A tradition of dedication
that makes sense today
Ever since man first grasped the concepts of time and space, a "reference point" has been necessary. All races state at the "Start Line", all work for an employer starts at a "Start Time", and all measurements on the surface of the earth are referenced to some sort of "Start Point". Here in the American Southwest, all land surveys are referenced to the "Mount Diablo Base and Meridian Line" system, which has its own "reference point" atop Mount Diablo, east of San Francisco, and all dimensions are referenced to the "MDB&M" lines.
Early in the history of the world, builders started referencing their building dimensions to their "Cornerstone" - which was specially sculpted to contain nothing but true right angles, horizontals and perpendiculars - therefore, their building, when properly referenced to the cornerstone, had to be true, level, and square, with all "horizontals" being truly horizontal, and all "perpendiculars" being truly perpendicular - and when thus referenced, it was materially impossible for the builder and his workmen to err in the construction. The building was finished with a "capstone", which was the last stone placed, and which anchored the building together - which "capstone concept" still exists today.
As Freemasons, we are taught that our "Moral Cornerstone" should be built on whatever "Book of Sacred Law" we as individuals hold high - since Freemasonry is not a religion, but is composed of members of all religious faiths, we allow each individual to hold his own beliefs of his own. We do teach that members should walk uprightly in their performance before God (or whatever deity the individual holds high) and man, to treat each other with dignity, respect and perseverance, and respect all mankind. When our life is thus "referenced", it also becomes materially impossible for us to go astray.
We share this "Cornerstone Concept" with our communities, with our neighbors and with our friends by our ceremony of "Placing of the Cornerstone" of public edifices dedicated to religion, education, civic service and philanthropy - either at the start of construction or at a later dedication ceremony, when the building is ready for use. Our cornerstone itself typically contains a "time capsule" with items of current interest (the front page of the local paper on the day of the ceremony, specimens of current coin and currency and the like), items of significance to the edifice itself (a list of all contractors who helped build the building, the names of the architectural staff, a copy of the contract for the building), as well as items of Masonic significance (a list of the Grand Lodge Officers participating in the ceremony, a copy of our current "Proceedings of the Grand Lodge", and such) all sealed in a weatherproof container that is placed in a special receptacle in the stone, which typically joins two walls together at the Northeast corner of the building and forms the foundation of the edifice - just as our "Moral Cornerstone" ought to form the foundation for our moral and spiritual edifice.
We use ritualistic and historic items in our ceremony - the stone is tested with the square, an emblem of moral rectitude, checked for horizontals by the level, which teaches us to "be on the level" with all with whom we come in contact, and checked for perpendiculars by the plumb, which teaches us to walk uprightly before our own individual Supreme Being and before all mankind, and treat all with all due respect and consideration. The stone is then tested with three emblematic knocks, anointed with corn, wine and oil, an oration is given, which is followed by a prayer.
The Cornerstone ceremony has great historical significance in our country - our first President, George Washington, was a Mason (and the Master of his Lodge), and he placed the cornerstone for our first US Capitol Building on September 18, 1793. The Cornerstone Ceremony should be a significant civic event, with participation by local officials, the design and building team, the heads of the building's occupying organization, as well as the Masonic ceremony team (including the Knights Templar, with feathered chapeaux and sword).
Here in Nevada, our Grand Lodge has placed cornerstones in over four hundred buildings ... and we stand ready to place more. If you have a hand in the building of a public edifice and would like to have a symbolic cornerstone placed for your building, please feel free to contact our Grand Lodge office in Reno (telephone (775) 786-5261) for details.