Many of the customs we observe at institutional ceremonies are reflections of the medieval origin of colleges and universities; they pay tribute to a continuity of tradition reaching back more than seven hundred years. Though the universities grew out of cathedral schools and their members were clerics, many of their practices were based on secular models: specifically those of the guilds, as the universities were organized as guilds of scholars.
The Academic Procession
For people of the Middle Ages, processions were a favorite secular device for showing status. Kings and any high officials who could summon their own retinues to attend them made progresses to demonstrate their power. In great households, the members processed into the hall for meals, and even the food was carried in state to the table by a procession of servants. In such a culture, it was common for corporate bodies to gather their members together in procession on significant occasions to show their solidarity and influence. Naturally, the installation of a new leader of their company was such an occasion. The contemporary academic procession is the direct descendant of the medieval university procession.
The mace is the symbol of the institution’s authority, which is vested in the faculty as a “corporation.” It is derived, not from the medieval battle weapon called a mace, but from the kingly scepter dating back to Homeric times. Originally a simple staff (acquiring royal decorations only gradually), it was used by judges as the symbol of their authority to represent the king in dispensing justice and by heralds as a sign of their charge to deliver the king’s words. Citizens of Greek city-states who wished to address the civic assemblies received the staff from the city’s herald as a sign that they “had the floor”—the right to speak without interruption. This authoritative, heraldic function of the staff persisted through late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, when it became, as well, the natural symbol for the university’s authority to speak and to be heard and to pass its authority to others. It was (and is) carried by a member of the faculty in procession to assert this authority for the institution’s official actions.
Moravian’s mace was commissioned by Robert P. L. Frick ’49 as a gift to the institution on the occasion of his own graduation, when the mace was carried for the first time. The shaft is a cherry baluster from Nazareth Hall, the first home of Moravian College and Seminary for Men. The head is an engraved silver-plated cup that Frick had inherited from relatives in the Wilbur family. An Allentown silversmith (whose name is recorded only as “Mr. Cuttin”) cleverly re-engraved the W monogram to form an M, topped the cup with a silver cover and pine-cone finial, assembled the pieces, and finished the base of the shaft with silver oak leaves and a silver acorn. With its wooden shaft and its simplicity, Moravian’s mace is closer to the original form and function of the institutional “staff of authority” than many other examples in use today in academe.
The Presidential Medallion
The presidential medallion is descended from various chains of office worn by high officials in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Moravian’s sterling silver chain and medallion, incorporating the seal of Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary, was made by C. Leslie Smith for President Roger H. Martin’s inauguration in 1987.
In the Middle Ages, when the universities were first formed, cap, gown, tunic, and hood were ordinary clothing for men of all ranks, inside and outside the universities. Scholars were clerics and were supposed to look like clerics, but their clothing was based on the standard clothing of their society. (Religious vestments, worn specifically for worship services, were survivals of Byzantine garments many centuries older than scholars’ ordinary dress.) Scholars’ practice was like that of modern clergymen, who wear ordinary contemporary clothing marked as “clerical” by certain details of color or collar.
The dress of scholars was originally based on current fashion, subject to custom, sumptuary laws, and popular attitudes. Just as people today have a mental association of banking executives with pin-striped suits, the people of the Middle Ages associated particular styles of gowns and hoods with scholars of varying degrees of prestige.
As fashion evolved, it gradually left academic dress behind, frozen by conservative institutional regulations. A university statute of the fourteenth century, decreeing that scholars must wear long gowns, was a piece of anti-miniskirt legislation; the fashionable man’s upper garment had been getting progressively shorter, exposing more of the wearer’s anatomy than was considered seemly for university members. Eventually, professors and students were the only people left wearing gowns after everyone else had given them up, giving rise to the phrase “town and gown” as an expression of the visual—and often political—divergence between university members and their fellow citizens.
