By Sarah Jablon ’16, English major
The ceremonial mace is an object that extends far back in Western European history as a symbol of authority and honor. In the fourteenth century the mace, once considered a weapon of warfare, became an elaborately decorative item carried by figures of religious and political power. As time passed, the mace was incorporated into universities as a symbol of status. Institutions like Yale University and the University of Notre Dame have included a mace in ceremonies since the early twentieth century. St. Mary’s College of Maryland, too, has used its own mace in commencements and convocations for the past thirty years.
The St. Mary’s mace was commissioned in 1981 by Jonathan Ingersoll, professor of art, and Reed West, professor of theater. It was meant to add “further grace” to the school: an initiative led by Renwick Jackson led during his presidency at St. Mary’s (1968-1982). President Jackson oversaw the transition of St. Mary’s from a junior college to a four-year, coeducational institution, and the installation of several prestigious programs, such as the Order of Lord Baltimore in 1980 and the Order of Margaret Brent in 1981.
The mace was constructed by artists Nancy Hopkins and Earl Hopkins of Williamsburg, Va. Earl Hopkins was a craftsman nationally acclaimed for his work in sculpture, and his deep understanding of the symbolic nature of objects. It was carved of St. Mary’s County black walnut, so from its very roots the mace was an artifact symbolic of the history of St. Mary’s College and the surrounding county. Jackson noted in his book, “The Golden Run,” that the mace was “more beautiful than ornate gold or silver.”
The mace was finished just days before the commencement ceremony of 1981, and saw its first moment of glory in the hands of Velma Perkins, professor of English and leader of the 1981 commencement procession. Since then, it has become a symbol of authority, carried by the procession leader who is chosen annually by the Faculty Senate. This year, the mace will be carried by Wesley Jordan, professor of neurosciences and psychology.
When the St. Mary’s mace is not in use, it is on display in the Office of the Provost and Dean of Faculty.