National Cathedral to remove windows honoring Confederate leaders

WASHINGTON — The stained-glass windows depicting Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson will be removed from the Washington National Cathedral.

In a statement released Wednesday, cathedral leaders — Mariann Edgar Budde, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington; Randolph Hollerith, the dean of the cathedral; and John Donoghue, chairman of the Cathedral Chapter — said that the chapter voted “after considerable prayer and deliberation” to remove the windows immediately.

The three didn’t say what will become of the windows, only that they would be “deconsecrated, removed, conserved and stored until we can determine a more appropriate future for them.”

They added that “We believe these windows can yet have a second life as an effective teaching tool in a place and context yet to be determined.”

They also didn’t say what will go in the windows’ places, only that the openings and stone work would be covered over until they decided.

Gary Hall, the dean of the cathedral at the time, called for the removal of the windows after the 2015 shootings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, that killed nine people.

In their statement, the leaders said: “At that time, we began a 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.”

The recent fatal violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month “brought urgency to our discernment process,” the statement said.

After two years of programs and community conversations, the chapter decided that the windows “are 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. Their association with racial oppression, human subjugation and white supremacy does not belong in the sacred fabric of this Cathedral.”

The windows were installed in 1953, the statement said.

‘People … had stayed away’

During the two years the cathedral had considered the move, cathedral spokesman Kevin Eckstrom said Wednesday, they heard from “new voices” they hadn’t heard before: “I mean people who had stayed away from this space because of these windows.”

He added that some said they couldn’t feel comfortable in a sacred space with the figures of Lee and Jackson “looking over their shoulder.”

“These are pieces of art,” Eckstrom said. “And we care about them as pieces of art. We want to preserve them.” He said the windows will be in a public space, but not a worship space.

Eckstrom took a reporter over to the Lincoln Bay, an area with a life sized statue of Lincoln. Above the area was a brilliantly colored stained glass window with vivid reds and oranges, and soft grays and blues. Eckstrom explained, “It’s called ‘The Agony of War.’ You’ve got bright reds, which symbolize the blood of soldiers and then you’ve got flecks of blue and gray which are supposed to symbolize the Union and Confederate uniforms.”

Underneath the window is the carved quote “With malice toward none,” part of Lincoln’s second inaugural address.

Below the window and just above those words is a sculpture of two hands grasping an olive branch.

“If you kind of follow the hands down on either side,” Eckstrom said, “you’ve got ‘USA’ on one side for the United States of America, and ‘CSA’ on the other side for the Confederate States of America. This is what we feel to be a much more balanced telling of the story of the Civil War. You’ve got both sides and ultimately they’re reaching for reconciliation.”

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

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