Mark Masonry

by Gilles C.H. Nullens

 

The marks of the operative masons have been found on stone buildings all over the world and they sometime date back a few hundred if not a few thousand years. However the ceremonies of Mark Masonry, as it is practised to day, probably date from the eighteenth century. There are some recorded dates when Brethren of the Craft were made Mark Mason, but we have no evidence when it was introduced.

Mason marks have been found in the buildings of all civilised countries and they are quite common in English churches, abbeys, etc. However it is also true that they were recorded and organised in two countries only: Scotland and Germany. The Scottish Schaw Statutes of 1598 show how they were registered in this country, and who was entitled to register his mark. Strange enough, not only operative masons were able to do it, but also non-operative "Accepted" members. Marks were common to many trades.

Mark Masonry was practised in Fellow Craft lodges, which worked many ceremonies during the eighteenth century. In those days Mark Masonry had two degrees, Mark Man and Mark Master; they now are combined into one degree in English Masonry but this is not the case in other countries, even if they differ from the old ones. The Mark Man Degree was reserved to Fellow Crafts and the Mark Master was exclusively for Master Masons. More often than not, Brethren receiving the Royal Arch also received the Mark degree. Some Craft lodges worked also the Mark and Royal Arch Degrees as well as the "constructive" chair degree.

Mark Masonry made great progress between the 1780's and the Act of Union of 1813 that, however, recognised only the three Craft Degrees and Royal Arch as part of pure ancient Masonry although it did not prevent the working of the other degrees. The Mark ceremonies continued to be worked during the first half of the nineteenth century but without any official basis or recognition by the Unified Grand lodge and this lack of organisation was soon felt. A Mark Grand Lodge was created in 1856 but it met with strong opposition. Many Mark lodges applied to the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland for warrants, and within one year or two there were about fifty Mark lodges in England, Wales, and the Colonies, all owning allegiance to the Scots Grand Chapter. The Scottish Grand Chapter regarded the English Mark Grand lodge as illegal, but this did not prevent it to prosper. Peace arrived in 1878 with the creation of the present "Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England and Wales and the Dominions and dependencies of the British Crown".

Royal Arch and Mark Masonry were associated from the start. There is no evidence that the "Antients" found the early prototype of Mark Masonry in the Masonry of the early 1700's and that it developed Mark Masonry in parallel with their beloved Royal Arch, despite the opposition of the "Moderns". Probably Mark Masonry came to England from the same source that the Royal Arch with which it was closely associated in its first half-century, and still is in some places. Both the Mark Man and the Mark Master degrees initially adhered closely to the Biblical account of Solomon's Temple. They were especially popular in Scotland, a very religious country, in which the idea of the mason's mark was well known. In conclusion, even if the basic idea behind the Mark degrees is a thousand of years old, the degrees, as we know them, were invented in the eighteenth century, followed by many changes to reach the form under which we know them to day. The Mark Man Degree is though to be the oldest in Mark Masonry, although the evidence available mention it at the same time that the Master Mark Degree in 1769.

The Mark Man degree was opened around 1820's as the Fellow Craft's. The apron worn by the Brethren carried ten mathematical characters, the signature of Hiram Abif and the Mark of the degree. The candidate in his Initiation made an important discovery, was introduced to some secrets, and learned of the trumpet signal used to signal danger at the time of the construction of the first Temple in Jerusalem. The Candidate in the Old Mark Man Degree learned that there were two thousand Mark Men employed during the building of Solomon's Temple divided in twenty lodges. Their duty was to mark the stones prepared by the workmen to facilitate their assembly on the building site. The keystone of King Solomon's arch contained many valuable coins and "the ten letters in precious stone work" became lost, and an ingenious Entered Apprentice made a new one, but the fellow Crafts were jealous, and threw it away. The candidate finds this keystone and is rewarded for his discovery. This was the procedure followed in the second half of the eighteen century and in the early years of the nineteenth.

In the Mark Master Degree, a century or more ago, the Candidate was told of the light house constructed on the top of Mount Lebanon to guide the ancient mariners who were carrying gold, ivory, and precious stones from Ophir for the decoration of Solomon's Temple. The ritual introduces the "link", an idea that went through many early Mark ceremonies, and gave its name to some of them. In the early 1800's, in this degree the link referred to one of the names of the creator "a grand ineffable name". It is said that there were a thousand Mark Masters divided in twenty lodges at the building of the Temple; their job was to control the material brought to Jerusalem to make sure that the parts would fit and they would add their mark on the stones accepted.

The Mark Degree to day centres on the rejection of a worked stone that is found, later on, to be essential for the erection of a building. This motif was initially absent from the Mark degree but it appears in many references from the early nineteenth century. The name "Mark" has been used to describe many degrees and does not, alone, indicates the content of the degrees that can be very different many of which are still worked to day even if their content has often changed with time. There does not seem to be any connection between the operative mark and these degrees worked and conferred by the Royal Arch Masonry.

The Mark Mason is under an obligation to receive a Brother's Mark and help him within the limit of his possibilities. He is not obliged to help him it a second time unless he has been repaid.

Operative masons' marks are found on the stonework of buildings of the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, etc as far back as 1500 BC. They appear on the stone work of Gothic buildings in England and elsewhere. The reason and meaning of these marks are unclear. Some experts have thought that they were associated with magical and esoteric matters, but it seems more probable that they only had an utilitarian nature, that is, to identify the man who shaped the stone, or to indicate the position in which the stone should be laid. As the number of stone masons working on a big building was large, there must have been some organisation and registration of marks. They are some historical evidences that this organisation existed in Scotland and Germany but the absence of evidences does not mean that it was not used somewhere else. Scottish rules issued in 1598 stated that on admission to a fraternity, every mason had to enter his name and his mark in a register. Something similar was in use in Germany.

In the speculative Mark lodges, every brother selects his mark that is recorded in the book of the lodge and also in the General Register Books of Marks in the Mark Grand lodge. These marks generally have a geometrical character and consist of straight lines and angles; curves were rare because they were difficult to reproduce. The rise of Craft guilds in England and other countries increased the need for Craft marks and not only for the masons. This was even more necessary because most Craftsmen could not read or write and could only leave their mark to identify their work. The marks were applied where they could be easily seen, even after the stone was integrated in the construction. Marks have been thought to indicate also when the stone was worked but this is not certain.

Marks were used in other trades too and for the same reasons. Some have been found in China, Persia, Egypt, Rome, etc to identify weavers, potters, goldsmiths, silversmiths, carpenters, joiners, coopers, cloth workers, bakers, etc. Even merchants had to use their marks sometime in England and elsewhere. This was the beginning of the mark of origin that is still widely used to day.

 

 Sourced from, Gilles C.H. Nullens book, "An Outsider's View of Freemasonry, part B6

This Article was extracted and transcribed in this format by Bro. J. Stewart Donaldson.

 

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