Mark Well

Issue 29 Mark Well
THE MARKS OF MARK MASONRY The subject of Marks forms an interesting
episode in the history of Masonry, both Operative and Speculative. The Mark
Degree forms a very close link in the chain connecting the Speculative Craft
Lodges of today with the Old Operative systems of Freemasonry, and the
present rituals have been founded undoubtedly on the ancient Craft Legends
of these Operative systems. The rituals and lectures are most probably based
upon incidents before or at the building of King Solomon’s Temple when at
that period it was necessary to ensure completeness and accuracy in all
departments of work and to establish a system of grades among the immense
number of workmen employed. Under this system each member of each grade
marks his work with some peculiar Mark or Symbol, thereby enabling
overseers to recognise the hands from which the work came and to reward
them accordingly. Thus, a Mason’s Mark is a monogram, a symbol, or some
other arbitrary figure chiselled by a mason on the surface of a stone for the
purpose of identifying his own work and distinguishing it from that of other
workmen, so that he might be made responsible for its imperfection or receive
due credit for its merit. Besides, the Mark was not placed on all stones
indiscriminately, and if the calculation of wages was made by marked stones
only, the workmen would be constantly defrauded of a part of their wages. It
was a regulation that those stones only should be marked which were of
importance in the building, and which required skill and dexterity in their
construction. The inscribing of a Mark on a well-cut and polished stone was
rather intended to secure to the stone-cutter a just reputation for his work
than to enable an overseer to calculate the amount of wages that were due.
Today, the Mark of a Speculative Mark Master bears in its accepted character
and use a much nearer resemblance to the tessers hospitalis of the Ancients
than to the proprietary mark of an Operative Mason of the middle ages. As the
government of the Mark degree differed in different countries and at different
times, so the legend seems also to have varied, and we find several forms of it
in the rituals of the degree. In the middle of the 19th century when in Scotland
and in England the Mark system was divided into two grades or ranks, that of
Mark Man and that of Mark Master, the design of the Mark was supposed to
be very different from that of indicating proprietorship.
1 The duty of the Mark Men is said in the ritual to have been to examine the
materials as they came out of the hands of the workmen, and then to place a
Mark upon them so as to enable them to be put together with greater facility
and precision when brought from the quarries, the forest, and the clay grounds
to the city of Jerusalem. These marks were mathematical figures, name
squares, levels and perpendiculars which were used by command of King
Solomon. The Mark Masters were to examine the materials when they were
brought to the Temple to see that every part duly corresponded, and thus to
prevent confusion and mistake in fitting the respective parts to their proper
places. In doing this they were, of course, guided by the marks which had been
placed upon the stones and other materials by the Mark Men. The Mark
Masters then placed an additional Mark upon them to show that they
approved the work which had been previously examined by the Mark Men. In
all this there is not the slightest notion of a proprietorship. The stones were
marked by the medieval Mason, so that the work of each man might be
identified and he be made responsible for its imperfection or receive due
credit for its merit. But the stones and timbers were not (according to this
legend) marked for any such purpose by the workmen, who “hewed, cut, and
squared” them. The Mark was placed upon them by the Mark Masters, who
superintended the Masons and the carpenters in the quarries and the forests,
and who placed a Mark on each stone and timber so that when transported to
Jerusalem, the Mark Masters would find no difficulty when guided by these
Marks, in placing those materials together which were intended to be in
juxtaposition. Such a system prevails at the present day among stonemasons,
carpenters and joiners, so as to point precisely the positions to be occupied by
the different parts of the work upon which they are engaged when they are to
be put together. But this is altogether different from the system of proprietary
Marks which was pursued by the Operative Masons of the Middles Ages. There
was another legend introduced at a later period, it was most probably the
ritual practised in this country before the end of the 19th century, possibly the
same as used at that time by the Mark Lodges in America. The legend in this
ritual differs very materially from the former, which has just been described.,
the position of the Mark Man appears to have been omitted from the system
by that time. There is no longer a pretension that the Mark was used as a
means of indicating that two distinct pieces of material were when brought
together to be in juxtaposition. That idea has now been entirely eliminated
from the degree.
