November 11th, 2011
03:59 PM ET

Washington National Cathedral to reopen this weekend

By Chris Ford, CNN

Washington (CNN) - For 20 years, stone mason Joe Alonso has been charged with maintaining and preserving what he calls “the spiritual home for the nation,” the capital’s National Cathedral.

But his charge changed dramatically on August 23, when Virginia was hit by a magnitude 5.8 earthquake that damaged the cathedral, along with landmarks like the Washington Monument.

Alonso now faces the daunting task of repairing a traditional Gothic cathedral, which has been closed to the public since the earthquake and which will reopen Saturday, even as repairs continue.

Early estimates show the total cost of restoration to be in the tens of millions of dollars, church officials said last month.

Most of the damage was sustained on the building’s three towers and most severely affected the carved pinnacles and embellishments that decorate them. Since then, Alonso’s focus has been on assessing the damage and securing the massive church.

“Having been involved in the construction of the Cathedral back in the ’80s and having seen its completion and then for the last 20 years we’ve been maintaining, preserving, restoring the building and then for this earthquake to hit, I never would have dreamed that we’d be reconstructing parts of this building,” he says.

Alonso and a colleague were working on the ground on the day of the quake and were able to get clear of the building as pieces began to fall: “We were fortunate.”

Later in August, Hurricane Irene blew an enormous oak tree down in front of the cathedral, causing more damage. And in September a 500-ton crane, used in efforts to stabilize the structure, collapsed at the cathedral, crushing several cars in a parking lot and injuring one person

The damage from recent events caused to relocation of big major services, including the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, which was attended by President Barack Obama, and the service for the unveiling of the Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial on the National Mall.

With the stabilization process complete, the cathedral can now reopen. Its first official service since the earthquake will be the consecration of new Episcopal bishop for Washington, the Rev. Dr. Mariann Edgar Budde.

The stabilization process alone has been a “major feat of engineering” according to Alonso, with the scaffolding atop the cathedral’s central tower weighing 70 tons. Now, his focus turns to the massive task of repair and reconstruction.

“As a stone mason, I look at every one of these blocks of stone and I know what it takes to cut them, carve them, get them up there, set them in place,” he says. “It’s mindboggling, a huge amount of work.”

“Seeing it completely empty, it’s sad, it’s kind of weird,” says Alonso, recalling recent months. “You want to see the cathedral full of people and music and worship. That’s what it was made for.”

Alonso has been a stone mason at the Washington National Cathedral since 1985, participating in its construction and completion, which ended in 1990. Alonso laid the final stone himself and has led maintenance of the building since.

While his focus on the building has been predominantly architectural, he also realizes the impact the building has upon its visitors.

“Some people it’s purely a religious thing, other people it’s the architecture, just the massiveness of the building and all of that means something,” he says. “We want to keep it going.”

CNN's Kim Uhl contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Church • DC

soundoff (143 Responses)
  1. Iqbal Khan


    November 17, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  2. Iqbal Khan


    November 15, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  3. Maine Liberal

    hey Goverment "Especially that Bubba guy. He must have been a really active priest. He's pretty active on the inside too"

    Rev. Dr. Mariann Edgar Budde is a woman

    November 15, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  4. Res Publica

    I'm not going to presume, but assume that Atheists are the ones leaving these spiteful and ridiculous remarks towards the preservation of this Church. If I am correct, then these Atheists need to shut up and go about their lives without being discriminators towards those who favour religion. I am no believer of god(s), but I respect religion and its establishments. This building must be preserved.

    November 15, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • John Richardson

      At whose expense?

      November 15, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Maine Liberal

      "at whose expense"

      the episcopal church and private donations

      November 15, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • Get Real

      If they hadn't picked the stupid, misleading name, "The Washington National Cathedral", there would be no mistaken ideas about who is funding it.

      Really - people think that this is one of the proofs that the U.S. is a Christian nation... we have a "National Cathedral"!!!

      November 15, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • Bob smith

      Sure thing.....because the right wing and Christians never ram their beliefs down the nation's throat

      November 17, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  5. Dee

    What is with you atheists? You are so afraid of religion that you constantly mock it. You don't see belivers mocking atheists! Is anyone trying to drag you kicking and screaming to a church? I didn't think so, so mind yout own business for a change.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • John Richardson

      Believers don't mock atheists? Believers really need to get their reading comprehension scores up!

      And no, no one is dragging anyone screaming and kicking into church. But no one is dragging anyone screaming and kicking out of church. But people open about their atheism have been denied employment and suffered other ills. Religious signs and billboards spring up all over w/o incident.. When atheists put one up, it is often vandalized.

      November 15, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      If believers kept their faith strictly to the churches it would be fine but instead we see it being pushed in 'public' on a daily basis.

