Were it not for the large placard and velvet rope enclosing Bay G in Washington National Cathedral, visitors would be likely to pass by the bay. Wonders such as the three Rose windows or the Space window draw the most attention. Bay G, or the Lee-Jackson Bay, is not particularly colorful.
However since June 28 the Bay G window, which according to the tour brochure “contains scenes from the lives of these two Civil War generals”, has been generating some major attention. The reason? Quite visible in a line of other stained glass flags of the Civil War era is a small brightly colorful Confederate flag.
On June 28 the Dean of the Cathedral called for the removal of the windows and replacement with windows more suitable to the inclusive nature of the Cathedral. He suggested perhaps a tribute to African-American history would more closely align with the Cathedral’s mission and would not offend as the present Bay does.
Ironically, the Lee-Jackson Bay was conceived and installed precisely for the purpose of unity. The Cathedral cornerstone was laid in 1907, not even a half-century after the end of the Civil War. Tensions still boiled between North and South. Cathedral officials said installing a memorial which honored the conflict and its resolution might help end those tensions, and in fact underscore the Cathedral’s goal of national unity.
Along the way memorials have been added acknowledging the injustice of slavery and honoring the accomplishments of African-Americans. The Kellogg Bay contains a carving of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preaching his last Sunday sermon in 1968 at the Cathedral. The Humanitarian Bay honors George Washington Carver among other figures. The Abraham Lincoln Bay houses both his statue and a window entitled the Agony of Civil War. Thus while the removal of a reminder of the cause of the Civil War might now seem appropriate, an additional memorial would be redundant.
The Dean did not suggest how such a new bay would be financed. In August 2011 an earthquake caused $33 million damages to this Gothic Episcopal structure. Buttresses cracked. Tower pinnacles twisted. Pieces of concrete fell. To date only $10 million has been raised but restoration continues. So does a campaign to raise the remainder by whatever means seem feasible. Washington National Cathedral, despite the title, is not government-funded. So the Cathedral now locks all doors save one and charges admission at a strictly-monitored entrance. Gift shops sell pieces of the stone and other such memorabilia. Tours are offered for a range of prices.
Replacing a Bay, then, would have to be by a designated donation, or else deferred until all other necessary reconstruction is financed. This would appear to be in the far future. So for now the Dean’s message on the placard will have to suffice.