Symbolism of the Corner Stone

by MasterMason

Shared with us by R.W. Bro. Robert Taylor United Grand Lodge of N.S.W. & A.C.T. (Australia)

The corner-stone is the stone which lies at the corner of two walls and forms the corner of the foundation of the edifice. In Masonic buildings it is now always placed in the north east; but this rule was not always formally observed. As the foundation on which the entire structure is supposed to rest, it is considered by operative masons 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 Capitol. 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 rebuilding of the Capitol had been committed, ‘laid his hands 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 demonstration 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).

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 symbolises 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 pervaded 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 masonry – the square, the level, and the plumb, themselves all symbolic in meaning – and it 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 corner-stone, the elements of Masonic consecration are produced, and the stone is solemnly set apart by pouring corn, wine and oil upon its surface, emblematic of the Nourishment and Joy which are to be the rewards of a faithful performance of duty.
The corner-stone does not seem to have been adopted by any of the heathen nations, but to 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 Corner-Stone. In Masonic symbolism, it signifies a true Freemason, and therefore it is the first character that 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 in 1925.

Allusions to public ceremonies by the Craft are frequent in the old records. One of Tuesday, 27th August, 1822, deserves mention, not because of the distance in elapsed time from the 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 honour 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 honour to posterity the names of the artists engaged in it.” ; followed by the Grand Honours from the Brethren, with 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 the nations, and maintains in order and harmony surrounding worlds; we implore Thy aid, and may the continued blessings of an all-bounteous 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.” This was followed by the Grand Honours from the brethren and prolonged cheering from the Royal Commissioners and spectators.

Brother Laurie also tells us on page 207 of the curious fact that on 30th April, 1824, the foundation-stone of the new road, or approach to Glasgow from London was laid, by sanction of the Grand Lodge, by the 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 14th July, 1927. The site of the Temple in Great Queen Street, Kingsway, would not accommodate a large crowd, so it was arranged that the Grand Master of the English Freemasons, the Duke of Connaught, should perform the ceremony at the 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 all 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 corner-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 corner-stones of railroads and foundation-stones of highways, judged by any Masonic requirement, is probably best left to individual taste.
The above was extracted from Mackey’s Revised Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry.

As you may have all already imagined, I am fascinated not only by the magnificent symbolism that comes into our lives, but the WHY it was created and the significance of it all. The word WHY leads us in discovery; wonderment & above all Education.

Have a wonderful Day & God Bless

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