WHY DO WE LEVEL CORNERSTONES?

 

CORNERSTONES:  MESOPOTAMIA AND ASSYRIA

As old as civilization itself is the art of erecting a building.  The cornerstone of the building is the stone that lies at the corner of two walls and forms the corner of the foundation of an edifice.  Upon it the alignment of the entire structure will rest. History records, from  ancient times, great ceremony involving the cornerstone before construction began on the architect’s design.  Records of the observance are found etched on clay tablets left by peoples of the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Assyria.  It was a ceremony marking a moment in time. Even today, when schools, churches or local government buildings are scheduled for construction there are moments along the way to completion that are especially memorable. One of the most beautiful and meaningful of those moments is when the fraternity of Freemasons conducts a rite similar to those recorded in history.  The ceremony of symbolically leveling a cornerstone.  It is performed with solemn ceremonies giving dignity to the occasion.

 

MASONS  HAVE  PERFORMED  CORNERSTONE  CEREMONIES THROUGHOUT  THE  AGES

The earliest record of an official Masonic ceremony, for a public building,  was the laying of the Foundation Stone of the New Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Scotland on August 2, 1738.  There are other records of Masonic Lodges in Ireland placing cornerstones dating from the 1500s and records in England from the late l600s.  And the list of Masonic ties to laying of cornerstones goes on and on. On September 18, 1793, President George Washington officiated at the laying of the cornerstone for the United States Capitol building.  It was a major event in the creation and development of the federal city, a project very dear to the heart of George Washington.  The Masonic Fraternity refers to it as one of the most memorable days in the life of George Washington, in the life of Freemasonry, and of the United States. According to the newspaper account of the day "Washington, dressed in Masonic regalia, lead a procession of officers and brethren of the Masonic Fraternity from Maryland and Virginia to the site in the District of Columbia. Upon arrival, the music and drums stopped, the flags were anchored, and the artillery fired a volley.  A large silver plate was handed to President Washington. Using a small trowel with silver blade and ivory handle, Washington deposited the plate and laid it on the cornerstone.”   The newspaper account specifically mentions that corn, wine, and oil were placed on the cornerstone after it was set in place…an event commemorated 200 years later in 1993 by U.S. Senator and Mason, Strom Thurmond (R-SC), along with many fellow Masons who honored the laying of the original cornerstone.   The apron and sash worn by George Washington together with the trowel he used are today preserved in the Alexandria-Washington Masonic Lodge.
 

CORNERSTONES  TODAY

Cornerstones lie at the corner of two walls of a building in which certain historic documents are placed and on which historic inscriptions are engraved.   The cornerstone is usually a polished stone, found near the foundation, but not a part of the foundation, and high enough from ground level to be easily read. A cornerstone generally has carved upon it such things as the name of the owner, purpose of the structure, date of the building's erection and sometimes other facts.  Such a stone is frequently made hollow and, at the time it is placed, filled with various printed articles current at the time and other objects reflecting the era or time in history. Time capsules are frequently placed in building cornerstones but sometimes buried separately. Although terms are often used interchangeably, there are actually three major classifications of such stones.

CORNER STONES are the first stones placed at ground level.  Generally, the first stone is placed in the northeast corner, from which the building traditionally commences.  They are part of the structure, and therefore, are placed before or as the building is built.

COMMEMORATIVE or DEDICATORY STONES are the stones most commonly placed by the Masonic fraternity today.  They are not part of the structure of the building, but fit into a space left in the stone or brickwork. They usually seal a cavity in which a "time capsule" type deposit is made. Generally, the placement of such a stone is the last act in the building and serves as a dedication of the building and a signal of its completion.

FOUNDATION STONES are the first stones placed as part of the foundation of a building. These stones are below the level of the ground.
 

WHY  MASONRY  IS  INVOLVED  IN  THE  PLACEMENT  OF  CORNERSTONES

The medieval stone masons organizations; builders of the glorious cathedrals across Europe are, in fact, forerunners of modern speculative Masonry. References to cornerstones are found in various places in the Holy Bible in both the Old and New Testaments that indicate the antiquity of the cornerstone and its uses.   Because Freemasonry is non-sectarian and because Freemasonry is heir to the historical tradition of building, it is the appropriate organization to dedicate or symbolically level the cornerstone of a public or religious edifice. For this purpose Freemasonry provides a special ritual to govern the proper performance of that duty.  Among the ancients, cornerstones were laid with impressive ceremonies.   The Masonic cornerstone ceremony, like most customs, has evolved over years of use. The symbolism of the cornerstone, 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, the cornerstone must be perfectly square on its surfaces. To Masons, the square is a symbol of morality and truth.  In the situation, the cornerstone will symbolically lie between the north, which Masons consider a place of darkness and the east, which Masons consider a place of light.  Hence the northeast position of the cornerstone symbolizes the Masonic progress from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge. To permanence, the stone, when deposited in its appropriate place, is carefully examined with the necessary implements of operative Masonry which include the square, the level, and the plumb, themselves all symbolic in meaning. The cornerstone is then declared to be "well formed, true and trusty." Lastly, the elements of Masonic consecration are produced and the stone is solemnly set apart by pouring corn, wine, and oil upon its surface, emblematical of the nourishment, refreshment and joy which are to be the rewards of a faithful performance of duty.
 

LEVELING  OF  CORNERSTONES A  GREAT  HONOR  FOR  TEXAS  MASONS

Masons of the Grand Lodge of Texas are proud to continue the long time tradition of leveling cornerstones.  In 1994, the Grand Master of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Texas leveled the cornerstone on the extension to the Texas State Capitol building in Austin.  It was a beautiful ceremony and brought to mind the 1885 ceremony when Texas Masons leveled the cornerstone to the main state capitol building.   Throughout Texas history, Masons have leveled cornerstones of schools, churches, local government buildings and public buildings. It is considered a great honor by Mason’s to perform this service in their communities. The Grand Lodge of Texas receives numerous requests to officiate in the Consecration, Dedication, or laying of a cornerstone.  Before requests can be considered there are certain guidelines which have come to define the role of Freemasonry in such ceremonies.  For example, the building must be a public building such as a police station or school...or of sacred character such as a church.  Another guideline is that buildings proposed for the laying of cornerstones must be constructed of brick, stone or concrete.  Of course, veneer of such material on steel or concrete supporting frame will qualify. The cornerstone should be an actual stone, cubical in form, upon the face of which should be carved the words "Leveled (or Laid) by the Grand Lodge of Texas, A.F. & A.M., "with the Masonic emblem and the year carved thereon.  The other face of the stone may bear such inscription as may be necessary to describe the name of the institution erecting the building, its board of trustees, or other offices but NOT the name of the architect, engineer, contractors, or builder, as such, should be shown on the stone. It is the Grand Master who has final determination whether a cornerstone shall be laid with Masonic ceremonies.