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Washington National Cathedral to remove Confederate Windows

The Glass Courier

After two years of due consideration and study, the religious authorities of the Washington National Cathedral decided on September 6th to remove two stained glass windows from the large building. Those windows depict two generals of the Confederation, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee, who lead Southern soldiers during the American Civil War. The cathedral's leadership explain in a letter made public that those windows « are not only inconsistent with our current mission to serve as a house of prayer for all people » but they also constitute « a barrier to our important work on racial justice and racial reconciliation. »

The Lee-Jackson windows were installed in 1953, with sponsorship from the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The association was founded in 1894 in Tennessee to honor the memory of those who served and those who fell in the service of the Confederate States. The group is responsible for the establishment of commemorative monuments, the creation of national historic sites, the collection and preservation of archives and the publication of history documents. The presence of those statues, flags and other Confederation symbols is frequently challenged today.

A stained glass window section depicts Generals Robert E. Lee et Thomas J. Jackson on horseback at the Battle of Chancellorsville.
Washington National Cathedral Windows
DC National Cathedral,

Wilbur H. Burnham Studios

This is Wilbur H. Burnham Studios of Boston (Massachusetts) who produced these stained glass windows. The father-son company of great renowned in the United States, was founded in 1922. The two men held at different times the presidency of the Stained Glass Association of America. The workshop received the silver medal at the Paris International Exhibition in 1937. During World War II, Burnham lobbied in Washington to obtain supplies of lead and tin for stained glass artists instead of the cigarette industry, where considerable supplies were directed. (1)

The design and technique of the Burnham stained glass are well anchored in the tradition of medieval windows. The blues, reds and yellows are dominant and well harmonised. The set of seventeen stained glass windows of the Washington National Cathedral presents an interesting balance of older and contemporary design elements.

Among the other noteworthy projects, Burnham produced the stained glass windows of Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland (Ohio), New York's Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, Saint Mary's Cathedral in Peoria (Illinois), Saint Martin's Church in Providence (Rhode Island). There are nearly 250 clients in its archived documents at the Smithsonian Institute. Burnham Jr ceased his operations in 1982 by the sale of the workshop.

Windows on standby

Probably because it is difficult to bring a contemporary analysis about an ancient heritage, the stained glass windows will not be destroyed. The windows will be deconsecrated, removed, conserved and stored until one can determine a more appropriate future for them. The visitors of the Washington National Cathedral are not outdone, the building, the sixth largest cathedral in the world, has 231 stained glass windows and among them, the Space Window features a lunar stone brought back by the Apollo 11 crew in 1969.

(1) Michael J. Tevesz & al, Stained Glass Windows of Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland, Ohio, Produced by Wilbur H. Burnham Studios, Cleveland State University, 1999, p. 16

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