surprising because the year prior William Schaw published a set of statutes that required the recording of Mason’s Mark:
“No master or fellow of craft shall be received or admitted without there being present six masters and two entered 'prentices, the warden of the lodge being one of the six, when the day of receiving the new fellow of craft or master shall be duly booked and his mark inserted in the same book, with the names of the six admitters and entered 'prentices, as also the names of the intenders [intendaris-instructors] which shall be chosen for every person so entered in the book of the lodge. Providing always that no man be admitted without an essay and sufficient trial of his skill and worthiness in his vocation and craft.”
The Mark Book of Lodge Aberdeen, in Scotland, is still preserved and whose records go back to 1670. It is interesting to note that of the 49 members that first signed this book, only 10 of them were operative Masons. The speculative Masons were known as “geomatic” and the operative ones were named “domatic”. Geomatic is defined as the branch of science that deals with the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data relating to the earth's surface. Domatic is defined as belonging to a crystallographic class of symmetry of the monoclinic system that is characterized by a dome.
While it doesn’t seem to have directly influenced Mark Masonry in England, there was written in 1462 the Torgau Ordinances that mentions the requirements of having a mark. These ordinances were composed of 112 articles governing the conduct of operative masons in that region of Europe. I want to highlight 9 of them:
25. And if a master or fellow come free of the craft or trade, and demand a mark of a workmaster, to him shall he grant his wish, and he shall give for the service of God that which shall be adjudged of master and fellows. And to master and fellows shall he pledge the mark doubly.
26. No master shall withhold his mark from his apprentice for a further space than [illegible]. days, unless it be that the apprentice has wasted his master's time, he shall then first do his behest before that and the feast.
27. And no master shall show any reluctance to pledge his apprentice's mark, and the several clericals whom he may bid thereto, with a penny wheaten bread of xv. gr., a loaf of xv. gr., meat, and two stoups of wine; and the apprentice shall not bid more than x. fellows, and if he bid more then shall he buy more, that the master suffer not thereby.
30. The master may lend his apprentice a mark to travel during his apprenticeship, if the master have no employment, and must let him travel.
31. No master shall allow his apprentice to pledge his mark, unless he have served his time.
50. The warden shall willingly choose and mark out stones for the fellows and apprentices, and inspect and see that they be well and truly made of the fellows; and if he do not so, and the master discover errors that anything be untrue, then shall he forfeit to the master viij. kr. and the fellow vj. kr.
51. And if a warden mark a stone because it is of no use, then shall he [the workman] lose his wages that he had otherwise earned on that stone, unless it be made of use.
56. And the warden shall mark the under side of the stones of fellows and apprentices, should the fellows and apprentices fail to answer the knocks, and not appear to the right time at breakfast; and if he take not the fines so shall he pay them himself.
72. Whatsoever fellow shall not offer assistance to turn his stone this way or that, to fetch it or to turn it over when necessary, or places his mark thereon as if it were truly made, and that before it shall have been proven, so that it be passed unproven to the store, or improperly finishes his work, he shall stand to forfeit one half pound of wax.
94. If a fellow have not served his time, or have bought his mark and not honestly earned it, or if a hired servant or help establishes himself and teaches to work in stone, with him shall no man take service.
The first recorded instance of conferring a Mark degree happened on September 1, 1769, at Phoenix Royal Arch Chapter which was affiliated with Friendship Lodge No.257 in Portsmouth, England, at George Tavern. The conferral was presided over by Thomas Dunckerley. Thomas Dunckerley was a very well-known and accomplished Mason. He was, at the time of this conferral, a Provincial Grand Master, a Grand Superintendent for Royal Arch Masons in England and would go on to become the first Grand Master of the first Grand Conclave of Knights Templar (a predecessor of the Great Priory of England and Wales that exists today). Some credit him with inventing the Royal Arch degree, but there is debate as there is evidence of its existence a decade before he became a Mason. There is also debate as to whether Dunckerley created the ritual for Mark Masonry, but some argue he did not because of what the minutes of that meeting wherein it is written:
“The Pro. G. M. Thomas Dunckerley, brought the warrants of the chapter and having lately received the ‘Mark’ he made the brethren ‘Mark Masons’ and ‘Mark Masters’."
Mark Masonry began to spread and, like most of early American history, Mark Masonry is thought to have been brought over via merchants and the military. For our Canadian Brothers, the earliest record of it being conferred is 1784 in Nova Scotia. For the newly formed United States, Mark Masonry is said to have taken root in Connecticut, but the dates are debated. Some argue that it was first done in 1791, while others, like Brent Morris, argue that it happened back in 1783. On a side note, when I was researched early Knights Templar, I found that on August 28, 1769, William Davis received the “four steps”, as it was called, that of Excellent, Super Excellent, Royal Arch, and Knights Templar in St. Andrew's Royal Arch Lodge in Massachusetts. It did not include Mark Masonry or at least reference Mark Masonry. Going back to Mark Masonry's timeline, there is a record of it being conferred in New York in 1791 and then in Boston in 1793. Mark degree conferred in Blue Lodges, the Scottish Rite (prior to the formation of the Supreme Councils), Chapters of Royal Arch Masonry, Knights Templar Encampments (now known as Commanderies), and independent Mark Mason Lodges. Through the 18th century, there was little oversight and regulation of Mark Masonry anywhere in the world.
The next significant event was on October 24, 1797, when the General Grand Chapter was formed. Over the next few years, other concordant bodies also started forming formal governing bodies and ritual standardization started to occur across the board. It is interesting to note that the General Grand Chapter issued Mark Lodge Charters up to 1853. After that, this degree was under the authority of the Chapter. In England, Mark Masonry has its own Grand Lodge. In reading through the History of the General Grand Chapter, this practice of chartering Mark Lodges was unique to towns with small populations. The Mark Lodges only had the power to confer the degree and this was done in places where it was impossible to confer any other degrees. There are Mark Lodges still in existence in the US: one is in Utah and I believe there are two Mark Lodges in Pennsylvania.
While in England, Mark Masonry is independent of the Royal Arch, I believe American Mark Masonry was brought under the Chapter through the efforts of Thomas Smith Webb. Considered by many to be the Father of the American Rite, Thomas Smith-Webb authored the book “Freemason's Monitor or Illustrations of Masonry,” which had a very significant impact on the development of the Masonic ritual, particularly the York Rite degrees and orders, in the United States. This book was published on September 14, 1797 (just prior to the formation of the General Grand Chapter), and was said to be a compendium of William Preston's work as well as his own alterations, additions, and works. One of the biggest accomplishments and momentous occasions for Thomas Smith Webb was that he presided over the convention that was held in Boston in October of 1797, which would lead to the formation of the General Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons (which is the oldest national Masonic body in the US). At the meeting that was held in Providence, Rhode Island, in January of 1799, he presented a Constitution which was adopted.
Mark Masonry in England is an interesting subject to research:
“After the Union of the two Grand Lodges in England in 1813, the position of the Mark was difficult, because the new UGLE tried to ignore all the further degrees apart from the Royal Arch. However, by now, the Mark was an integral part of Masonry in Scotland, Ireland, and the USA."
While Mark Masonry is a separate body in England, all attempts have been made to bring Mark Masonry under the authority of the UGLE, but all attempts have failed.
It’s easy for us in conferring our degrees in the festival form to rush past the Mark and forget about it, and thus forget about its connection to our operative roots. Some Chapters confer this degree for free on any Master Mason to muster interest in the York Rite. Some jurisdictions open Mark Master Lodges as “table lodges,” which act as a social focus for the local York Rite bodies.