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14 - The Medieval Maces of the University of St Andrews

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 April 2017

Julian Luxford
Affiliation:
Reader in Art History at the University of St Andrews.
Elizabeth Ewan
Affiliation:
University Research Chair and Professor, History and Scottish Studies, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario Canada
Julian Luxford
Affiliation:
Julian M. Luxford is Senior Lecturer at the School of Art History, St Andrews University.
Matthew Hammond
Affiliation:
Research Associate, University of Glasgow
Michael H Brown
Affiliation:
Professor of Medieval Scottish History, University of St Andrews
Katie Stevenson
Affiliation:
Senior Lecturer in Late Mediaeval History, University of St Andrews Keeper of Scottish History and Archaeology, National Museums Scotland
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Summary

WHILE the University of St Andrews has lost almost all of its medieval paraphernalia, the deliberate preservation of three fifteenth-century ceremonial maces is a redeeming counterexample to what have been branded past ‘acts of non-custodianship’. One of these maces was made for the faculty of Arts between 1416 and 1419, another for the faculty of Canon Law (or Decreets) at an unknown date and the third for the College of St Salvator in 1461. That of the Arts faculty also appears to have served, at least occasionally, as a rector's mace and to have represented the authority of the university in common. With the exception of the regalia and plate of the bishops of Winchester now at Oxford, this is the most coherent and artistically important set of ceremonial metalwork to survive from a medieval British institution (see figure 14.1).

There can be no doubt that from an early date the maces have benefited from special care. In 1544, during the period of the so-called ‘Rough Wooing’, two of them were looked after privately by trusted masters of Arts, and all three were being stored for safekeeping in St Andrews Castle around 1559. But even allowing for the respect shown them as symbols of corporate worth, their preservation in such good condition is extraordinary. While the early maces of the university of Aberdeen were destroyed, and that of Glasgow was at different times robbed of its imagery and sent to France for safekeeping, the St Andrews maces have not only survived but have also kept the images of saints considered so objectionable in other settings without, apparently, ever having left north-east Fife. That they were used in ‘frequent attendance on common and daily funerals’ in the town in the eighteenth century suggests these images were painted or varnished over at some stage, as to bury the dead in open view of the Virgin Mary and other saints would have represented an unconscionable affront to prevailing ideology. Moreover, the maces’ materials alone must have proved tempting when, as often, cash was short, and the fact that they escaped the melting pot that claimed all of the other ecclesiastical silver from medieval St Andrews can be attributed to good luck as well as good management.

Type
Chapter
Information
Medieval St Andrews
Church, Cult, City
, pp. 298 - 330
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2017

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