Washington’s National Cathedral is removing stained glass windows depicting Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, after years of study and debate about what to do with them, the Washington Post is reporting.
The windows, each four feet by six feet, were installed in 1953 — nearly 50 years after construction began on the historic church. However, in light of recent controversies over Confederate monuments, particularly in the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the fate of those monuments, the board that manages the Cathedral made the decision to remove the windows.
Bishop Mariann Budde, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C., which oversees the Cathedral, said the windows depicted a part of American history that is both painful and divisive.
“This isn’t simply a conversation about the history of the windows, but a very real conversation in the wider culture about how the Confederate flag and the Old South narrative have been lively symbols today for white supremacists. We’d be made of stone ourselves if we weren’t paying attention to that.”
On Tuesday night, crews showed up and installed scaffolding around the windows. By Wednesday morning, stonemasons were carefully removing them.
Cathedral Dean Randy Hollerith said that the governing board of the Cathedral voted “overwhelmingly” to removed the windows. However, he acknowledged that a minority of board members supported keeping the windows in place, believing that they can (and should) be understood in their historical context.
“People ask: ‘Are we whitewashing history and trying to forget reality?’ But the truth is that slavery is as old as the Bible. But we believe in a God that liberates slaves.”
— National Cathedral (@WNCathedral) September 6, 2017
The National Cathedral is officially private property, not government property, and is the “national cathedral” in name only. Because the Constitution prevents the government from establishing a religion, any connection between the country and the church is only ceremonial. The building is officially the property of the Episcopal Church, a Protestant denomination that has counted several presidents, including George H.W. Bush, among its members.
Nevertheless, the century-old building has served as an unofficial site for presidential religious rites, such as presidential funerals and inter-faith prayer services.
Like any cathedral, the National Cathedral is filled with works of art, including tapestries and stained glass windows, some depicting scenes from the Bible or history. The windows depicting the confederate generals were funded by the Daughters of the Confederacy. As of this writing, the organization has not responded to requests for comment.
The National Cathedral intends to store the windows until its managers can come up with a way to display them in an historical context.