Artist picked to replace famed cathedral’s Confederate windows

Peter Smith Associated Press
Friday, September 24, 2021

Washington National Cathedral announced Thursday it has chosen contemporary artist Kerry James Marshall, renowned for his wide-ranging works depicting African American life, to design new stained-glass windows with themes of racial justice that will replace a set with Confederate imagery that were removed in 2017.

The landmark sanctuary said in a statement that the four windows will tell “a new and more complete” story of the nation’s racial history. Poet Elizabeth Alexander will write a poem to be inscribed in stone tablets alongside the windows, overlaying older ones that venerated the lives of Confederate soldiers.

The project is expected to be completed by 2023.

The windows will replace a set that honored two Confederate generals, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, with saint-like reverence and had included a Confederate flag. The cathedral removed them in 2017, prompted by a larger national reckoning over Confederate imagery and white supremacy in the wake of deadly right-wing attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia, that year and in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. The window openings have been covered with plywood since 2017.

The setting is particularly significant in the massive neo-Gothic cathedral, which is filled with iconography depicting the American story in glass, stone and other media, with images ranging from presidents to famous cultural figures and state symbols.

The cathedral, also the seat of the Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop and Diocese of Washington, regularly serves as the setting for ceremonies tied to major national events.

In replacing the windows, the cathedral acknowledged a need to correct what it called a “false narrative of what America once was.”

The old windows “were a barrier to our mission and impediment to worship in this place, and they had no place being in sacred space,” the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of the cathedral, said in a Thursday news conference.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the cathedral to not only create beautiful art but to stake a claim about what and who we value,” he added.

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