A $15 million rebuilding effort lies ahead for the Washington National Cathedral, and questions remain about whether that amount is sufficient, said Andrew Hullinger, the cathedral’s senior director of finance and administration.
Extensive earthquake damage to the stone cathedral on Aug. 23 includes fallen hand-carved angel and cherub carvings and stone chunks, cracks, crevasses and fissures, Hullinger said at a forum at All Saints Church in Chevy Chase, Md. A $2 million stabilization program made it possible to reopen the cathedral Nov. 12 for the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde as the ninth Bishop of Washington.
“The earthquake shook with such force and such violence it just blew these stones apart,” Hullinger said, adding that he does not want to imagine the damage if the brief quake had lasted longer.
The cathedral’s interior was largely spared, except for some mortar damage high up in the vaults. Black netting hangs in the nave to catch any falling debris. The cathedral’s iconic stained-glass windows, mostly embedded in deep gothic arches, are intact.
“People put their lifeblood into these stone carvings,” Hullinger said. “A lot of the repairs we’re having to think through; we’re in uncharted territory. A lot of the damage was in the older part of the cathedral, where building techniques weren’t as robust as they are today.”
The cathedral’s damaged pinnacles on the soaring central tower must be lowered to the ground and taken apart to be worked on by master stone masons.
“The problem we have is access,” Hullinger said, noting that some damaged pieces are very difficult to reach.
The Sept. 7 collapse of a large 30-story-high crane, which grazed and damaged part of the cathedral’s Herb Cottage gift shop and hurt mature trees in the Bishop’s Garden, added insult to the 5.8 magnitude earthquake injury.
“This was a difficult day; there’s nothing in the cathedral crisis manual that deals with crane collapse,” Hullinger said.
Mercifully, he said, no one was seriously hurt in this unexpected complication of the restoration effort.
Because earthquakes in greater Washington are so rare, the cathedral did not buy earthquake insurance. “It was deemed not a very wise investment,” Hullinger said.
The cathedral has property insurance, which should cover at least part of the damage from the crane collapse, he said. Could such a rare event happen again? Hullinger said his staff would seek an academic study on seismic activity to address that question.
Because the cathedral receives no operating funds from the Diocese of Washington or from the Episcopal Church, 65 percent of its annual budget must be raised every year, said Suzanne “Suzie” Mink, the cathedral’s senior adviser for institutional relations and development. (The Episcopal Church has donated $10,000 to the rebuilding effort.)
About 20 percent of the budget comes from bequests and gifts. “There is no one single pot of money that we can draw from” for repairs, Mink said.
While the thought of raising $15 million or more is daunting, Mink said people around the world have offered support and prayers. “What we have learned is how much people like you really care,” she said. “This cathedral touches people’s hearts in ways we could never know.”
All Saints, Chevy Chase, donated $5,500 to the rebuilding effort. The Archdiocese of Washington gave $25,000.
Mink said she found one gift especially touching: $500 from the Very Rev. Peter Beck, dean of Christchurch Cathedral in New Zealand. That cathedral was so damaged by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in February that it was deconsecrated Nov. 9. It will be replaced, for up to ten years, by an innovative cardboard structure designed by architect Shigeru Ban of Japan.
Peggy Eastman in Washington