Cathedral, long America's spiritual home, out of service for 9/11

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 8, 2011 

The gothic architecture of the National Cathedral has been the background for numerous ceremonies of state.

MICHAEL COLLINS/MCT

WASHINGTON — For nearly a century, the Washington National Cathedral has served as the nation's spiritual home, perhaps no more so than in the days after 9/11.

On Sept. 14, 2001, three days after the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, grieving Americans watched a nationally televised memorial service at the cathedral. Inside the cathedral's Indiana limestone walls, President George W. Bush played comforter- as well as commander-in-chief, declaring war on those who attacked the country.

This weekend, the 104-year-old cathedral was to host three concerts, an interfaith service and a Sunday night speech by President Barack Obama to mark the attacks' 10th anniversary. But the collapse of a large construction crane at the cathedral Wednesday has forced the most of the events to relocate to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The crane, which was placed on the site to begin repairing damage from last month's 5.8 magnitude earthquake, fell over Wednesday morning, slightly injuring the operator. Though the accident caused no additional damage to the cathedral itself, it damaged other buildings, including a gift shop and the headquarters of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

"We are grateful that there were no serious injuries in the crane accident," said Cathedral Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III. "The safety of our visitors and the staff of the cathedral is our top priority, and we will make no compromises when it comes to that responsibility."

Friday's "A Concert to Honor" and Sunday's "Concert for Hope" will move to the Kennedy Center. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will attend Friday's event, and Obama will speak at Sunday's. Saturday's community day concert will be rescheduled, and Sunday's interfaith service will take place on the cathedral grounds if weather allows.

The concerts will feature the Marine Chamber Orchestra, the Navy Band Sea Chanters, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, country singer Alan Jackson and R&B singer Patti LaBelle. At the 2001 cathedral service, Graves moved millions with her soaring rendition of "America the Beautiful."

Kennedy Center spokesman John Dow said the cathedral organizers asked whether they could relocate the events, and space happened to be available in the center's concert hall, which usually hosts theater, dance and orchestral performances and is one of the nation's busiest performing arts facilities.

"This all came together very quickly," he said "This is still a Washington National Cathedral event, at the Kennedy Center."

The majestic Gothic cathedral, perched on a hill in northwest Washington, is one of the most visible landmarks in the capital. The Aug. 23 earthquake broke off pieces of three spires on the cathedral's 300-foot central tower. Repairs will cost millions of dollars, but engineers determined that the cathedral was sound enough to host the 9/11 events.

Presidents and powerful people have prayed and been eulogized there. It held state funerals for presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. One president, Woodrow Wilson, is buried at the cathedral. So is activist Helen Keller.

The Rev. Billy Graham led the interfaith memorial service at the cathedral in 2001.

"Thank you, Mr. President, for calling this day of prayer and remembrance," he said. "We needed it."

But while Bush commended the unselfish acts of bravery of thousands of Americans on that tragic day, he also unmistakably declared war.

"Just three days removed from these events, Americans do not yet have the distance of history. But our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil," Bush said.

"This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others. It will end in a way, and at an hour, of our choosing."

Ten years later, tens of thousands of U.S. troops remain stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, although the conflicts are winding down. Bush's successor will deliver his remarks not at the cathedral, but at the Kennedy Center, three miles away.

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The Washington National Cathedral

President Bush's remarks at the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance, on Sept. 14, 2001

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