Morning edition producer Curtis Gilbert wondered aloud today about that thing University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler was seen wielding at his inauguration yesterday. All I knew (thanks to Tim Post’s story) was that it’s called a mace, so to satisfy Curtis’s (and now my own) curiosity, I did a search. Here’s some of what I found at Wikipedia:
The ceremonial mace was used early a symbol of authority of military commanders.
The earliest ceremonial maces were practical weapons intended to protect the king’s person, borne by the Serjeants-at-Arms, a royal bodyguard established in France by Philip II, and in England probably by Richard I. By the 14th century, these serjants’ maces had started to become increasingly decorative, encased in precious metals. The mace as a real weapon went out of use with the disappearance of heavy armor.
The history of the civic mace (carried by the serjeants-at-arms) begins around the middle of the 13th century…
Ceremonial maces, symbols of the internal authority over members and the independence from external authority, are still used at many educational institutions, particularly universities.
In the United States, almost all universities and free-standing colleges have a mace, used almost exclusively at commencement exercises and borne variously by the university or college president, chancellor, rector, provost, the marshal of the faculty, a dean or some other high official. In those universities that have a number of constituent colleges or faculties, each college, faculty or school often has a smaller mace, borne in procession by a dean, faculty member or sometimes a privileged student.
After a little more digging, I learned that Kaler’s mace turned 50 this year:
The Mace is used for all University of Minnesota Commencements . The word “mace” is from Middle English and was originally used to refer to the implement for breaking armor during the Middle Ages. Today its use is more peaceful, for it now is a staff borne by, carried before, or placed near a dignitary as an insignia of his dignity and authority. First designed in 1961 for the inauguration of O. Meredith Wilson, the original mace is made of aluminum and topped by a crystal ball, which symbolizes the illuminating quality and the clarity of thinking that characterizes education. The crystal ball is topped by a star representing Minnesota, the North Star State. The staff is carried by the most senior professor of the college.
More info on University of Minnesota regalia is available here.