Cornerstone: Wikis


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A cornerstone with bronze relief images

The cornerstone (or foundation stone) concept is derived from the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation, important since all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.

Over time a cornerstone became a ceremonial masonry stone, or replica, set in a prominent location on the outside of a building, with an inscription on the stone indicating the construction dates of the building and the names of architect, builder and other significant individuals. The rite of laying a cornerstone is an important cultural component of western architecture and metaphorically in sacred architecture generally.

Some cornerstones include time capsules from the time a particular building was built. The origins of this tradition are vague but its presence in Judeo-Christian countries can be associated with one quotation from the Old Testament (Psalm 118:22) cited six times in the New Testament (Matthew 21:42,Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11, Ephesians 2:20 and 1 Peter 2:7).[1]



Often, the ceremony involved the placing of offerings of grain, wine and oil on or under the stone. These were symbolic of the produce and the people of the land and the means of their subsistence. This in turn derived from the practice in still more ancient times of making an animal or human[2][3][4] sacrifice that was laid in the foundations.

Frazer (2006: p.106-107) in The Golden Bough charts the various propitiary sacrifices and effigy substitution such as the shadow, states that:

Nowhere, perhaps, does the equivalence of the shadow to the life or soul come out more clearly than in some customs practised to this day in South-eastern Europe. In modern Greece, when the foundation of a new building is being laid, it is the custom to kill a cock, a ram, or a lamb, and to let its blood flow on the foundation-stone, under which the animal is afterwards buried. The object of the sacrifice is to give strength and stability to the building. But sometimes, instead of killing an animal, the builder entices a man to the foundation-stone, secretly measures his body, or a part of it, or his shadow, and buries the measure under the foundation-stone; or he lays the foundation-stone upon the man's shadow. It is believed that the man will die within the year. The Roumanians of Transylvania think that he whose shadow is thus immured will die within forty days; so persons passing by a building which is in course of erection may hear a warning cry, Beware lest they take thy shadow! Not long ago there were still shadow-traders whose business it was to provide architects with the shadows necessary for securing their walls. In these cases the measure of the shadow is looked on as equivalent to the shadow itself, and to bury it is to bury the life or soul of the man, who, deprived of it, must die. Thus the custom is a substitute for the old practice of immuring a living person in the walls, or crushing him under the foundation-stone of a new building, in order to give strength and durability to the structure, or more definitely in order that the angry ghost may haunt the place and guard it against the intrusion of enemies.[5]

In ancient Japan legends talk about Hitobashira (人柱, "human pillar"), in which maidens were buried alive at the base or near some constructions as a prayer to ensure the buildings against disasters or enemy attacks.

Modern Practices

In modern practice, normally, a VIP of the organization, or a local celebrity or community leader, will be invited to conduct the ceremony of figuratively beginning the foundations of the building, with the person's name and official position and the date usually being recorded on the stone. This person is usually asked to place their hand on the stone or otherwise signify its laying.

Often still, and certainly until the 1970s, most ceremonies involved the use of a specially manufactured and engraved trowel that had a formal use in laying mortar under the stone. Similarly, a special hammer was often used to ceremonially tap the stone into place.

The foundation stone often has a cavity into which is placed a time capsule containing newspapers of the day or week of the ceremony plus other artifacts that are typical of the period of the construction: Coins of the year may also be immured in the cavity or time capsule.


Freemasons sometimes perform the public cornerstone laying ceremony for notable buildings. This ceremony was described by The Cork Examiner of 13 January 1865 as follows:

...The Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Munster, applying the golden square and level to the stone said ; " My Lord Bishop, the stone has been proved and found to be 'fair work and square work' and fit to be laid as the foundation stone of this Holy Temple".' After this, Bishop Gregg spread cement over the stone with a trowel specially made for the occasion by John Hawkesworth, a silversmith and a jeweller. He then gave the stone three knocks with a mallet and declared the stone to be 'duly and truly laid'. The Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Munster poured offerings of corn, oil and wine over the stone after Bishop Gregg had declared it to be 'duly and truly laid'. The Provincial Grand Chaplain of the Masonic Order in Munster then read out the following prayer: 'May the Great Architect of the universe enable us as successfully to carry out and finish this work. May He protect the workmen from danger and accident, and long preserve the structure from decay; and may He grant us all our needed supply, the corn of nourishment, the wine of refreshment, and the oil of joy, Amen. So mote it be.' The choir and congregation then sang the Hundredth Psalm.[6]

In Freemasonry, which grew from the practice of stonemasons, the initiate (Entered Apprentice) is placed in the north-east corner of the Lodge as a figurative foundation stone.[7] This is intended to signify the unity of the North associated with darkness and the East associated with light.[8]


Cornerstone of the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Macau (1662).

A cornerstone (Greek: Άκρογωνιεîς, Latin: Primarii Lapidis) will sometimes be referred to as a "foundation-stone", and is symbolic of Christ, whom the Apostle Paul referred to as the "head of the corner" and is the "Chief Cornerstone of the Church" (Ephesians 2:20). Many of the more ancient churches will place relics of the saints, especially martyrs, in the foundation stone.

Western Churches

According to the pre-Vatican II rite of the Roman Catholic Church: Before the construction of a new church begins, the foundations of the building are clearly marked out and a wooden cross is set up to indicate where the altar will stand. Once preparations have been made, the bishop—or a priest delegated by him for that purpose—will bless holy water and with it sprinkle first the cross that was erected and then the foundation stone itself. Upon the stone he is directed to engrave crosses on each side with a knife, and then pronounce the following prayer: "Bless, O Lord, this creature of stone (creaturam istam lapidis) and grant by the invocation of Thy holy name that all who with a pure mind shall lend aid to the building of this church may obtain soundness of body and the healing of their souls. Through Christ Our Lord, Amen."[9]

After this, the Litany of the Saints is said, followed by an antiphon and Psalm 126 (Psalm 127 in the Hebrew numbering), which appropriately begins with the verse, "Unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it". Then the stone is lowered into its place with another prayer and again sprinkled with holy water. More antiphons and psalms follow, while the bishop sprinkles the foundations, dividing them into three sections and ending each with a special prayer. Finally, Veni Creator Spiritus is sung, and two short prayers. Then the bishop, if he deems it opportune, sits down and exhorts the people to contribute to the construction, appointments and maintenance of the new church, after which he dismisses them with his blessing and the proclamation of an indulgence.[1]

Eastern Churches

The ceremony of laying the cornerstone of a church in Kiev, Ukraine.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church the blessing of the bishop must be obtained before construction on a new church may commence, and any clergyman who ventures to do so without a blessing can be deposed. The "Rite of the Foundation of a Church" (i.e., the laying of the cornerstone) will differ slightly depending on whether the church is to be constructed of wood or of stone. Even when a church is built of wood, the cornerstone must in fact be made of stone.

The cornerstone is a solid stone cube upon which a cross has been carved. Below the cross, the following words are inscribed:

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, this church is founded, in honour and memory of (here the name of the patron saint of the new church is inserted); in the rule of (here the name of the ruler is inserted); in the episcopacy of (here the name of the bishop is inserted); in the Year of the World _____ (Anno Mundi), and from the Birth in the flesh of God the Word _____ (Anno Domini).

In the top of the stone a cross-shaped space is hollowed out into which relics may be placed. Relics are not required, but they are normally placed in the cornerstone. If no relics are inserted in the stone, the inscription may be omitted, but not the cross.

After the foundations for the new church have been dug and all preparations finished, the bishop (or his deputy) with the other clergy vest and form a crucession to the building site. The service begins with a moleben and the blessing of holy water. Then a cross is erected in the place where the Holy Table (altar) will stand, and the cornerstone is consecrated and set in place.[10] [11]


A cornerstone is also a concept which provides the basic tools for understanding or manipulating a larger intellectual edifice.

See also


  1. ^ a b Thurston, Herbert (1912), "Corner Stone", The Catholic Encyclopedia, XIV, New York: Robert Appleton Company,, retrieved 2007-08-02 
  2. ^ Jarvis, William E. (2002). Time Capsules: A Cultural History. McFarland & Company. pp. 105. ISBN 978-0786412617. 
  3. ^ International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Article: "Cornerstone"
  4. ^ Hastings, James; Selbie, John Alexander; Gray, Louis Herbert (1914). Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. VI.. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 863. 
  5. ^ Frazer, James George (2006). The Golden Bough. ISBN 1595479597. Source: [1] (accessed: January 2, 2008)
  6. ^ Cork Examiner, Jan. 13, 1865, as quoted by
  7. ^ Duncan, Malcom C. Duncan's Ritual of Freemasonry David McKay Company, NY
  8. ^ Albert Gallatin Mackey, Ingham Clegg, Symbolism of Freemasonry: Its Science, Philosophy, Legends, Myths, and Symbolism, pp.165-168, [2]
  9. ^ Pontificale Romanum, Fasc. III, "De Benedictione et Impositione primarii Lapidis pro Ecclesia aedificanda"
  10. ^ Hapgood, Isabel (1975), "The Office Used at the Founding of a Church (the Laying of the Corner-Stone)", Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church (5th Ed.), Englewood, NJ: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, pp. 479 
  11. ^ Sokolof, Archpriest D. (2001), "The Order of the Consecration of a Church", A Manual of the Orthodox Church's Divine Services (3rd printing, re-edited), Jordanville, NY: Printshop of St. Job of Pochaev, pp. 136 

