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Stone carvers restore National Cathedral prophets 6 years after earthquake

With the 2011 earthquake in the rear view mirror, the National Cathedral's stone masons are still at work, restoring carvings of unknown prophets that perched above Washington.

WASHINGTON — Six years after an earthquake damaged the National Cathedral, stone masons are still working on its restoration — putting the exterior carvings of 16 prophets on display to the public as they are being repaired.

National Cathedral stone carver Sean Callahan is assisting in the restoration of the unnamed prophets carved in the 1950s. The carvings, which overlooked downtown Washington from the cathedral’s south transept, are part of the cathedral’s $34 million in damage from a 2011 earthquake.

Callahan’s challenge is to restore the carvings in the style of the work of another artisan, and to make his fixes look invisible. Few have seen the prophets, he said.

“They’re in a weird spot. You can’t really see it from the ground … and when you’re up in the church, they are kind of an obstructed view,” Callahan said.

He had no idea how large the carvings were because he too had only caught a glimpse before they were removed from the transept.

“We know that these are Old Testament prophets and there are 16 total … We know there are four minor prophets and 12 major prophets,” Kevin Eckstrom with the National Cathedral said.

But the story of the carvings is one part of the cathedral’s fascinating history, one that was forever changed when the earthquake twisted the stone of the National Cathedral.

“To date we’ve done about $12 million of repairs. Most of that to the inside, and we’re working our way around the outside of the building,” said Eckstrom of the restoration that is not government funded, but fueled by donations.

He predicts it will cost $1 million to restore the area from which the prophets were pulled. The area is comprised of 93 pieces, weighing in at about 40,000 pounds total. The pieces are being restored one-by-one, but Eckstrom said they can only be replaced on the transept in one piece.

“It’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle, and when we have the money to put the puzzle back together, we will,” he said.


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