January 6, 1893 – The Washington National Cathedral is chartered by Congress. The charter is signed by President Benjamin Harrison.
Description: Washington National Cathedral at twilight, view from the north.
In the Sunday preceding the sessions of the Continental Congress of the Daughters of the American Revolution, a special service, with a patriotic sermon, is always held at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, Mount St. Alban, in the District of Columbia.
The history of this national cathedral is both romantic and interesting, and is linked with General George Washington's plans for the Capital City of the United States.
General Washington, in his outline of the city to Major Pierre L'Enfant—the French engineer whose plans were used— included a church for national purposes. The builders of the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul have kept this ideal of Washington ever in mind, and have tried to realize his vision of a "great national House of Prayer for all People."
Major L'Enfant, in laying out the city, planned a State church, to be built on the site of the present Patent Office, an "American" Westminster Abbey in effect, yet to belong to no denomination. It is interesting to note the words of L'Enfant on the topic. He thus describes it:
"A Church (to be erected) for national purposes, such as public prayer, thanksgiving, funeral orations, etc.; and be assigned to the special use of no particular denomination or sect; but to be equally open to all. It will likewise be a shelter for such monuments as were voted by the last Continental Congress for the heroes who fell in the cause of liberty."
The State church was never built; yet there was the germ of the idea of a National Cathedral, which was strengthened through the patriotic and religious action of one churchman of that period.
Joseph Nourse, first Registrar of the Treasury, is Washington's intimate friend, anu a man of deeply religious sentiment. He lived on what is now Mount St. Alban, the Cathedral Close. Near his Colonial mansion, and overlooking the infant Capital, was a grove of beautiful oak trees. Here he would often go and pray that some day a church might be built on that spot. The years passed and Joseph Nourse went to his grave with his dream unfulfilled, his prayer unanswered—or so it seemed.
Some years later when his granddaughter, Miss Phcebe Nourse, died, among her effects was found a small box containing fifty gold dollars, with instructions that it be used to erect a "free church on Alban Hill." Touched by her desire to bring her grandfather's prayer to fruition, friends and the boys of a neighboring school dug the foundations, and a small Chapel was erected the same elevation above Washington that the Temple was above Jerusalem is the site of the National Cathedral.
In 1898, in the presence of the Bishops, the Clergy and the lay delegates of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the President of the United States, and thousands of people, there was raised the Peace Cross, to mark the consecration of the Cathedral site.
At the service of the unveiling of this Cross, President McKinley said: "I appreciate the very great privilege given me to participate with the ancient church here represented, its Bishops and its laymen, in this new sowing for the Master and for men. Every undertaking like this for the promotion of religion and morality and education is a positive gain to citizenship, to country and to civilization, and in this single word I wish for the sacred enterprise the highest influence and the widest usefulness."
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TEXT CREDIT: Daughters of the American Revolution magazine, Volume 56. Author: Daughters of the American Revolution. Published: 1922. Original from: the University of Michigan. Digitized: May 16, 2006. Subjects: Political Science › Constitutions, Political Science / Constitutions, Reference / Genealogy, United States.