Ceremonial mace makes debut at TU inauguration

by Holly Brown

One of America’s favorite presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, once gave advice to “(s)peak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” It can now be said that these words of wisdom, originating from an African proverb, have not fallen on deaf ears at Transylvania University. While a university in the 21st century doesn’t need a stance on the Monroe Doctrine, our adherence to the “big stick” policy has gone as far as introducing the Transylvania mace to our university collection.

For those of you who missed the inauguration or whose sensory organs froze in the unseasonably cool weather that accompanied it, a ceremonial mace is an ornately decorated staff of metal or wood that an official carries in civic ceremonies; it serves as a symbol of authority.

“There are traditional symbols in the academy that it makes sense to have on our campus,” said President Owen Williams.

The Transylvania mace made its debut appearance on campus when it was presented to President Owen Williams as he officially stepped into the role of our university’s newest president. He carried it with him in the procession that followed as a symbol of power, representing his new position of authority both on our campus and in the larger Lexington community.

The inauguration committee made the decision to create a Transylvania mace.

“The committee researched other colleges’ inaugurations and it was discovered that most of them have a mace as part of the ceremony,” said Martha Baker, director of publications. “Transylvania did not have a mace — although it had been discussed before — and this seemed an appropriate time to have one made.

“I think every institution has its own tradition in terms of the components of an academic procession,” said Dr. Dave Shannon, professor of mathematics and university marshal.

Local artist Steve Brandenburg, a juried artist in the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen, crafted Transylvania’s mace. A committee formed to review suggested mace designs selected Brandenburg’s proposal.

“The committee went with Steve due to the use of local woods and that most everything would be done by hand,” said Events Coordinator Kelly Lavy.

The mace is 54 inches tall and is made from woods native to Kentucky. Its apex is made of maple and sits above a Transylvania seal carved from cherry. The pole is made of alternating pieces of maple, cherry, tiger cherry and tiger maple and is inlaid with five brass bands.

Historically, maces were used as weapons that came in handy when you needed to give your opponent a blunt-force trauma to the head. Rarely used this way in modern society, maces are still commonly utilized in formal ceremonies occurring in the British House of Commons or the U.S. Congress, as well as at universities.

The tradition that gave maces this new purpose began in the mid-13th century. Initially attendants of the king carried maces as weapons to protect the ruler against would-be attackers. Gradually, the mace became more decorative and less functional, until it evolved into the purely ceremonial mace seen today.

Now that the ceremonies have passed, the Transylvania mace will be housed in the president’s office.

“It is a piece of art that will hopefully remain part of Transylvania proceedings for years to come,” said Williams.

“It is common for a marshal or senior faculty member to lead an academic procession and that person carry the mace,” said Shannon.

“We’ll use it in commencement. … Whenever there is a formal proceeding on campus, we’ll use it,” said Williams.

Williams also mentioned the possibility of an increase in the formality of campus events, such as some convocations, which would call for an increased use of university symbols such as the mace.


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