Cornerstone Laying Ceremony in Durban, South Africa (1923)

trowel.jpg“Before the ceremony, a short service was held at the pastor’s residence. The Forty-second Psalm was sung to the music of the English composer, C. J. Whittington. After the sermon, which treated of the Divinity of Christ, the congregation proceeded to the site of the new building. The stone was laid by the pastor, Rev. H. L. Odhner, acting for the Bishop of the General Church of the New Jerusalem. It was an unhewn stone, inscribed with “The Head of the Corner” in Hebrew characters, and with the references, Ps. cxviii and Matt. xxi, 42., and was dedicated as a symbol of the doctrine concerning the sole Deity of Jesus Christ, who was the Word made flesh, or God Incarnate; the acknowledgment of this central truth being that rock upon which the Lord said He would found His church, and the cornerstone of the true Christian religion. A children’s choir sang the 118th Psalm in Hebrew, after which the architect presented the Rev. Odhner with an inscribed silver trowel (see photo above) for the official laying” (Natal Mercury, December 14, 1923. In New Church Life 1924, 314).

troweldetail.jpgGlencairn Museum has in its New Church collection the ceremonial trowel that was used by Hugo L. Odhner during the cornerstone laying ceremony described above (05.R0.545). The trowel is inscribed as follows: “Durban Society of the Church of the New Jerusalem, Foundation Stone Laid by Rev. H.L. Odhner BTh., 18th Nov. 1923″ (see photo above). Although the trowel mentions November 18 as the date of the ceremony, according to a report by Odhner in New Church Life, the actual date appears to have been December 2. In the report Odhner mentions a delay in construction due to a change in the building plans, which may explain the conflicting dates (see New Church Life 1924, 179-180).

Psalm 118:22 (“The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner”) has often been used in connection with the laying of New Church cornerstones. The Hebrew words “the head of the corner,” inscribed on the Durban stone, had been used on Bryn Athyn Cathedral’s cornerstone several years before (1914). Even earlier, in 1892, when the Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario, schoolhouse cornerstone was laid, Rev. Frederick.E. Waelchli preached a sermon in German titled “The Head of the Corner” (see New Church Life 1892, 130). In 1962 that stone was removed and reused for the new Carmel Church building, with Rev. Geoffrey Childs using Psalm 118 in the text of his sermon (see New Church Life 1962, 432).

The Durban church building, located at 125 Musgrave Rd., was dedicated on March 16, 1924, and was used by the society for many years until the move to their current location in Westville during the late 60s.

The editors of have been unable to locate a photograph of the 1923 Durban church. We would like to scan a photo of this church for a new online album we are assembling called “Early New Church Places of Worship.” If any of our readers owns a photo of the church or knows where one can be found (even one published in a book), please contact the editors at

Further Reading:

“Placement of Cornerstone for New Church Temple Causes Rev. William H. Benade to Resign (1854)”

Photos by Stewart Farmer

Questions and comments may be addressed to the editors at

July 26, 2007 | Posted by: Ed and Kirsten Gyllenhaal in New Church History Fun Fact