Dedication Ceremony for Completion of the Washington National Cathedral
In a similar ceremony exactly 83 years after the cornerstone was laid in 1907, a U.S. president—this time George H. W. Bush instead of Theodore Roosevelt—addressed a crowd celebrating the final stone being laid, as construction was completed on the Washington National Cathedral on Sept. 29, 1990. A national cathedral was envisioned by Pierre L’Enfant, a French-born architect appointed in 1791 by President George Washington to design the nation’s new capital city on the north bank of the Potomac River. Nearly 200 years later, L’Enfant’s dream was a reality.
The Washington National Cathedral (the “Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul”) is a massive and magnificent building built primarily of Indiana limestone, the sixth largest cathedral in the world. It has over 200 stained glass windows, including one (the “Space Window”) that has an actual moon rock in its center. The Cathedral was constructed and is maintained entirely by private funds, operated by the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation. The Cathedral’s first chapel, Bethlehem Chapel, began services in 1912 that have continued daily since that time.
(However, sadly, due to damage caused by the August 23, 2011, earthquake, the Cathedral as of Sept. 29, 2011, was still closed while undergoing repairs.)
Even though no public funds are involved, Congress has designated the Cathedral the “National House of Prayer,” and it has played a large role in the nation’s spiritual and ceremonial life. Four state funerals for American presidents have been held there: Woodrow Wilson in 1924 (the only president buried at the Cathedral); Dwight Eisenhower in 1969; Ronald Reagan in 2004; and Gerald Ford in 2007. There was also a memorial service for Harry S. Truman in 1973.
Special prayer services and memorials have been held at the Cathedral for such persons and events as: casualties of the Vietnam War, hostages in the American Embassy in Iran, the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, and victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
This copyrighted article about the completion and dedication of the Washington National Cathedral was printed by the Times (Trenton, New Jersey) on Sept. 30, 1990:
National Cathedral’s Completion Feted
Washington (AP)—The Washington National Cathedral, begun at the dawn of the century, was formally completed yesterday with President Bush overseeing the laying of the final stone atop what he called “this symbol of our nation’s spiritual life.”
“The fabric of this Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul is completed,” Richard T. Feller, canon of the clerk of the works, announced to Bush and the thousands who gathered at the cathedral.
Bush told the crowd, “We have constructed here this symbol of our nation’s spiritual life, overlooking the center of our nation’s secular life. A symbol which combines the permanence of stone and of God, both of which will outlast men, and memories.”
The visitors crowded the grounds atop Mount St. Alban—the capital city’s highest point—to witness the end of a project begun in 1907.
Theodore Roosevelt was president when construction began on what is now the world’s sixth largest cathedral.
Roosevelt watched the laying of the foundation stone, along with 10,000 [correction: 20,000—ed.] people who braved chilly damp weather to join him.
Yesterday’s celebrants gathered under sunny, warm skies on a day that highlighted the grandeur of the Gothic-style cathedral’s façade.
Today, the massive limestone church is set back impressively from the broad avenue on 57 acres of landscaped grounds that also house three schools, a college, the offices of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and St. Alban’s Parish Church.
Bush told the gathering the nation has come to the cathedral to grieve, to understand, to celebrate and to express concern.
He noted the funerals of presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight Eisenhower and Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey were held there.
“Over a three-day period at the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, the names of 57,939 lost Americans were read in chapels. Other times we listened to Bishop Tutu, Billy Graham and Martin Luther King.”
He also recalled “when the hostages were freed from our embassy in Iran, there was a service of thanksgiving.”
“We went to express our concern, to hold a memorial for victims of the American embassy bombing in Beirut, a service of reflection on the 40th anniversary of Hiroshima, and even now prayers for our brave young servicemen and women in the harsh, distant deserts,” he said.
The final ceremonial stone was a 1,000-pound chunk of Indiana limestone carved in the shape of a folded leaf or flower.
It was lifted into place atop the southwest pinnacle of the cathedral’s St. Paul Tower.
Feller directed the delicate crane operation in a voice broadcast over loudspeaker. The crowd below erupted in cheers when one of the two workmen exclaimed “bull’s eye!” as the stone was positioned over a mortar bed.
Sept. 29, 1907: Grand Ceremony to Lay Washington National Cathedral Cornerstone
For more information, visit the official Washington National Cathedral website.