External links

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

The laying of the corneror foundation-stone ( (missing hebrew text) , or (missing hebrew text) ) (Job 38:4-6; Ps 1815, xxiv. 2) of the earth by the Creator is a conception borrowed from Babylonian Cosmogony, the earth being regarded as a huge mountain piled upon the abyss (Job 26:7; "Journal Asiatique," ix. 101; Prayer of Manasses; compare Ps 187; Mic 6:2; Deut 32:22).

The laying of the corner-stone of a city or of a great structure was the occasion of a solemn rite in ancient times. To the pagan mind it appeared as an undertaking provoking the jealousy of the deity unless some bloody sacrifice was offered to pacify him (see Tylor, "Primitive Culture," pp. 104-108). Henceforth the foundation-stone, or the threshold beneath which the sacrificial blood was shed, remained the seat of the guardian spirit of the edifice, and hence the altar of the household (see H. Clay Trumbull, "The Threshold Covenant," New York, 1896). The finding by Nabunahid, the last Babylonian king (556-538 B.C.), of the foundation-stone of the temple of Istar, built by Sargon I. 3800 B.C., is related as a triumph in his inscription (Schrader, "K. B." 1890, iii. 85), and the laying of the foundation-stone for his restoration of the temple of Nebo, with all the solemnities connected therewith, is described in another inscription (Schrader, l.c. iii. 5).

The story of Hiel the Bethelite, who rebuilt Jericho, laying "the foundation thereof in Abiram, his first-born," and setting up "the gates thereof in his youngest son" (1 Kg 16:34; Josh 6:26), seems to be connected with the primitive custom of laying foundations with blood, as, indeed, skulls were found built in with the brickwork when the tower ("ziḳḳurat") of the temple of Bel at Nippur was excavated (see "Jour. Bibl. Lit." 1896, xvi. 11, and Cheyne and Black, "Encyc. Bibl." s.v. "Hiel"). The Midrash also knows of Hebrews who were immured in buildings in Egypt (Ex. R. v.; compare Trumbull, l.c. pp. 47 et seq., and Simrock, "Handbuch der Deutschen Mythologie," 1874, p. 57). One of the many symbolical names given to the terraced tower of the temple of Bel-Marduk was "the foundation-stone of heaven and earth" (Jastrow, "Religion of Babylonia and Assyria," p. 639).

The same importance seems to have been attributed also to the foundation-stone of the Temple at Jerusalem. In 1 Kg 5:17, vii. 9, the costly wrought stones used for the foundation of Solomon's Temple are described, and in 1 Kg 6:37 the time of the laying of the corner-stone is especially mentioned. In Ez 3:10-11 the solemnities at the laying of the corner-stone of the Second Temple by Zerubbabel are detailed (see also Hag 2:15, 18-23, and Zech 3:9, iv. 9-10, viii. 9). Indeed, the exilic seer must have been familiar with solemn corner-stone rites when picturing the rebuilding of Jerusalem. (Isa 54:11; compare li. 1), just as Isaiah was when predicting a new and "tried and precious corner-stone of sure foundation" for Zion (Isa 28:16 et seq.; compare xiv. 32, Hebr.). The fragmentary beginning of Ps. lxxxvii. obviously refers to the foundation-stone of Zion as the most sacred spot of the earth, and the rabbinical "eben shetiyyah" (the foundation-stone of the world, Yoma 54b) is but the proof of a continuous popular tradition. But that here also the ancient rite of some blood-sacrifice was not altogether forgotten, seems to be indicated by the connection, preserved at least in the Book of Chronicles, between the laying of the corner-stone of the Temple and the sacrifice offered by David for the cessation of the plague, at the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite (2Chr 3:1-3; compare 1Chr 21:18-31 with II Sam. xxiv.).

The ceremonious laying of the corner-stone of public buildings, especially of religious and charitable institutions, has become a universal custom, and was adopted by the Jews during the last century. The ceremony consists of placing an appropriate record or memorial in the hollow part of the stone beneath, and then of laying in place the corner-stone, accompanied by certain solemn forms. See also Consecration.

Bibliography: Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl.; Hastings, Dict. Bible, s.v. Corner-Stone and Foundation.

This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.

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