Preserving our Heritage: Delaware and the Washington National Cathedral

Preserving our Heritage: Delaware and the Washington National Cathedral

by Lola Michael Russell

Delaware was among the first dioceses to establish a local chapter in support of the powerful witness and loving ministry of the Washington National Cathedral. I am proud of our chapter and its faithfulness. Our commitment to the Cathedral remains strong and enthusiastic as ever, and I encourage all Dalawareans to join in this holy work. The Rt. Rev. Kevin S. Brown

The summer afternoon was a pleasant 80 degrees in Washington, D.C., and visitors to the National Cathedral were admiring the brilliant stained-glass windows and extraordinary engineering of the soaring nave when the ground began to undulate beneath their feet. The huge cathedral itself shuddered and groaned. Staff and visitors ran from the Gothic-style building as the carillon bells clanged in the shaking Central Tower.

On August 23, 2011, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake hit Mineral, Virginia, about 90 miles southwest of Washington D.C. The tremblor was the strongest east of the Mississippi since 1944 and was felt by more people than any other earthquake in United States history, reaching 12 states and several Canadian provinces. Buildings fell in Mineral, and serious damage to the Washington National Monument was widely reported.

At first sight, damage to The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, otherwise known as Washington National Cathedral, appeared to be minimal and initially was reported as such. However, as engineers rappelled down the Cathedral to document the building damage, they made notes on iPads attached to their harnesses. The full extent of the devastation became clear.

The four grand pinnacles of the central tower had rotated. Each grand pinnacle was more than 40 feet tall, weighed about 50 tons, and was topped by a four-foot-tall grand finial that weighed about 500 pounds. Three of the four grand finials fell to the tower’s roof. Fortunately, most of the stone fell inward onto the structure’s parapets, rather than outward where it might have fallen on people.

In the south transept, a dislodged stone struck a gargoyle and decapitated it. The pinnacles of the north transept were so destabilized that workers could gently rock them back and forth on their bases. Several pinnacles skipped up and rotated like spinning tops, and several slender pinnacles collapsed entirely.

The six freestanding flying buttresses of the east end—the oldest part of the Cathedral—swayed, causing the arches to stretch and move, resulting in stones cracking and separating from one another. All told, damage to the cathedral totaled $34 million.

Construction of the National Cathedral began in 1907 with the laying of the foundation stone, from a field near Bethlehem. President Theodore Roosevelt and the Right Rev. Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram, the bishop of London, spoke to a crowd of 10,000. However, even before construction began, the National Cathedral Association was raising money to support it. The first Cathedral committees were formed in 1899 with a call “to evoke interest among all the churchmen of America in the Cathedral at the National Capital.” The National Cathedral Association (NCA) was officially recognized in 1933 “to advance the interests of and to solicit funds and gifts…and to disseminate information for charitable, educational, and religious purposes” on the Cathedral’s behalf. The NCA grew, and with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt as honorary Chairman, committees were formed in each diocese across the country to provide “encouragement and moral support.”

A Delaware committee was founded in 1937, and a formal Delaware chapter was established in 1940. “Raising money has always been the challenge,” said Becky King Rogers, the current chairman of the Delaware Chapter. “Early efforts focused upon large card parties, and minutes in 1940 noted, ‘We are not satisfied with our method for we do not believe it has much spiritual value.’ We feel much the same way today!” Rogers added that their fund-raising efforts have continued with some success, including selling the ever-popular See’s Candies.

Over the years, Delaware has given more gifts to the National Cathedral than any other state. Apart from donating the Delaware Seal for the floor of the narthex, the Delaware flag hanging in the nave, and carved peach blossom — the Delaware State Flower — gifts include the rood screen, statues and stone carvings, kneelers, tapestries, bell G of the Cathedral Ring, ornate chairs, and the spectacular N. C. Wyeth triptych in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.

Another outstanding Delaware gift is the beautiful fountain sculpture by George Tsutakawa in the Garth Garden of the east cloister. “Sadly,” said Rogers, “the fountain has been silent and without flowing water since earthquake damage rendered the garden unusable. Restoration of the garden is nearing completion, and on September 29, the Garth Garden will be rededicated in a special ceremony, so the fountain will flow once again. It is a significant accomplishment in the long process of restoring the National Cathedral to its former full glory.”

The National Cathedral is not only for Episcopalians, nor even only for Christians. Its central mission always has been to serve as a house of prayer for all people —no exceptions. It actively pursues interfaith dialogue and collaboration, particularly among the three Abrahamic faiths. Everything about the cathedral invites us to reflect on something greater than ourselves: our story as a nation, our call to service, and our walk with our Creator.  “Perhaps now, at this time of division, the need for such a safe sacred space is greater than ever,” Rogers suggested, “And the Delaware Chapter is seeking to broaden its efforts to support the National Cathedral.”

To find out more about your national cathedral and the Delaware Chapter of the NCA, contact Rogers by email at or by phone at 610-388-5891. Also, please contact Rogers if your church would like a presentation about the work of the NCA. The Delaware Chapter holds monthly meetings and offers a bus trip to the cathedral every spring. Feel free to join the Delaware Chapter’s meetings; dates and details will be posted in The Net.

Lola Michael Russell is the editorial assistant for the Communications Department in the episcopal Church in Delaware and a regular contributor to the Delaware Commuinon.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *