Tradition at St Andrews: MUSA and Maces

By Staff Writer Riley Wilber

image taken by Riley Wilber

image taken by Riley Wilber

Our little city of St Andrews has so much history. Around every corner there is apiece of some bit of the centuries past. As students, we not only encounter this but also continue many rich traditions. From walking around the PH to Raisin Weekend, these practices make St Andrews what it is. Yet, how much do you know about them?Why does May Dip happen? The Pier Walk? Or even, why do we wear the red academic robes?

While many of us have been told about these admittedly strange but wonderful traditions at one point or another, there is much left unknown. To be honest, I did not really find a need to know much more about the University. However, when I went into the Museum of the University of St Andrews I realized that it is the traditions and history of St Andrews that makes it such a special place to study.

Located on the Scores, MUSA is incredibly accessible. There is no admission charge so there is no reason not to go. It has a detailed history of all things relating to our University. Yet, you might ask how does this relate to art history? While there is a descriptive history of University from foundation to its more modern developments, there is also an assortment of artifacts taken from the University’s collection.

When looking around the first gallery, it is hard to miss the medieval maces. These 15th century metalworks, are intricate symbols of the authority of the University. Traditionally, medieval maces were weapons, “with a heavy head, sometimes with tangled or knobbed additions, on the end of the handle”. While those owned by the University do fall into this category they are far from the crude wooden weapon used to bludgeon others in combat. Rather, they are more of a ceremonial tool.

The three maces owned by the university, represents the strength of the university as well as its position as a medieval institute of education. Other universities such as Heidelberg, Tubingen, Berlin, Basel and Glasgow each have their own maces from the 14th and 15th centuries.  These maces “had to be beautiful and impressive: it represents the University, its internal authority over its members and its independence from external control”.2 Those of St Andrews are certainly that. The three are of the Faculty of Arts, St Salvator’s College, and Faculty of Common Law.  Each has its own story and intricate details. This level of detail in mace heads is really impressive to me. In particular, the St Salvator’s Mace made by Johne Maiel in 1461 has a complexity in the various figures and the architectural structure of the open shrine. Take time with this commission of Bishop Kennedy. I was surprised with the elaborateness and how unique each one is.

While it might seem as if some Medieval Maces kept by the University are not relevant, they are. They connect us with the past, with the 600 plus years of students that have come before us. These maces are still used during graduation amongst other important ceremonies, further intertwining the importance of tradition in our lives here at St Andrews.