For many Freemasons, Masonry ends with the Craft third Degree being made complete by membership of The Holy Royal Arch Chapter. For others, this is not the case. There are many other Masonic Degrees, or side Degrees as they are wrongly referred to, which are open to those who want to further their Masonic experience. The Mark is one such Degree and is the third largest Order in Freemasonry after the Craft and the Chapter.
In 1663 it is recorded that a Lodge of Operative Freemasons, being No 3 in the York Division, was held in Hull. Prior to 1705 a similar Lodge, No 4, was in existence in Hull. When the Mark Degree ritual was being developed in about 1752, with a greater prominence being given to the symbolical aspects of the Degree, it was customary to confer the two Degrees of “Mark Man” and “Mark Master”. These were under Warrants allowing Craft Lodges to meet and were issued by the rival Grand Lodges of England, Scotland and Ireland.
The Hull Craft Lodges adopted and practised Mark Masonry as a distinct Degree as long ago as 1782, and working it periodically up to the early 20th Century. In the Minute Books of the Humber Lodge 57, there are many interesting references. In October 1819 the WM attended the Phoenix Lodge; and the Lodge being opened in the second Degree, he advanced several Brethren, (including the Worshipful Master of the Phoenix Lodge) into the Mark Degree. The Mark at that time was not a new entity; an even earlier mention of The Mark can be found from the minutes of a meeting held in 1599 at the Lodge of Edinburgh.
The Second Article of the Act of Union of the Antients and the Moderns of 1813 stated that:
“Pure Ancient Masonry consists of three Degrees, and no more, viz, those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch. But this Article is not intended to prevent any Lodge or Chapter from holding a meeting in any of the Degrees of the Orders of Chivalry, according to the constitutions of the said Orders.”
In 1856, a 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.”
However, at the next Communication of Grand Lodge, it was moved for non-confirmation of the minutes of the previous communication concerning the Mark Degree, adding that Grand Lodge did not have the power to make such a great change by adding a new Degree to the Craft. This was because the Act of the Union had previously declared that Freemasonry consisted of three Degrees only. The vote in favour of the Mark was lost and the Mark Degree, being no longer recognised, could no longer be worked in a Craft Lodge. Thus, in that year, the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons became a separate entity. Today there are 41 Provinces in England and Wales, as well as 30 Districts throughout the world. There over 1500 Lodges under their jurisdiction, with HRH Prince Michael of Kent as the Grand Master.
The Mark takes its name from the chiselled symbols that operative masons “signed” on their work which was being prepared and fitted in their intended places in cathedrals, churches or other important stone buildings being built at that time. It was by this unique mark that the Overseers (or Mark Masters) were able to identify each Mason’s work so that his wages could be paid and to trace any defective work.
Are there any restrictions on who can become a member of the Mark? There is only one, and that is that the Brother must be a Master Mason but, in reality, most brethren join when they have been in Craft Masonry for a few years. Realistically it can take up to 3 years to settle into, and to fully appreciate, the Craft. It gives a sound base from which a mason can give serious consideration to a further advancement of their Masonic knowledge, and to join other Masonic Degrees.
Within the Mark Province of North and East Yorkshire; there are 33 Mark Lodges with a membership of over 1200. The ritual is based around a single verse from Psalm 118,
“The stone which the builders rejected has become the headstone of the corner” and tells the story of the building of King Solomon’s Temple and the Mark Men and the Mark Masters who were employed to do the work.
The Province of North and East Yorkshire is structured in many ways similar to a Craft Province throughout the country and covers a geographical area the same as the Provincial Grand Lodge of Yorkshire North & East Ridings. The Mark has a Provincial Grand Master who is supported by a Deputy, an Assistant and a complement of 33 active Provincial Officers who are appointed yearly on the 1st Saturday in May at the Annual Convocation held at York Racecourse.
Most Mark Lodges meet 4 times a year and these Lodges can be found in most of the larger cities and towns throughout the Province. A candidate is Advanced into the Order in a single ceremony. In the early part of the ceremony, the candidate’s talents go unrecognised and his hopes are dashed but eventually he triumphs over adversity and is justly rewarded for his work.
Once through the Chair, Provincial Honours can be expected within 5 years with any promotions coming within the next 3 years. Some brethren may receive more than one promotion and each promotion could be to an active office within the team. For those brethren who are willing workers and remain active within the Province, they may be recommended for one of the Grand ranks which are offered every year to this Province by the Grand Master.
Finally, it must be stressed that the Mark does not regard itself as being in competition with other Orders in Masonry, but complimentary to them. It is justifiably proud in enjoying excellent relationships with all Masonic Degrees. It thrives on this mutually successful co-existence, fostering a deeper commitment and a greater appreciation for all aspects of Masonry.