The Origins of Mark Masonry
It is well known that operative stone masons indented the stones they had prepared with special marks. These were of two types, those that indicated the orientation and position of the stone within the building together with a personal mark to identify the mason who prepared it.
Operative stonemasonry, as a major trade, began to evolve in the early 11th century with the Saxon builders and intensified in the centuries following the Norman conquest. By the 14 th 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 known document regulating the trade is the Regius Manuscript of c. 1390. These and later documents, now referred to as the Old Charges, are the origins of the present charges found in the Craft Book of Constitutions, abbreviated forms of which are delivered to each new Mason and to the Master before his installation.
Although the origins of speculative Freemasonry are unclear, it is evident that it has borrowed heavily from the medieval operative stone masons’ trade in a number of respects – including the symbolism of working tools and gauges in the Craft and other Masonic Orders, and the use of marks in speculative Mark Masonry.
The earliest authenticated record of a man being made a truly speculative Mason – is that of Elias Ashmole (founder of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, among other things), who was admitted to a Lodge in Warrington in 1646.
The first Grand Lodge was founded at the Goose and Gridiron Alehouse, St Pauls Church Yard, in the City of London in 1717 and this marked the start of organised Freemasonry. Because of disputes about certain practices and principles, a breakaway rival Grand Lodge was formed in 1751. The two Grand Lodges eventually reconciled their differences and the Act of Union was signed in 1813 when the present United Grand Lodge of England came into being.
As to the ritual, we know (from early exposures) that a system of three Craft Degrees was well developed by 1730 and that the Royal Arch emerged in the 1740s.
The first mention of a brother being made a Mark Mason was at a Lodge in Newcastle in January 1756, although earlier references to a brother having “received his mark’ are known. But it is not clear from these records whether a degree ceremony was being worked.
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. Note that in the earlier working the Mark Man and Mark Master were performed as two distinct degrees as opposed to the present practice of the Mark Man forming no more than an introductory phase to the Mark Master Degree. It is also apparent from the earlier working that the Mark Man degree was conferred on Fellow Crafts and the Mark Master Degree on Master Masons.
The early Mark Degrees were closely associated with the Royal Arch, as they still are in many parts of the world. Their development probably followed soon after that of the Royal Arch. Many different ceremonies were known to exist, parts of which would be recognisable to the present day.
It is also clear that the Mark Degrees were worked in Craft Lodges and in Royal Arch Chapters up until 1813. The existence of independent Mark Lodges at this time is not known, although one lodge, the Lodge of Hope, Bradford, conferred the Degree under a constitution originating from a body called “The Grand Lodge of All England, held at York”. Its influence in this country was confined to York, Cheshire and Lancashire. It was formed in 1725 and existed until 1792 but its influence abroad is more important.
The Relationship between the Mark and the Craft
There is a well-known statement that was agreed upon in the Act of Union between the Premier and Antients Grand Lodges in 1813 – it appears at the front of the Book of Constitutions of the United Grand Lodge of England. It is a declaration that “Pure Antient Masonry consists of three degrees and no more, namely, those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch”.
The fact that a second Grand Lodge (the “Antients”) emerged in 1751 was largely because of a disagreement over ritual content. It is therefore hardly surprising that, eventually, in order to achieve harmony a considerable amount of ground had to be conceded by both parties. The Premier (or “Moderns”) Grand Lodge did not recognise the Royal Arch, or even the Installation Ceremony, as part of pure Masonry – so they evidently conceded much to the Antients in order to achieve the Union. Against this background the Mark and other Masonic Orders were left in limbo. We had in fact a good old English compromise that left many brethren discontented.
So, what was emerging as a closely related set of “Solomonic” degrees, i.e. symbolism based on KST (or, in the case of the Royal Arch, on the building of the Second Temple) became split. Mark was no longer to be considered by the Craft as part of pure Antient Masonry.
