Washington cathedral faces millions in repairs after quake

Published August 25, 2011

There was significant damage to the Washington National Cathedral after the Aug. 23 earthquake, including fallen carvings. Photo: Craig Stapert

Washington, D.C. – The iconic Washington National Cathedral, already struggling with financial problems, faces millions of dollars in repair costs from the damage inflicted by the Aug.23 U.S. East Coast earthquake. And nothing is covered by insurance, according to a church official.

Clergy and a team of architects and engineers spent the day after the magnitude 5.8 quake assessing the cathedral, and found significant damage, including fallen carved angels on the church’s roof, cracks in flying buttresses, and missing finials from the pinnacles of the central tower, Religion News Service reports.

"We run a very tight budget here at the cathedral and we have had our financial challenges that we’ve worked through very well," the Very Rev. Samuel Lloyd, dean of the cathedral, said on Aug.24. "But there is nothing in our budget that would allow us to step up and do this," he said.

Joe Alonso, the cathedral’s head stone mason, said it will take years to complete the repairs. "It’s going to be millions, no doubt about it. Millions," he said. "As large as this structure is, it’s all hand made."

Hit hard by the recession, the Episcopal cathedral in recent years has weathered several rounds of staff layoffs and been forced to cut programming. The charge now, Lloyd said, is to go back to those who contributed to the construction of the cathedral, which began in 1907 and was completed in 1990. "It was built by people from across the country who believe having this space for the nation in the heart of the nation’s capital is a hugely important enterprise," said Lloyd. A new feature on the cathedral’s website encourages donations.

The cathedral, the second largest in the nation, will be closed through Aug.27 as engineers continue to assess the damage. Church officials say they hope it will be open for Sunday services. Plans for a  service on 11 September to commemorate the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 are going forward, according to a report on Episcopal News Service.

Officially, the cathedral is the mother church of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, but calls itself a "house of prayer for all people" and has hosted many national religious events. The earthquake and the subsequent damage "has not been a jarring thing for our faith," Lloyd said. "What it has done it challenge us to claim our faith, to go to work to make this place be as grand as beautiful and powerful as its always been."


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