St. Mark’s and Corpus Christi College’s new mace, shaped like a canoe paddle, is meant to be a model of reconciliation, connection and respect. Photo courtesy Gerry Turcotte

New mace marks going forward together

  • June 6, 2024

Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.

Exodus: 14: 17

There is nothing quite so spectacular as a well-executed ceremony, replete with fanfare and ritual. This is arguably why we marvel at coronations even if we aren’t royalists and watch starry-eyed at award ceremonies even if we secretly feel they are testaments to vanity. Ceremonial rituals, however, sometimes point to moments of deep historical importance, and at such times we do well to pause and pay homage. A flag at half-mast, an award of valour, the sign of the Cross. So it is with symbolic objects that capture not just the splendour of the moment, but a long-term history that gives meaning to what they represents. The mace is one such object.

For over 600 years universities and colleges have commissioned the design of maces to represent their institutions. Oxford University first unveiled its mace in the 16th century. Maces, however, have been used as weapons of war and symbols of rank from as early as the Stone Age, and have adorned royal and political chambers from every corner of the earth and virtually every culture. In a university or college context they are considered symbols of institutional values, both existing and to come. A mace can point back towards the foundational moments of a college but also, through its design principles, forward to what it wants to champion, becoming a beacon of an institution’s destiny. 

This is why St. Mark’s College and Corpus Christi College at UBC recently commissioned the fabrication of their first mace. The Colleges have been providing a quality education, open to all, for over 65 years. They focus on quality academic programming, but also on providing core courses in the Arts, Sciences, Business and Theological fields, that are delivered in intentionally smaller classes so the focus can be squarely on individual learners. The Colleges also commit to awarding tens of thousands of dollars of scholarships each year for academic merit, equity bursaries, and so much more. And they focus on championing social justice causes, including volunteering at Vancouver’s  Downtown Eastside, prison ministry, and so much more.

As a college founded in the Catholic tradition, we felt it important that our inaugural mace be representative of the long history of education that led the Church to establish the very first universities in the world from Bologna to Oxford. We also wanted the mace to reflect our commitment to truth and reconciliation, and as such, we reached out to Musqueam carver Chrystal Sparrow to design and shape the institution’s first work. Sparrow, already a renowned carver, has designed a mace that speaks eloquently about the journey of reconciliation which all Catholic institutions need to undertake. The mace she designed is anchored in Indigenous traditions, from the wood used to the carving techniques employed, from the symbolism of the icons to the finishing of the wood. At the same time, the mace also celebrates iconic aspects of the institution it represents, from the Cross to the coat of arms, and even the St. Mark’s lion.

Uniquely, this mace, unlike the more familiar parliamentary design, is shaped like a canoe paddle, emblematic of Musqueam and Coast Salish peoples. It is meant to be a model of reconciliation, connection and respect. As Crystal Sparrow notes, “What I've decided to think about is moving forward as a way to bring together new relationships between the Musqueam people and St. Mark’s and Corpus Christi College and as a way to create friendships. New opportunities to work on art, workshops, and learning about the Musqueam history, and inviting elders and artists in the future to work alongside the colleges with the students and with the staff.” 

A unique feature of the mace is a carved cedar rope that wraps around the stem, which for Crystal symbolizes community and connection. ‘So it’s like this rope is being twined together. It’s Musqueam and the colleges coming together as a community and also, in a new way, they're connecting through art, and I felt that would be a really strong symbol…. I thought of reconciliation as a way to bring together new relationships.’

In some ways, a mace is an artefact of a different era so it is more important than ever to reimagine what it can be and the relationships it can create and represent. That, it seems to me, is something we can all be proud to stand behind.

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