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 Masons as the most important tone in the edifice . It is laid with impressive ceremonies ; the assistance of
Speculative Masons 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 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 .” (Histories, iv., 53 .)
The symbolism of the corner-stone when duly laid with Masonicerites 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 Mason 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 Masonry-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 Mason 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, Refreshment, and Joy which are to be the rewards of a faithful performance of duty.
The corner-stone does not appear 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 Mason, and therefore it is the first character which the Apprentice is made to represent after his initiation has been completed .