Modern American academic dress, regulated since 1895 by the intercollegiate code of academic costume, preserves many of the features that conveyed rank and dignity in the Middle Ages. Velvet trim, a sign of high status in the Middle Ages, still distinguishes the doctor’s gown, which has velvet front facings and velvet bars on the bell-shaped sleeves. The gowns worn by holders of the master’s and bachelor’s degrees are plain cloth; they are differentiated by their sleeves. The master’s gown is easily recognized by its extra-long sleeves, whose wrist opening is in the middle instead of at the end—a popular medieval and Renaissance style that showed that the wearer had an under-tunic worth displaying and did not do any manual labor. Bachelors’ gowns have “angel-wing” sleeves—wide sleeves with open ends that hang lower in back than in front.
The intercollegiate code stipulates that all gowns be black, but many universities have instituted more colorful robes for holders of their doctoral degrees. Princeton University’s doctoral gown is black, but its trim is orange silk instead of the usual black velvet. Various shades of red are popular for doctoral gowns: Harvard’s gown is crimson with black velvet trim; Cornell’s is carnelian red with black trim; the University of Chicago’s is maroon with black trim. The University of Pennsylvania’s doctoral gown is cardinal red with the bottom half of the sleeve in navy blue; its facings and sleeve bars are deep blue velvet. The University of California’s blue gown has blue velvet trim with gold braid edging, and Columbia University’s bluish-grey gown has facings of black velvet but sleeve bars whose color indicates the wearer’s academic discipline. Some doctoral gowns have all their velvet trim in the color of the academic discipline, a practice that is gaining in popularity at many universities.
The square cap in a number of variations was popular headgear for both clergy and laity in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It stiffened into the mortarboard shape by the early seventeenth century, undergoing a process of distortion and stylization typical of garments worn for ceremonial purposes with no current use except symbolism.
The mortarboard is now standard wear for all academic ranks. The tassel on a doctor’s mortarboard may be gold instead of black. Universities that have non-standard doctoral gowns often have unusual caps for doctors as well, usually in the form of velvet berets in varying shapes. Women of all ranks may substitute a soft square-topped cap for the mortarboard, if they choose— velvet for doctors, black cloth for bachelors and masters.
The modern hood is descended, with distortions for ceremonial purposes, from the chaperon, a close-fitting hood with a shoulder cape that was nearly universal wear for men in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries. Monks wore plain ones, noblemen wore fancy ones, and everyone who could afford it had a fur lining. Sumptuary laws allotted white rabbit fur to scholars. In reminiscence of those fur linings, today’s hood has a wide velvet binding around what would be the face opening if it were still small enough to fit around the face. White velvet—a reference to the original white rabbit fur—binds the hoods of those who earn their degrees in the humanities, the oldest field. Other fields are now indicated by hood bindings in velvet of various colors: golden yellow for science, scarlet for theology, purple for law, dark blue for philosophy, brown for architecture and fine arts, pink for music, light blue for education, light brown for business. The binding increases in width, and the hood increases in length and complexity of cut, with each rise in academic rank.
The hood has been enormously elongated to show its satin lining, whose colors reveal the institution that awarded the degree. The colors are the institution’s academic colors, which may or may not be the same as its athletics colors. The primary color is the background color, and the secondary color is usually represented by a chevron—a V-shaped stripe—in the center of the hood lining. Moravian College’s hood has a navy-blue lining with a grey chevron. Among the hood colors that may be seen in Moravian’s academic procession are those of Pennsylvania State University (dark blue, white chevron), Lehigh University (seal brown, white chevron), Tufts University (brown, blue chevron), Brown University (seal brown, cardinal chevron), the University of Pennsylvania (red, blue chevron), Cornell University (carnelian red, two white chevrons), the University of Chicago (maroon, no chevron), Columbia University (light blue, white chevron), the University of Virginia (navy blue, orange chevron), the University of Florida (orange, blue chevron), Temple University (white, cherry-red chevron), Yale University (Yale blue, no chevron), Princeton University (orange, black chevron), Rutgers University (scarlet, no chevron), the Juilliard School of Music (scarlet, royal blue chevron), the University of Wisconsin (cardinal red, no chevron), and Carnegie-Mellon University (which deviates from standard practice to use the Carnegie tartan).
President Thomforde holds the degree of Doctor of Ministry from Princeton Theological Seminary. His academic regalia features a black gown with black velvet trim outlined in scarlet piping. His hood has a royal blue lining with a red chevron, and its velvet binding is the scarlet denoting theology.