Faith

Washington National Cathedral finishes first stage of earthquake repairs

A landmark in the nation’s capital, the Washington National Cathedral was under construction for most of the 20th century — from 1907 to 1990. Attracting 700,000 visitors annually, the cathedral was damaged in an August 2011 earthquake; the first phase of repairs has now been completed.
A landmark in the nation’s capital, the Washington National Cathedral was under construction for most of the 20th century — from 1907 to 1990. Attracting 700,000 visitors annually, the cathedral was damaged in an August 2011 earthquake; the first phase of repairs has now been completed. The Associated Press

The Washington National Cathedral, which sustained heavy damage in a 2011 earthquake, has finished the $10 million first phase of its repair work and intends to embark upon a more daunting and expensive second phase.

Cathedral officials said the work to come, which will focus on the exterior of the building — repairing twisting pinnacles, damaged gargoyles and other masonry that suffered during the 5.8-magnitude quake — will cost $22 million and could take a decade.

Speaking from a scaffold 65 feet above the cathedral floor last month, Jim Shepherd, director of preservation and facilities, said he sees the havoc wreaked by the earthquake every day but is reminded of its severity when he takes visitors to the cathedral’s heights.

“They’re just shocked as to the level of damage,” he said. “You don’t see it from the ground. It helps them understand why there’s $22 million of work yet.”

The capital campaign to raise the money has not yet begun.

Completed work on the interior of the cathedral involved, among other tasks, replacing mortar knocked loose by the Aug. 23, 2011, quake and cleaning stained glass windows and stone untouched since workers finished its east wing in 1929.

“There’s a wonderful new sparkle to these stained glass windows,” Shepherd said.

The need to clean predated the earthquake, but given the tremendous cost of the interior scaffolding, it made sense, he said, to remove the grime while the platform was in place.

Joe Alonso, head stonemason, was among the first to re-enter the structure after the earthquake. He recalled the “debris fields” in the nave and transepts, piles of mortar and stone that had fallen 100 feet from the ceiling. After the quake, the cathedral closed for nearly three months to ensure it was safe for the 700,000 people who visit it each year.

Looking upward, Alonso said he was pleased with the work to date. “Every square inch of the ceiling in the cathedral has been touched by human hands,” he said.

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