Washington National Cathedral Will Remove Windows Honoring Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee

Officials said the windows are “an obstacle to worship in a sacred space”

glass windows
Washington National Cathedral authorities announced Wednesday that windows depicting generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson will be removed and stored pending a decision about their future. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The Washington National Cathedral, the Gothic-style building that towers over the nation’s capital is outfitted with 231 stained-glass windows, ranging in style from neo-Gothic to modernist. But two of those windows—one depicting Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, the other Robert E. Lee—will soon be removed from its walls, Michelle Boorstein reports for the Washington Post.

Work to de-install the windows honoring Jackson and Lee, both Confederate heroes, began on Wednesday morning, following a vote by the Cathedral’s governing body in favor of the removal on Tuesday night. The decision was preceded by a long, passionate debate that began in 2015, after a self-described white supremacist shot and killed nine African-Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Last year, two pieces of glass depicting Confederate flags were taken out from the windows. The Cathedral Chapter was spurred to proceed with a complete removal after the deadly rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, which saw white nationalists convene to protest the removal of a Lee statue.

“The Chapter believes that these 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,” the Cathedral said in a statement. “Their association with racial oppression, human subjugation and white supremacy does not belong in the sacred fabric of this Cathedral.”

Calling itself the “spiritual home for the nation,” the Washington National Cathedral acts as the official seat of the Episcopal Church. Construction on the house of prayer began in 1907 and took 83 years to complete. The building bursts with an eclectic range of art and architecture inspired by both Christian theology and American culture—from an elaborate “Rose Window” celebrating the Biblical creation story, to a carving of Darth Vader.

The Jackson-Lee windows were installed in 1953, with sponsorship from the United Daughters of the Confederacy, according to Bill Chappell of NPR. One window depicts Jackson kneeling and reading the Bible, while the other shows Lee on horseback at the Battle of Chancellorsville, during which he led Confederate soldiers to a stunning victory.

“Whatever their origins,” the Cathedral said in its statement, “we recognize that these windows are more than benign historical markers. For many of God’s children, they are an obstacle to worship in a sacred space; for some, these and other Confederate memorials serve as lampposts along a path that leads back to racial subjugation and oppression.”

The Lee-Jackson windows are the latest in a string of Confederate memorials that have been taken down across the country. In Maryland alone, four statues were removed from their pedestals in Baltimore, and another was carted away from the State House in Annapolis in August.  

The Cathedral statement notes that officials pondered whether it would be possible to “augment” the windows with “other narratives” while leaving them in place, but concluded that “there is no way to adequately contextualize these windows while keeping them within the sacred fabric of the Cathedral.”

Once they are removed, the windows may be relocated to another part of the church, where they can be displayed in an “educational setting,” according to Emily Cochrane of the New York Times. Officials have not yet picked a replacement design for the windows; for now, the space where they were once displayed will be covered up with wood.

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