While there is evidence that a form of Mark Degree was in existence in Scotland as early as 1599, according to the earliest known English records Mark Masonry was introduced in a speculative body at Portsmouth on the 1st September 1769, when that ubiquitous Thomas Dunkerley conferred the Mark Masons and Mark Masters degree on brethren of the Royal Arch Chapter of Friendship No 257. Records do not show where he got the Degree from, but all researchers into Freemasonry know of the man and his place in the history of Freemasonry. 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.
After the Union of 1813, Mark was no longer to be considered by the Craft as part of pure Antient Masonry, however, 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 Mark Degree’s growth or lack of growth in England can be attributed mainly to the Second Article of the Act of Union of the Antients and the Moderns of 1813 when the United Grand Lodge was formed. On the 5th March 1856 the report from the board of General Purposes of The United Grand Lodge Of England stated that they were: ‘of the opinion that The Mark Degree is a link between the second and third degrees of Craft Masonry and that The Degree of Mark Mason and Mark Master Mason are not at variance with the ancient landmarks of the order, that The Degree be in addition to and form part of Craft Masonry and may be conferred by all regular and warranted Lodges as sanctioned by The Most Worshipful The Grand Master’. Despite their attempts, on 5th June 1856, at the next Communication of Grand Lodge, of which some members were still incensed that a foreign Masonic body had tried to constitute a Lodge in England they moved for non-confirmation of the minutes of the previous communication referring to The Mark Degree adding that Grand Lodge had not the power to make such a great change by adding a new degree to The Craft Order as the Act of The Union had previously declared that Freemasonry consisted of three degrees only. After some strong arguing, the vote in favour of The Mark was lost and the Mark Degree, being no longer recognized, could no longer be worked in a Craft Lodge.
The Mark Degree having rallied its members formed the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons on the 23 June 1856 and the Rt. Hon. Lord Leigh as the first Grand Master was installed, who was at that time the Provincial Grand Master of the Warwickshire Craft Lodges. 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.
Thus in England, the Mark Degree became a separate entity with its own Grand Lodge but this is not the case in many other countries where the Mark Degree is worked.
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.
Today every candidate to be advanced in the Degree of Mark Master Mason must be a Master Mason of a regular and recognized Craft Lodge, whilst candidates for the office of Worshipful Master must normally have served as the Worshipful Master of a Craft Lodge.
Elsewhere, the position is quite different, under the Irish Constitution the Mark Degree is taken in a Royal Arch Chapter, while in Scotland the Mark Degree can be received in two ways, either within a Royal Arch Chapter or separately in a Craft Lodge. No one under the Scottish or Irish jurisdictions can be exalted as a Royal Arch Mason without previously having been advanced as a Mark Master Mason. In the United States of America the Mark is conferred in a Royal Arch Chapter, and once again the Mark Degree is an essential preliminary to obtaining entry into Royal Arch Masonry.
The organization of a Mark Lodge is very similar to that of a Craft Lodge with some important changes. Four additional Officers are employed, three progressive, these are the Master, Senior and Junior Overseers, these are placed in the centre of the Lodge and the other officer, the Registrar of Marks, non progressive, sits adjacent to the Secretary, each has an important part to play in the Ceremony. The ceremony of admission is called Advancement and chronologically in the Solomonic legend it follows that of a fellow craft. It is one of the oldest and most interesting grades of freemasonry and today incorporates two degrees, for the candidate is first acknowledged as a Mark Man then subsequently advanced as a Mark Master Mason in the same ceremony.
Masonic traditions informs us that, at the building of King Solomon’s temple, every Mason was provided with a peculiar mark, which he placed upon his work, to distinguish it from that of his fellows. By the aid of these marks Overseers were enabled to trace any defective work to the faulty workman for his claim to wages. History confirms the truth of this tradition all over the world. Similar mason’s marks have even been found at the fortress walls at Allahabad, which was erected in 1542 and also on the wall of Tajmahal.
The legend of the degree is singularly instructive and is well founded on statements of Holy Writ, relating to the period in the building of the Temple prior to the death of Hiram Abif, it teaches the valuable lesson that education is the reward of labour and contains a dramatic message that fraud can never succeed. The symbol of the Degree is a Keystone on which is engraved certain mystic letters, the meaning of which is explained in the ceremony. Unlike many other Orders this degree combines Masonic thought with a lightness of touch, but it is not frivolous. Not only has the candidate learnt more about the place of Masons in the actual and speculative construction of the Temple but he has come further to appreciate both the joys and sorrows within his own Masonic journey, as well as the fallibility of man and the need for utter humility before God, the ritual is full of beauty.
The Mark Degree is an important Order for many reasons, next to the Craft and Royal Arch it is the largest of the Masonic orders and has stood the test of ages.