Medieval Maces: Power and Ceremony

Hello! I’m Jo, the new Senior Visitor Services Facilitator here at MUSA. I’m very lucky to be starting at an especially exciting time for the museum – the opening of a new exhibition: ‘Medieval Maces: Power & Ceremony’, which runs between 7th September 2013 to 8th December 2013.

The St Andrews Maces in Gallery 1

MUSA is home to the University’s three spectacular Medieval Maces: the Mace of the Faculty of Arts (commissioned 1416); the Mace of St Salvator’s College (commissioned 1461); and the Mace of the Faculty of Canon Law (thought to date from the 1450s).


For a short time only, the St Andrews maces have been joined by a collection of maces on loan from Universities across Europe, in an innovative display which explores the symbolism and iconography of the maces and connections between medieval universities, as well as themes of medieval craftsmanship. This exhibition is the first time many of these European University maces have been on display in Scotland.

The Medieval Maces Exhibition in Gallery 4

My first week at MUSA gave me an insight into the huge amount of effort that goes into preparing such an international exhibition. When I arrived for my first day the specially designed display cases for the maces had just arrived in Gallery 4, and everyone was hard at work transforming this gallery for the temporary exhibition. The St Andrews maces are normally displayed in Gallery 1, alongside other artefacts relating to the early years of the University, but have been moved into Gallery 4 alongside the European maces.

The European Maces being installed in Gallery 4
The European Maces being installed in Gallery 4
Gallery 4 before the Maces Exhibition
Gallery 4 before the Maces Exhibition

My third day was spent distributing posters and leaflets for the exhibition around different locations in St Andrews. Throughout my 5 years in St Andrews I’ve always regarded MUSA as a very welcoming space where the events and displays appeal as much to the local people of the town as to the students and tourists. So it was especially encouraging to hear local shop-owners and visitor attractions express a real interest in the exhibition. Admiring the pictures on the posters, many of them asked me: ‘What are maces and what were they used for?’Well, University maces have a distant connection to the weapons used in medieval Europe, but are entirely ceremonial in function. They are symbols of authority, status, wealth and power. This symbolic value explains why so many medieval European universities commissioned such expensive and intricate pieces of craftsmanship. In fact, the University of St Andrews Faculty of Arts commissioned a mace just a few years after its foundation – despite not yet owning any buildings in which to conduct lectures or house students!

The Faculty of Arts Mace: made in 1416

By the end of my first week the gallery was ready for the arrival of the maces from their various locations around Europe and the UK. A cooling unit had been installed in Gallery 4 to control the temperature and the staff had been hard at work all week preparing the display of objects from the University’s Museum Collections and Special Collections. The safe arrival of the European maces was understandably accompanied by collective sigh of relief. These beautiful, intricate objects look amazing, and illustrate the European context in which the University of St Andrews maces were commissioned. The Medieval Maces exhibition is well worth a visit!

Medieval Maces: Power & Ceremony is a free exhibition which is open to the public from 7th September to 8th December. Opening times: Monday to Saturday, 10am-5pm and Sunday, 12noon-4pm. The exhibition is supported by The Idlewild Trust; Click Netherfield; and the Recognition Fund, administered by Museums Galleries Scotland.


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