Washington National Cathedral removes Confederate memorial windows

29 September 2017

Ken Cobb courtesy of Washington National Cathedral

Symbol: General Robert E. Lee

Symbol: General Robert E. Lee

TWO stained-glass windows depicting Con­fed­erate generals were removed from the Epis­copalian National Cathedral in Wash­ington, DC, this month.

A statement signed by the Bishop of Wash­ington, the Dean, and the chair of the Chapter said that the windows, which depict Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and were dedicated in 1953, were “not only incon­­sistent with our current mission to serve as a house of prayer for all people, but also a barrier to our important work on racial justice and racial reconciliation”.

Two years ago, after the Charleston shoot­ing, the previous Dean, the Very Revd Gary Hall, said that the windows would be removed. Last week’s statement referred to an ensuing two-year process “to engage this community in deep questions of racial justice, the legacy of slavery, and God’s call to us in the 21st century”. This had explored: “Are these win­dows, installed in 1953, an appropriate part of the sacred fabric of a spiritual home for the nation?”

On Tuesday of last week, the Chapter voted to remove the windows immediately. A replacement has not yet been agreed.

“Their association with racial oppression, human subjugation, and white supremacy does not belong in the sacred fabric of this Ca­­thedral,” the state­ment says. “[They] are more than benign his­torical markers. For many of God’s children, they are an obstacle to worship in a sacred space; for some, these and other Confederate memorials serve as lamp-posts along a path that leads back to racial sub­jugation and oppres­sion. . .

“There is no way to adequately context­ualize these windows while keeping them within the sacred fabric of the Cathedral. . . We believe these windows can yet have a second life as an effective teaching tool in a place and context yet to be determined.”

Last year, a statement on the cathedral’s website said that those who led tours were “quick to note” that the presence of Jackson and Lee “underscores the building’s role as a repository of American memory, carrying the very wounds of war within its walls”.

A service of prayer for the removal of the windows was held the day after the vote.

On Monday, the vestry (church council) of the R. E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church in Lexington, Virginia, voted to change the parish’s name back to Grace Episcopal Church, after a two-year debate (News, 8 September). The vote was by seven to five.

“My ancestors were very proud, brave, and articulate southerners, and, like Robert E. Lee, I think they’d be very proud over what our church has done tonight,” a vestry member, Doug Cumming, told the newspaper Rich­mond Times-Dispatch.

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