A Mason's Mark
By Right Worshipful Brother John Smith OSM
Published in the 2014 GLSA Southern Division Spring Ball Magazine
According to Gould’s History of Freemasonry, stonemasons’ marks became an object of archaeological study during the 1800s. A typical stonemasons’ mark consists of a series of strokes, usually cut with a chisel on the face of a dressed stone and generally takes the form of a letter or a geometrical design or the representation of an object in everyday life.
A stonemasons’ mark is really the individual’s signature and it is assumed that this practice developed when they were paid for the work which they produced. Stonemasons’ marks have been found in buildings constructed during the period of the Roman Empire, like on the altar in Alnwick Castle and on Hadrian’s Wall. It appears that the principal sources for the design of stonemasons’ marks was the alphabet in use at the time or the religion or culture of the area. Examples of marks with a religious flavour include the double triangle (or “Shield of David” as it appears on the present day flag of Israel); the cross of St. Andrew; the Christian cross and the Pentalpha (representing the five principal wounds which were inflicted on Jesus Christ during his crucifixion).
Early statutes issued by, inter alia, King Henry III in 1266 and by King Edward I in 1285 stipulate that craftsmen in England were required to place their individual mark on the objects of their work. Examples of masons’ marks from this era are also found in the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway and the Coimbra Cathedral in Portugal. In Scotland, the Schaw Statutes of 1598 state that on admission to the guild a fellow of the craft or a master craftsman was required to enter his name or place his mark in a register and he was not permitted to alter his mark except under exceptional circumstances. We also find that the signatures of the minutes of the Lodge of Edinburgh from about that time are accompanied by the marks of the signatories.
The stone busts of Mathew of Aras (1352) and Peter of Arler (1396), the two Master Masons who superintended the building of the Minster (Cathedral) at Prague, depict them wearing shield-shaped medallions bearing their respective marks.
The great fire of London in 1666 had a profound and negative effect on the monopoly of qualified stonemasons as there was an overwhelming demand for builders and fewer masons’ marks are found on buildings erected after that date. As work for qualified stonemasons became scarce, it seems likely that a qualified stonemason, who was employed to oversee the construction of a public building, would give thanks to God that he had “Marked Well” when he eventually received his wages at the conclusion of such building project.