After 1813 the Mark Degree continued to grow in popularity and was worked, unofficially, in Craft Lodges and Royal Arch Chapters – a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. The eventual establishment of a separate English Grand Lodge of Mark Masters Masons in 1856 came after a very intriguing period, involving encounters with the Grand Chapter of Scotland and much else besides. But this is a subject for a much longer paper.
For the present purpose it will suffice to note that a resolution to include the Mark Degree as an integral part of English Freemasonry appeared in the minutes of the Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge in March 1856. Astonishingly, at the following Communication in June, the minute was not confirmed. It transpires that this was less because the Craft did not want the Mark but rather that the proponents of the Mark did not want it to become a simple appendage to the Second Degree. Most authors now agree that the covert dealings that went on behind the scenes were engineered to ensure that the Mark would emerge in control of its own destiny. The fact that the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons was formed on 23rd June 1856, only 19 days after the rejection of the minute relating to the Mark at the June Quarterly Communication of the Craft Grand Lodge, is strong evidence for this.
However, none of this discussion alters the purely logical argument that the Mark is, in reality, as much part of pure Freemasonry as the Royal Arch. This is reinforced by the other stark fact that the Mark Degree is so recognised by our two Sister Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland – and indeed by most other constitutions throughout the world. In almost every constitution the Mark Degree is a pre-requisite for the Royal Arch.
So why is the Mark 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. As previously mentioned, 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 unrecognised 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 humour, 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.
Ideally the Mark, as is the requirement in other constitutions, is a logical step from the Craft to the Royal Arch and enables the candidate to more fully appreciate the structure and beauty of Solomonic Masonry.
The regalia worn today was first designed for and worn by the members of the London Bon Accord Mark Lodge in 1856. A Mark Master Mason wears an apron similar to that of a Master Mason in the Craft except that the Mark apron is bordered with light blue with crimson edges. He also wears a breast jewel in the form of a keystone suspended from a ribbon of light blue and crimson. The Installed Mark Master’s apron is likewise similar to a Craft Installed Master’s apron. Also, like the Craft, when a brother receives Provincial Grand Rank or Grand Rank the light blue is replaced with Garter blue.
The English Mark Constitution Today
The Structure of Mark Grand Lodge is similar to that of the United Grand Lodge. It has 41 Provincial Grand Lodges, 26 District Grand Lodges, and several unattached Lodges abroad. In addition to the Mark Degree, Grand Lodge also controls the Ancient and Honourable Fraternity of Royal Ark Mariners through a body styled The Grand Master’s Royal Ark Council.
In size of membership the Mark ranks third, after the Craft and Royal Arch. Nationally, there are about 5.6 Craft Lodges to each Mark Lodge. In Surrey the figure is about 8.2, which suggests that barely 1 in 10 Craft Masons are members of the Mark.
Admission to the Mark Degree in England requires that a candidate be a Master Mason of the English Constitution, or of a constitution recognised by the English Craft Grand Lodge. Mark Masons of other bodies recognised by Mark Grand Lodge may become joining members of English Mark Lodges. Reciprocal arrangements exist for our members to join other recognised constitutions.
The minimum interval between the conferment of each of the Craft Degrees and between the Craft and the Royal Arch is 4 weeks. No specific period is stipulated for a Master Mason before he can be Advanced into Mark Masonry.
To be an Installed Master in the Mark Degree requires that the candidate be an Installed Master of a Craft Lodge, unless special dispensation is granted.
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 can not 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.
The third reason .
A Craft Mason who joins the Royal Arch directly from the Craft, as most do under the English Constitution (it is not permitted in other constitutions), is confronted with a sudden and bewildering change of symbolism. This is because an important intermediate step has been omitted – the Mark. The Mark adds essential background and symbolism on the construction of the Temple, the Principal Arch and the Keystone, thereby providing a clearer introduction to the Royal Arch ceremony.
A Mark Mason may be installed, by dispensation, into the Chair of his Mark Lodge before taking the Chair in the Craft. The Mark is also an essential qualification for the keen Mason desiring to progress further in Orders beyond the Craft.