Corner-stone, Symbolism of The
The corner-stone is the stone which lies at the corner of two walls and forms the corner of the foundation of an edifice. In Masonic buildings it is now always placed in the Northeast; but this rule was not always formerly observed. As the foundation on which the entire structure is supposed to rest, it is considered by Operative Freemasons as the most important stone in the edifice. It is laid with impressive ceremonies; the assistance of Speculative Freemasons is often, and ought always to be, invited to give dignity to the occasion; and for this purpose Freemasonry has provided an especial ritual which is to govern the proper performance of that duty.
Among the ancients the corner-stone of important edifices was laid with impressive ceremonies. These are well described by Tacitus in the history of the rebuilding of the Capital. After detailing the preliminary ceremonies, which consisted of a procession of vestals, who with chaplets of flowers encompassed the ground and consecrated it by libations of living water, he adds that, after solemn prayer, Helvidius Priscus, to whom the care of rebuilding the Capitol had been committed, "laid his hand upon the fillets that adorned the foundation stone, and also the cords by which it was to be drawn to its place. In that instant the magistrates, the priests, the senators, the Roman knights, and a number of citizens, all acting with one effort and general demonstrations of joy, laid hold of the ropes and dragged the ponderous load to its destined spot. They then threw in ingots of gold and silver, and other metals which had never been melted in the furnace, but still retained, untouched by human art, their first formation in the bowels of the earth" (see Histories iv, 53).
The symbolism of the corner-stone when duly laid with Masonic rites is full of significance, which refers to its form, to its situation, to its permanence, and to its consecration.
As to its form, it must be perfectly square on its surfaces, and in its solid contents a cube. Now the square is a symbol of morality, and the cube, of truth.
In its situation it lies between the north, the place of darkness, and the east, the place of light; and hence this position symbolizes the Masonic progress from darkness to light, and from ignorance to knowledge.
The permanence and durability of the corner-stone, which lasts long after the building in whose foundation it was placed has fallen into decay, is intended to remind the Freemason that, when this earthly house of his tabernacle shall have passed away, he has within him a sure foundation of eternal life-a corner-stone of immortality-an emanation from that Divine Spirit which pervades all nature, and which, therefore, must survive the tomb, and rise, triumphant and eternal, above the decaying dust of death and the grave.
The stone, when deposited in its appropriate place, is carefully examined with the necessary implements of Operative Freemasonry-the square, the level, and the plumb, themselves all symbolic in meaning-and is then declared to be "well formed, true, and trusty.'' Thus the Freemason is taught that his virtues are to be tested by temptation and trial, by suffering and adversity, before they can be pronounced by the Master Builder of souls to be materials worthy of the spiritual building of eternal life, fitted, "as living stones, for that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." And lastly, in the ceremony of depositing the cornerstone, the elements of Masonic consecration are produced, and the stcne is solemnly set apart by pouring corn, wine, and oil upon its surface, emblematic of the Nourishment, Refreshment, and Joy which are to be the rewards of a faithful performance of duty.
The comer-stone does not appear to have been adopted by any of the heathen nations, but tc have been as the eben pinah, peculiar to the Jews, from whom it descended to the Christians. In the Old Testament, it seems always to have denoted a prince or high personage, and hence the Evangelists constantly use it in reference to Christ, who is called the Chief Comer- stone. In Masonic symbolism, it signifies a true Freemason, and therefore it is the first character which the Apprentice is made to represent after his initiation has been completed.
Saint Martin-in-the-Fields Church, perhaps the best known church in London, was the first in England to have its foundation stone laid with special Masonic ceremony after the coming into existence of the Grand Lodge there. This event took place in 1724, in the reign of King George I, whose direct descendant, the Duke of Connaught, was Grand Master two hundred years later (see Freemason, March 7, 1925).
The first or cornerstone of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was laid by the Grand Master of Maryland with the Grand Masters of Pennsylvania and Virginia co-operating with the Brethren of Maryland.
