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On cornerstones, trowels—and ritual

From the January 1994 issue of The Christian Science Journal

Often, the laying of a cornerstone for an important building is, like the christening of a new ship, a gala affair complete with pomp and ritual. It was a spare, simple, and devout ceremony that marked the laying of the cornerstone of the Original Edifice of The Mother Church on May 21, 1894—one that was anything but ritualistic. And this was the way Mary Baker Eddy, Founder of the Church, had wanted it to be. She had asked that the occasion be "quiet" yet "imposing," "without pomp or pride." Miscellaneous writings, pp. 143-144. Only three people were present; all were Directors of the Church. They'd been at the construction site all day, encouraging the building crew to complete enough of the wall to support the cornerstone. Finally, late in the day, the workmen slid the stone into place—and then left.

One of the Directors described the ceremony that followed this way: "The three Directors uncovered their heads and, laying each a hand on the stone, they prayed silently and repeated the Lord's Prayer in unison. So the simple ceremony was performed at close of day, alone with God.... The sun, which had been behind the clouds for three days, burst forth in brightness just at this moment and shone upon the cornerstone." Joseph Armstrong, Building of The Mother Church (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1980), p. 20.

As cornerstones were laid for Christian Science branch churches, the ceremonies tended to become more elaborate. In 1903, for instance, the members of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Concord, New Hampshire, invited almost a hundred people to watch as their cornerstone was laid. The ceremony included a procession of church officers and several others, readings from the Bible, and the reading of a letter from Mrs. Eddy. A beautiful solid-silver trowel with an ivory handle, a gift from one of Mrs. Eddy's students, was used to install the stone. Thousands more from all over the United States had wanted to come to the event, according to an article in the Christian Science Sentinel the following week, but Mrs. Eddy asked that they not do so. Sentinel (July 25, 1903), pp. 743-744.

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