The Edges of Time: Cornerstones and Time Capsules of Early Victoria


A Cornerstone is a ceremonial masonry stone set in a prominent location on the outside of a building. There is often an inscription on the stone indicating the construction dates of the building and the names of the architect, builder or other significant individuals.

This picture shows the 5 tonne cornerstone of St. Andrew's Cathedral at the corner of View and Blanshard Street in downtown Victoria.

The cornerstone is usually placed above the actual foundation for visibility and an aura of prominence.

The placement of the cornerstone usually involves some sort of ceremony. Traditionally, ceremonies involve a special trowel that is used to lay the mortar under the stone. A hammer is used to tap the stone into place on the mortar. Sometimes offerings accompany the laying of the cornerstone: grain or rice, wine, and oil are placed on or under the stone to symbolize the people involved and their means of subsistence. In ancient times there was a practice of placing live humans or animals into the foundation to serve as a sacrifice to God and ensure the stability of the building.

Cornerstones often contain a cavity in which a time capsule or 'votive deposit' could be placed. Historically, local newspapers, coins in circulation, and other artifacts relevant to the time period were placed within the vessel. Today, most vessels are to be opened on a given date; traditionally, vessels were deposited with the hopes and intentions that they would never be disturbed.

The cornerstone was commonly placed in the Northeast corner of the structure because it was thought to be an auspicious position. Traditionally, Victoria's Victorians laid cornerstones in buildings of Judeo-Christian origin.

Origins of cornerstones are vague, but in many cases refer back to biblical reference such as the following:

The laying of cornerstones is not linked to any one group. Traditionally churches placed cornerstones with the idea that the ruling principles of the church are rooted in a strong foundation. However, placing cornerstones does not appear to be linked to only non-secular organizations, as it is common for cornerstones to be laid in buildings such as libraries, educational facilities, and social and community organizations.