The stone was laid on July 4, 1824, in Carroll's Field at Baltimore and the first spading of the ground where the stone was to rest was dug by the venerable Charles Carroll of Carrollton, then the only living signer of the Declaration of Independence. Brother E. T. Schultz (Freemasonry in Maryland, pages 562-79) says that the first train over this new railroad reached the bank of the Ohio River, January 11, 1853. The several city trades took part in the procession and presented gifts to Mr. Carroll, one from the Weavers and Tailors was "a coat made on the way."
Allusions to public ceremonies by the Craft are frequent in the old records. One of Tuesday, August 27, 1822, deserves mention, not because of the distance in elapsed time from that date to the present, but by reason of the close identity of the custom in Great Britain and in other Countries during these many years. The occasion was the laying of the Foundation- stone of the National Monument of Scotland, at Edinburgh, and after describing the usual procession, and the placing of coins, newspapers, plans, etc., in the cavities of the stone, these were covered with inscribed plates. 'the first being headed "To the Glory of God-In honor of the King-For the Good of the People." Then Laurie's History of Free Masonry and the Grand Lodge of Scotland (1849, page 201) continues:
The Most Worshipful the Grand Master proceeded with the ceremony, and having applied the square, the plumb, and the level respectively to the stone, with the mallet he gave three knocks, saying,-"May the Almighty Architect of the Universe look down with benignity upon our present undertaking, and crown this splendid edifice with every success; and may it be considered, for time immemorial, a model of taste and genius and serve to transmit with honor to posterity the names of the artists engaged in it"; followed by the Grand Honors from the Brethren, and the Band playing "On. on my dear Brethren.
" When the music ceased, the cornucopia with corn, and the cups with wine and oil were delivered by the Grand Wardens to the Substitute Grand Master, who in succession handed them to the Most Worshipful the Grand Master, when he, according to ancient custom, poured out the corn, the wine, and the oil upon the stone, saying, "Praise be to the Lord immortal and eternal, Who formed the heavens, laid the foundations of the earth, and extended the waters beyond it, Who supports the pillars of Nations, and maintains in order and harmony surrounding Worlds: We implore Thy aid, and may the contintled blessings of an allbounteous Providence be the lot of these our native shores.
Almighty Ruler of Events, deign to direct the hand of our gracious Sovereign, so that he may pour down blessings upon his people; and may they, living under sage laws and a free government, ever feel grateful for the blessings they enjoy'': Which was followed by the Grand Honors from the Brethren, and prolonged cheering from the Royal Commissioners and spectators. Brother Laurie also tells on page 207 of the curious fact that on April 30, 1824, "the Foundation-stone of the new road or approach to Glasgow from London was laid, by sanction of the Grand Lodge, by the Right Honorable Lord Provost Smith of Glasgow, Depute Provincial Grand Master of the Lower Ward of Lanarkshire, in presence of a large assemblage of the Brethren and a great number of spectators."
An unusual method of laying the Foundation-stone of a Masonic Temple took place in London on July 14, 1927. The site of the Temple in Great Queen Street, Ringsway, would not accommodate a large crowd, so it was arranged that the Grand Master of English Freemasons, the Duke of Connaught, should perform the ceremony at Royal Albert Hall, nearly three miles away. A replica of the stone was laid on a specially erected platform in the great hall where some ten thousand Freemasons from al1 parts of the Empire attended in their regalia. The ceremony in Albert Hall was performed simultaneously with the laying of the actual stone in Great Queen Street by means of special electrical contrivances.
A distinction should be made between Comer-stone and Foundation Stone. Doctor Mackey was emphatic on this point and it is well to have the matter in mind. But the two are not always distinguished definitely in the records. We have placed several items together here which the reader can list as he personally may choose. The precise classification of comer- stones of railroads and foundation stones of highways, judged by any Masonic requirement, is probably best left to individual taste. The subject may be considered under the several heads, Foundation Stone, and Stone of Foundation.
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