On the tenth floor of the Woodruff Library, tucked away in a corner of the Special Collections department, the Emory mace lies enshrined in a glass case, quietly awaiting Commencement day–its next opportunity to shine.

Mostly, the mace leads a sheltered, solitary sort of life; on ordinary days few even glance its way. But when it does make public appearances, it finds itself in the thick of it all. On stately occasions, namely Emory’s annual opening Convocation, Charter Day, Baccalaureate, and Commencement, the scepter-like mace is brought out of its case by a white-gloved security guard to take its honored place in the formal academic procession, gleaming amidst the full regalia of Emory’s hooded and gowned officers.

“The mace has the best social life in town,” says University Archivist Ginger Cain ’77C-’82G. “It goes to all the best parties, and it usually has a police escort.”

Its bearer is traditionally the bedel of the University, a position held by the president of the Student Government Association. This year, the honor falls to Christopher Richardson. The bedel carries the mace in the crook of his or her arm and immediately precedes University President William M. Chace, to denote his authority.

“Every mace-bearer seems to have a reverence for the thing and handles it with caution and care–sort of like picking up a newborn baby,” says Gary S. Hauk ’91PhD, secretary of the University.

“The mace has the best social life in town,” says University Archivist Ginger Cain ’77C-’82G. “It goes to all the best parties, and it usually has a police escort.”

“Carrying the mace was an enormous honor,” says Anna Manasco ’02C, last year’s bedel (pictured above). “I felt keenly the weight of the responsibility, pride, and satisfaction of representing the students. Of course, the great coaching from Dr. Hauk on how I and the mace were to protect the president from any possible assailants threw a new light on the whole thing!”

The Emory mace was a gift to the University from D.V.S., the Emory College senior honor society, presented at Emory’s Fiftieth Anniversary Convocation in 1965. Designed especially for Emory by Eric Clements, director of the School of Industrial Design at the University of Birmingham, England, with the guidance of George P. Cuttino, University chief marshal from 1976 until 1984, it was executed in silver and gold by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in London.

Cuttino, who died in 1991, was famous for his passionate devotion to the heraldry of Commencement. “Of all his designs, Cuttino is perhaps proudest of the University mace,” read a 1994 article on Commencement in Campus Report. “He was very protective of the mace,” Cain says.

Shaped like a teardrop, at its apex the mace bears a relief rendering in gold of a skeleton: Emory’s beloved Dooley, campus lord of misrule. In the teardrop is a golden sphere divided into eight segments, originally intended to represent the schools of the University–Emory and Oxford colleges, business, dentistry, the graduate school, law, medicine, nursing, and theology. Atop the sphere is a simple cross, symbolizing the ties between Emory and the Methodist Church; within the circular base is the seal of the University.

Like an aging dignitary, the mace may not get out much, but when it does, it travels in high style. In 1970, the Emory mace was invited to appear in “Maces: An Exhibition of American Ceremonial Academic Scepters,” held at the Duke University Museum of Art in honor of the inauguration of President Terry Sanford. The mace, says Cain, had its own plane ticket and its own seat for the trip.

The academic mace is a direct descendant of medieval staffs: the regal scepter and the battle-mace. “In contrast to the cultured and ‘spiritual’ baculum [staff],” writes curator William H. Heckescher in the 1970 Duke exhibition program, “the mace began its career as a crude club. Aggressive, phallic, and unrefined as it began, it never entirely lost those characteristics, in spite of later modifications . . . at some moment in the fourteenth century . . . it is fashioned to look like a regal scepter, and to behave like one.”

For academic institutions, the mace is a symbol of authority and autonomy from outside entities, both political and religious. “Above all,” says Heckescher, “it was regarded as a manifestation of the ‘immortal dignity’ of the university.”

“For me,” says Hauk, “the presence of the mace on the mace table at Commencement is a good reminder of the long history of universities in the West. The mace is sort of like a wedding ring in the old language of the sacraments–‘an outward sign of an inward and invisible grace.’ Its descent from an ancestor that could be used as a weapon makes it now like a sword beaten into a plowshare. I never look at it without being reminded of those scholars who, nearly a thousand years ago, gathered in Paris and Bologna and Oxford to create intellectual order out of the riot of medieval life.”–P.P.P.



© 2003 Emory University