2 In this more modern legend, the Mark is said to have been used for two
purposes. In the first place, Hiram Abif, seeing that it was impossible to
superintend so large a number of workmen as were employed in the building
of the Temple, appointed overseers to the different classes. He was careful to
select only men of irreproachable character for this responsible office. He was
particularly attached to the Giblemites or Stonecutters, whom he formed into
a body, whose duty it was, as overseers, to procure from the Treasurer-
General such sums of money as were necessary to pay off the workmen over
whom they presided, which was done at a particular time and in a particular
place. To expedite the task of payment, and to prevent confusion and
imposition among the workmen, the Giblemites were ordered to provide for
themselves a particular Mark by which they and the amount due to each one
were easily recognised; and presenting this Mark in a particular manner, each
Mark Master received at once the wages due to him. But the Mark thus
selected was to be used not on the stone as a proof of who was the cutter of
the stone, but only as a jewel to be employed at the hour of paying wages, so
that the paymaster might commit no error in the payment. But the Mark was
used also for another purpose. This purpose was one totally unknown to the
Operative Masons or to the Speculative Masons who first founded the degree.
A Mark Master being in distress or danger, has a talisman for relief in his Mark.
He sends it (says the ritual) to a Mark Mason, who instantly obeys the
summons and flies to his relief with a heart warmed with the impulse of
brotherly love. The Mark might also be put in pledge if the owner was “in the
utmost distress” and he was to redeem it as soon as it should be in his power.
(For those of us whose memories are not what they were, a quick read of the
latter half of the Obligation of the Advancement ceremony will refresh the
memory) In the early part of the last century, possibly earlier, the ritual was
again changed and that adopted is now the form universally practised in this
country. The legend attached to this ritual enters into several details not found
in earlier ones but it continues to maintain the theory that the Mark is a token
of friendship. The legend is to this effect. At the building of the Temple of
Solomon, a young Craftsman found in the quarries a stone of a peculiar form
and beauty, which was inscribed with certain mystical characters the meaning
of which was totally unknown to him. Nevertheless, he carried it up to the
inspectors of the materials brought up for the construction of the Temple, and
disingenuously but unsuccessfully attempted to pass it of as a stone wrought
by himself.
3 Sometime afterwards this very stone, which had been prepared by Hiram
Abif, for a special purpose in the building, was found to be wanting. After a
strict search it was discovered among the rubbish and applied to its original
destination. It has been said that Masonic Marks have been discovered on the
Pyramids of Egypt, on the ruined buildings in Pompeii, Greece and Rome, and
on the ancient cathedrals, castles etc., that are to be found in almost every
country of Europe. But the fact is that the inscriptions and devices found on
stones in buildings of antiquity were most probably mythological, symbolical or
historical, being a brief record of, or allusion to, some important event that
had occurred. Having said that, letters, as initials of the names of workman are
repeatedly found among the Medieval Masons marks. It is a plausible solution
to suppose that the choice of mark was left entirely to each workman, while
some were content with a monogram or merely an initial letter, others more
imaginative would select a symbol, or if they were peculiarly mathematical in
their notions, would take a geometrical figure. In Norfolk particularly, there is
much evidence of the Masons Marks of the time of the Operative Masons. In
Norwich Castle, many Norfolk Churches and especially in Norwich Cathedral,
we find such marks, and in many cases that of sons of Craftsmen adding to the
marks of their fathers for their own Mark. In some cases proprietary marks
were hereditary, and there are instances where the son or the grandson has
assumed the mark of his father or grandfather, but there does not seem to
have been any law making such hereditary transmission obligatory. If the son
adopted the mark of his father it was because he chose to do so, and he might
and most frequently did, select a different mark. Very intimately connected
with this subject of proprietary marks is that of the Mark degree, which,
whatever was the date and place of its origin, was undoubtedly founded on
and to be traced to the usages of the Operative Masons. The fact of the
existence of this degree, which continues the usage of marks in modern rituals,
is another important link in the chain which connects the Operative Masonry
of the Middle Ages with the Speculative Masonry of the present day.

Comments are closed.