WHAT IS A CORNERSTONE?
Until the development of steel-frame construction in the 20th Century, most buildings were erected by stacking stone on stone. Each part of the building was marked by ceremonies. The foundation stone was the first stone placed underground at the beginning of the building’s foundation. The cornerstone was the first stone placed above ground level. It is a massive stone, marking the northeast corner of the building. At the top of the building was the capstone.
The ceremonies of placing those stones were under the direction of the stonemasons who built the building, although the highest officials of the church and state usually participated, including the king or his representative. These ceremonies were occasions for public celebrations and fairs, each marking the progress of the construction of the cathedral or castle.
Cornerstones have played an important role in the history of our nation as well as Europe. George
Washington laid the cornerstone of the nation’s Capitol building, both in his role as President of the United States and as a Freemason. Before that, Benjamin Franklin, while Grand Master of Pennsylvania, established the tradition beginning with the cornerstone laying of the state house in Philadelphia.
Cornerstones have traditionally shown the date, the name of the Grand Lodge, the Grand Master, and the Masonic emblem. Such a cornerstone has been part of the construction or dedication of many federal buildings and seats of state government since these early beginnings. Sometimes, instead of a traditional cornerstone, a plaque is mounted on a building to mark its dedication or rededication. Technically, it is called a “commemorative stone,” though it is not a part of the actual structure. The Masonic ceremony is appropriate for these stones as well.
WHY DOES THE MASONIC FRATERNITY PLACE CORNERSTONES?
The Masonic Fraternity, the Freemasons, developed from the guilds of stonemasons of the Middle Ages. We are the oldest and largest fraternity in the world, with a tradition dating back hundreds of years. In North America our forefathers laid the first cornerstones, and we continue in their tradition. Many organizations do things in the public interest, things related to their own heritage. The
V.F.W. holds ceremonies in cemeteries on Memorial Day to honor the men and women who gave their lives in defense of the nation, The American Legion presents American flags to schools and gives programs on flag etiquette. Freemasons conduct cornerstone ceremonies on public buildings that are dedicated to religion, education, civic service, and philanthropy. Many such stones are placed each year.