Grand Ceremony to Lay Washington National Cathedral Cornerstone
A national cathedral was part of the plans proposed for Washington, D.C., by Pierre L’Enfant, a French-born architect appointed in 1791 by President George Washington. His task was to design the nation’s new capital city on the north bank of the Potomac River. However, Congress did not act on his cathedral idea for over 100 years, finally granting a charter to the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation of the District of Columbia on Jan. 6, 1893, to build such a grand edifice.
It then took an additional 14 years of planning and fundraising before construction could begin. Finally, on Sept. 29, 1907, in a grand ceremony attended by over 20,000 people including President Theodore Roosevelt and the Bishop of London, the cornerstone of the Washington National Cathedral (the “Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul”) was laid with appropriate pomp and speeches. The cornerstone itself came from a field outside the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem. The trowel was the same one used in laying the cornerstone of the Capitol Building on Sept. 18, 1793, and the Cathedral ceremony used George Washington’s gavel.
Expectations at the cornerstone ceremony were high, as indicated by this comment in the following 1907 newspaper article: “The cathedral promises to equal in point of architecture and outlay the most magnificent in the world.” It took 83 years to complete, but the finished building lived up to those expectations. The Washington National Cathedral is a grand and inspiring building, and is the sixth largest cathedral in the world. The Cathedral, constructed entirely with private money, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 3, 1974, before its official completion. It has been designated by Congress as the “National House of Prayer,” but its maintenance, like its construction, involves no public money.
This copyrighted article about the cornerstone ceremony was published by the Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas) on Sept. 30, 1907:
With Solemn Words
Foundation Stone of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral Laid at Washington
Roosevelt Makes Address
Compliments Bishop of London, Who Responds with Kind Words—Monster Open-Air Meeting
Special to The News.
Washington, Sept. 29.—The foundation stone for the great Episcopal Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul was laid today at Mount St. Alban, Wisconsin avenue, with appropriate ceremonies, in which the President, the Bishop of London and many other bishops, clergy and laymen participated. The ceremonies began at noon and at 3 o’clock a great open air meeting under the auspices of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew was held at which addresses were made by the Bishop of London and Justice Brewer of the Supreme Court. The attendance at the open air meeting was estimated at more than 15,000.
The foundation stone was brought from a field adjoining the Church of the Holy Nativity at Bethlehem and is embedded in a block of American granite.
The great open air service brought to a close the international convention of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, which has been in session here for the last week.
The cornerstone laying was under the guidance of the Episcopal Church in America. The cathedral promises to equal in point of architecture and outlay the most magnificent in the world.
Among the distinguished people in the assemblage, besides President Roosevelt and Bishop Ingram, were J. Pierpont Morgan, Chief Justice Fuller of the United States Supreme Court, Associate Justice Brewer, Secretary of the Navy Metcalf, Secretary of the Interior Garfield, Admiral Rixey, President Finley of the Southern Railway and President Needham of the George Washington University.
Among the prelates who took part in the exercises were Rt. Rev. A. E. Winnington-Ingram, lord bishop of London, who delivered the salutation; Rt. Rev. C. E. Woodcock, bishop of Kentucky; Rt. Rev. T. F. Gailor, bishop of Tennessee; and the bishops of Virginia and Maryland.
The religious services proper began with prayer by Rev. Dr. Randolph McKim of the Church of the Epiphany. Then Bishop Henry Y. Satterlee performed the ceremony of laying the foundation stone. The trowel was the one used in laying the foundation stone of the Capitol Building and the gavel was used by George Washington.
The ceremony of laying the foundation stone completed, Bishop Henry Y. Satterlee of Washington introduced President Roosevelt, who spoke as follows:
“Bishop Satterlee, and you, my friends and fellow-countrymen, and you, our guests:
“I have to say but one word of greeting to you today and to wish you Godspeed in the work begun this noon. The salutation is to be delivered by our guest, the Bishop of London, who has a right to speak to us because he has shown in his life that he treats high office as high office should alone be treated, either in Church or State, and above all, in a democracy such as ours—simply as a chance given to render service. If office is accepted by any man for its own sake and because of the honor it is felt to confer, he accepts it to his own harm and to the indefinite harm of those whom he ought to serve. Its sole value comes in the State, but above all its sole value comes in the Church, if it is seized by the man who holds it as giving the chance to do yet more useful work for the people whom he serves.
“More and more we have grown to realize that the worth of the professions of the men of any creed must largely be determined by the conduct of the men making these professions, that conduct is the touchstone by which we must test their character and their services. It would be to our shame and discredit if we failed to recognize that evil, if we wrapped ourselves in the mantel of a foolish optimism and failed to war with heart and strength against the evil. It would act equally to our discredit if we sank back in sullen pessimism and declined to strive for good because we feared the strength of evil.
“I thank you for giving me a chance to say this word of greeting today.”
Following the address of the President, the Bishop of London delivered the salutation.
Turning toward the President, the Bishop thanked him for his presence, “amidst all his multitudinous duties.” He also expressed his thanks for the “burning words of encouragement and inspiration of the President,” which, he said, would send him back across the seas inspired for his work.
The Bishop then referred to the Canterbury ambon, or pulpit, which he brought over as a gift to the cathedral.
“I come,” he said, “as the successor of St. Augustine’s champion, Miletus, to bring you from the old diocese of London, of which you one day were a part, a real message of love and Godspeed.”
Continuing, he said: “We stand for liberty. One of the most glorious sentences in the English history is that sentence in the great charter, ‘The Church of England shall be free.’ We stand for freedom of thought, freedom of study, for freedom of historical ministry, for an open Bible.”
Concluding, the Lord Bishop said he gave his salutation because “as the President says, we fight against wrong, against tyranny, against evils; we fight to relieve the poor and aid the oppressed on both sides of the Atlantic. Let the Church of England and the church of America fight in generous rivalry as to see which can do its best. And I say from my heart, Godspeed to your work today.”
For more information, visit the official Washington National Cathedral website.
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