Our ceremonial mace

What do you remember from graduation – the robes and caps? Desperately willing yourself not to trip up on stage?  Chances are you probably don’t remember the Mace.

Yet as our graduations have evolved – the venue, the subjects studied and even the University’s name have all changed – the Mace has always remained the same.

Modern mace

About four feet long with a hammered silver shaft and a spiked head of oxidised silver and silver gilt, our Mace was designed by renowned goldsmith Stuart Devlin. It was a gift from the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and was presented to the University at the installation of its first Chancellor in 1966.

Many universities have a mace to symbolise their authority and independence. The earliest example dates back to the 15th century, so ours is contemporary in comparison.

This is particularly noticeable during our graduations where it sits alongside the city’s Mace to symbolise the links between town and gown. The city’s was made in 1708 and features an ornate engraved design, contrasting with our much more modern design.

The procession

During the graduation procession, the Mace is carried by the Bedel. James Paradise, who usually works as a University Security Officer, explains the role: “The Bedel is required to carry the Mace and their sole purpose is to ensure the safety of the Chancellor to and from the graduation ceremonies.”

The weight, James admits, can take some getting used to: “My arms start to shake as I have to hold them in the same position for up to 15 minutes, but at least it saves me going to the gym!” Despite that, he prefers to carry it the traditional way (right hand at the foot of the Mace and left hand at the top) rather than resting it on his shoulder, a nod to its origins as a weapon: “I was trained to carry the Mace this way as it shows that the Bedel is ready for anything that may come his or her way!”

However, things don’t always go to plan: “Once, we had just started to process when I accidentally tripped up the Vice-Chancellor! As you can well imagine, I was not that popular and ended up apologising for the rest of the day. Each year I get reminded of this by the Vice-Chancellor, who in fairness did see the funny side.”

Dr Hannah Family, in our Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, has taken on the role of Procession Assistant Marshall at recent graduation ceremonies; consequently, she’s definitely noticed the Mace: “I think it’s nice that we have these cultures and traditions within the University. It adds to the grandeur and it’s all part of the charm of graduation.”

Centre of the ceremony

A permanent fixture at graduations, the Mace has become an integral part of the ceremony. But it’s not just its physical presence that’s important. Stuart Devlin may not have considered the future students that would graduate past his Mace, yet his personal statement is uncannily fitting:

“I hope that my work reflects four maxims: that the future is much more important than the past; that creativity is paramount; that skill is fundamental; and that the justification for being a goldsmith is to enrich the way people live and work.”

And what brilliant advice that is for our graduates to take with them into the world.