Stone carvers restore National Cathedral prophets 6 years after earthquake

Stone carver Sean Callahan levels a dutchman on one piece of stone the earthquake damaged. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
Stone carver Sean Callahan levels a dutchman on one piece of stone the earthquake damaged. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
“We know artisans pulled names out of a hat for who carved which prophet. No one kept track of which was which, so we are left to our guesses,” said National Cathedral spokesman Kevin Eckstrom. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
The prophets and stone surrounding them damaged in the earthquake were removed from the south transept of the National Cathedral. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
The prophets and stone surrounding them damaged in the earthquake were removed from the south transept of the National Cathedral. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
The stone twisted during the earthquake damaging many corners of the stone carvings, said National Cathedral stone carver Sean Callahan. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
The stone twisted during the earthquake, damaging many corners of the stone carvings, said National Cathedral stone carver Sean Callahan. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
Each piece is marked for restoration organization and cataloging. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
Each piece is marked for restoration organization and cataloging. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
Some of the prophets do not have eyes. National Cathedral masons said the original carvers in the 1950's had artistic leeway in designing the prophets faces. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
Some of the prophets do not have eyes. National Cathedral masons said the original carvers in the 1950s had artistic leeway in designing the prophets’ faces. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
National Cathedral spokesman Kevin Eckstrom said there is damage to 93 pieces removed from the south transept weighing 40,000 tons. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
National Cathedral spokesman Kevin Eckstrom said there is damage to 93 pieces removed from the south transept weighing 40,000 tons. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
Many of the larger pieces will be replaced by drilling a stainless steel rod into the cathedral and securing it through the replaced stone, said Kevin Eckstrom with the National Cathedral. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
The National Cathedral knows there are 12 major prophets and four minor prophets, but don't know the identity of most of them. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
The National Cathedral knows there are 12 major prophets and four minor prophets, but don’t know the identity of most of them. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
National Cathedral stone carver Sean Callahan stands in the stone masons' workshop on the National Cathedral grounds where a majority of the restoration work is done. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
National Cathedral stone carver Sean Callahan stands in the stone masons’ workshop on the National Cathedral grounds where a majority of the restoration carving is done. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty) (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
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Stone carver Sean Callahan levels a dutchman on one piece of stone the earthquake damaged. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
The prophets and stone surrounding them damaged in the earthquake were removed from the south transept of the National Cathedral. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
The stone twisted during the earthquake damaging many corners of the stone carvings, said National Cathedral stone carver Sean Callahan. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
Each piece is marked for restoration organization and cataloging. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
Some of the prophets do not have eyes. National Cathedral masons said the original carvers in the 1950's had artistic leeway in designing the prophets faces. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
National Cathedral spokesman Kevin Eckstrom said there is damage to 93 pieces removed from the south transept weighing 40,000 tons. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
The National Cathedral knows there are 12 major prophets and four minor prophets, but don't know the identity of most of them. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
National Cathedral stone carver Sean Callahan stands in the stone masons' workshop on the National Cathedral grounds where a majority of the restoration work is done. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)

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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