While working on America the Beautiful, I learned that there is a piece of Bethlehem in our nation’s capital. I thought you might like to know about it, too.
When George Washington became the first president of the United States, he took the oath of office at Federal Hall in New York City, America’s first temporary capital. Washington took the oath for his second term in Philadelphia, America’s second temporary capital. Though he never served as president in Washington, D.C., Washington was very involved in the initial plans.
Washington appointed Pierre Charles L’Enfant to design it. L’Enfant envisioned large open spaces, wide avenues lined with trees, and parks scattered throughout the city. He imagined a Grand Avenue with a monument to George Washington and a “great church for national purposes.”
It was 1884 before the Washington Monument became a reality, but when it did, it was the tallest building in the world. Americans had to wait even longer for the “great church for national purposes.”
Congress made the first steps to create a national cathedral when it gave the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation a charter to establish a national cathedral. President Benjamin Harrison signed the charter in 1893. Three years later, the first Episcopal Bishop of Washington chose a site on top of Mount Saint Alban in northwest Washington.
In 1898 President McKinley attended the dedication of a Peace Cross on the site. The ceremony marked the end of the Spanish-American War.
Workmen laid the cornerstone of the National Cathedral in 1907. President Theodore Roosevelt and the Bishop of London spoke at a ceremony to dedicate it. Attendance at the ceremony was 10,000 people. The National Cathedral wasn’t completed until 1990, but the portion called the Bethlehem Chapel opened in 1912.
The piece of Bethlehem at the National Cathedral is in the cornerstone laid in 1907. Stonemasons set a stone from a field in Bethlehem into a piece of American granite to make the cornerstone. These words are inscribed on the cornerstone. Let’s be some of the Americans who remember them and who train the next generation to remember them, too.
The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.