      November 15, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • Bob Decker

      It is funny we fight terrorism around the world but we let religion have land and business tax free. History shows religions have done more evil and terrorist acts then any groups currently doing same in the world. At a minimum religion should be taxed the same as anyother business. But some like the catholic church is a country, non profit and religion and because of their (and others) views on birth control and condoms will lead to the destruction of the world from overpopulation. At 7 billion and counting.Yes I would like the next earthquake to flatten this monstrousity but I would settle for it beinng used for something useful.

      November 15, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  6. John Richardson


    November 14, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  7. I don't believe the hate

    It is clear to me that the people who would like to see this building crumble into a ruin have never been to the cathedral. The architecture and the study of the construction methods of a Gothic cathedral alone makes the repair and restoration of this structure imperative. I have been to the National Cathedral and enjoyed every moment of the visit. I look forward to the complete restoration of the building.

    November 14, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • hippypoet

      i completely agree, have you ever been to Notra Dame, not the college lol, i have – one of the most beautiful buildings i have ever seen. The Temple Church in London is also beautiful. I love those types of buildings... i wish we built more of them..even thou they are for the furtherment of delusions, i can get past that for the beauty the delusions inspire. 🙂

      November 14, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  8. Reality

    Once again it is money wasted!!!!

    It is time to replace all religions with a few rules like "Do No Harm" and convert all houses of "worthless worship" to recreation facilities and parks

    November 14, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      So..what you are saying is that we should just chuck out a whole section of our law to make you happy.

      November 14, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • Jesus

      Another delusional monument to that imaginary and invisible friend in the sky.

      November 14, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Veritas

      I find it interesting that so many athiests like reading articles about religion. Futhermore, not only do they like reading them, they go to the trouble of commenting on them. If I didn't believe in something, I sure would not waste my time reading article about it. This makes me wonder what their motivations are... Maybe they AREN'T as secure in their nonbelief as they like to pretend.

      November 15, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • Reality

      Christianity summarized in a prayer:

      The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

      Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
      and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.


      November 15, 2011 at 12:48 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      What a strange argument veritas. Thats like suggesting that those that make mocking comments on stories about UFOs really believe that UFOs exist.

      November 15, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  9. DaveSEMass

    Such spite from both of you – it sums up everything that's wrong in this country. The Episcopal Church has tried to unite everyone in the middle ground, but clearly there's very little of it left to stand on. Slam away – we Episcopalians enjoy it.

    November 14, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Vern Ackular

      Go to Denny's and try the Grand Slam Breakfast. Either you're a victim or you are not. People pointing out your mistakes, your wrongs, and your crimes is not normally an occasion for self-aggrandizement unless you're a religious nut-job.

      November 14, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • The Government

      Church is where all the action is. Now we just need to grab our tax bite in front of the priests.

      November 14, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • DaveSEMass

      Enjoy your anger – nice pun on the name, too.

      November 14, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Denise

      A lot of the people here are like Vern = on the Asperger's spectrum or damaged in some other way. It's important not to feed the trolls.

      November 14, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Denise

      Well maybe not a lot. But not a few.

      November 14, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Take it with a grain of salt. Most of these posts aren't directed at the Episcopal Church at all-they're from people who find any religion abhorrent.

      The National Cathedral is a beautiful landmark and I have no wish to slur the Episcopalians at all.

      November 14, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • Reality

      This edifice oozes with the blood of two of Henry VIII's six wives who he had executed on his march to establish his own religion. How can anyone belong to said church??????

      November 14, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, malarkey.

      November 14, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • John Richardson

      I'm fine with the building.But who is paying for the repairs?

      As for high church Anglicans "uniting everyone in the middle", yeah, right.

      November 14, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Well, who would pay for the repairs of any other church? The National Cathedral isn't a government property–its maintenance isn't paid for with taxes, if that's what you imagine.

      November 14, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @Tom Tom I'm not imagining anything. I'm wondering and asking.

      November 14, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • Maine Liberal

      Reality two issues with your post:

      henry was long dead and the Anglican Church was the Episcopal church when the Cathredral was started (1907)

      henry did not start a "religion" he started the Anglican Church a christian denomination of Catholicism

      November 15, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  10. WDinDallas

    Then where would we pray for you commie atheists, Byrd?

    November 14, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • The Government

      Jail seems to be a good place to pray from. Christian inmates dominate the place. Especially that Bubba guy. He must have been a really active priest. He's pretty active on the inside too.

      November 14, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Maine Liberal

      Rev. Dr. Mariann Edgar Budde is a woman

      November 15, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  11. Byrd

    Reopened? Too bad. It should just be left to crumble. Religious ruins are much more impressive, and appropriate.

    November 14, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Nah

      1/10. Troll harder?

      November 14, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.