Archives: The Unveiling of the Peace Cross (1898)

125 years later, the Peace Cross still stands on the grounds of Washington National Cathedral | Photo:

By Y.Y.K.

This article was originally published in the November 5, 1898, issue of The Living Church.

On the last Sunday of October, the twentieth after Trinity, the “Peace Cross” was unveiled on Mount St. Alban, Washington, D.C. This cross was raised, not only to commemorate the peace with Spain, but to set apart the beautiful spot as the site of the cathedral that, in the capital of the nation, is hereafter for all time, we may hope, to witness to apostolic Faith and Order. That the unveiling took place on the last Sunday of the General Convention, meeting for the first time in the capital of the United States, was more than a happy coincidence. That meeting is also to be commemorated by the historic cross. In the light of these facts, lovers of Church and of country went up to the mount with feelings of exhilaration becoming the makers of history, though makers of history do not always so fully realize that history is making.

An October day of exceeding beauty. Nature had had a clearing up time, worthy of the most notable of housekeepers; and the trees of the wood, some yet in summer green, and others in autumn’s burnished splendor, were goodly to look upon after the pouring rain of the previous day. The turf, pressed by thousands of feet, sent forth a pleasant fragrance of “herbs of grace.”

Thousands, did I say? Well, it is quite time that I tell that the great multitude that thronged the mount must have exceeded ten thousand in number. The arrangements were admirable. If some failed, from distance, to hear the speakers, they could see the imposing procession as it issued from the wood, passed up the rope-barriered pathway, or ascended the platform. Choir after choir, white-robed, followed the cross, very small boys leading the van of each, who may live to see the completed cathedral. We did not count these choirs; but the Diocese of Washington must be singularly rich in tuneful small boys, a material usually very hard to get.

The processional was “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun,” sung to the good old “Duke Street.” A band of brass instruments kept the long line of choristers in time and tune. Following the choirs came the clerical members of the House of Deputies, who were vested, and then, preceded by their own cross-bearer, the bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. All were covered! Dare not say by what, lest, in aiming at ecclesiastical phraseology, I meet the fate of some of my guileless fellow-knights of the pen who seat bishops on altars, and suspend crucifers from ceilings. Suffice it to say that “headpieces” seemed to be the correct thing, the President of the United States sustaining the majesty of the State in the only “silk hat” of the great procession. The bishops — here I am indebted to a Washington reporter — “were dressed in black and white cassocks and surplices, together with the many-colored robes of their universities.” Picture to yourself, gentle reader, your beloved diocesan in his bravery!

The President of the United States was given a seat at the middle front of the great platform, with the Bishops of Washington and Kentucky, and the Rev. Dr. [Morgan] Dix on his right, the Bishops of Albany, Minnesota, and Chicago on his left. The responsive reading of versicles and psalms, the saying of the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed by the great multitude, was as the sound of many waters.

“There is one Body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one Faith, and one Baptism, one God .and Father of all who is above all, and through all and in you all.” Thus ended the lesson; and then from choir and congregation came the hymn, dear and familiar: “The Church’s One Foundation.”

Bishop [Henry Yates] Satterlee’s address of welcome. I quote in part:

One week ago we made our pilgrimage to Jamestown, where we were brought face to face with the past, with the beginnings of the Church in America. Today we face the glowing future with deep conviction in our hearts that, as this country, North, East, South, and West, was born of God in the beginning of our history, so it has great missions given by God to bear fruit among the nations of the world.

This cross is the outward symbol and token of countless earnest prayers. Last spring, when our hearts were filled with the joys of the Resurrection, they were also torn asunder with fear and visions of impending war. On Easter Monday, when the President sent that memorable message to Congress, a small number of worshipers were assembled at the very hour in the Church of St. Alban, kneeling at the altar to receive the Blessed Sacrament, praying with one heart and soul that God would give peace in our time. Since that day the war with Spain has come, and we trust has gone. And our awakened country thrilled to realize that there must be a divine purpose in it all, awakened to hear above the earthly roar of cannon the echo of angel song of peace, good will to man; awakened to the realization that that war was a war for peace. It has been truly said that in one hundred days of warfare God carried this country of ours forward one hundred years. Now our cross is raised to commemorate the great event of this year; to commemorate the peace that has marked this Convention of ours; raised to utter our fervent wish for final peace and  enduring amity between America and Spain; raised as a confession of our faith that the only lasting peace for men on earth is the peace that comes from the Cross of Christ. Amen.

This was the close of his formal address. He added: “It is asking too much that the President of the United States, especially after his expressed wish, should respond even by a single word, but I want our Chief Magistrate, for whom we pray every day of our life, to know our unspoken wish.”

Upon this hint, our indulgent “Great Father at Washington” [President William McKinley] spake: “I appreciate the very great privilege given to me to participate with this ancient Church here, by its bishops and its laymen, in this new sowing for the Master and for man. 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 speak, I wish for this sacred enterprise the highest influence and the widest usefulness.”

Then followed the unveiling of the cross. Scarcely had the starry flag that enveloped it fluttered to the ground, revealing the clear-cut outlines of the fair symbol of peace and good-will, than there arose on the air the sweet and holy strain:

In the cross of Christ I glory;
Towering o’er the wrecks or time.
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.

After the unveiling followed the address of the Bishop of Albany [the Rt. Rev. William Crosswell Doane]. He said:

I am speaking, as I stand here, in the name of all Americans. The cross which has here been unveiled stands on a mount which bears a name that is holy to all English-speaking people, the name of St. Alban. It stands where it overlooks the capital of a great nation of free men, the principle of whose political philosophy, as I understand it, is represented by the outstretching arms of the Cross of God. It will stand for years and years to come, where a cathedral church is to be built, and where peace will soon be preached to them that are nigh and to them that are far away.

The Chief Magistrate of our great country has added the dignity of his most welcome presence. An assembly has gathered representative of the Church of Jesus Christ, whose glory it is that it teaches liberty as the religion of the Crucified. I ask you just to take what I may call the symbolic suggestion of the circumstances of the hour. I count it a symbolic suggestion that there is represented to-day in this assembly that only union that can be between the Church and State in this great country; for this country believes in the side-bv-sideness of the temporal and spiritual rulers, so that there will be no intrusion of State upon Church and Church upon State, except in the perpetual and prevailing powers of the prayers for the State.

I ask you to think again of this suggestive symbolism. It is called a Peace Cross. You know you used to hear in the old days of men who made a truce and called it a peace, but mere material prosperity does not constitute true peace. I maintain that it is not an inconsistent thing to put together these two words, the peace and the cross. They belong together in the maintenance and the intimate coherence and ascendency of Christian truth. This stands as the cross of him who is our peace, in the first place, for the redemption of humanity. It stands for that great strife that is going on in all the world between the power of good and evil, not merely of flesh and blood, but the struggle also of the spiritual powers and principalities with the rulers of wickedness. It stands for that incessant battle that is going on in every soul between the higher and the lower nature. But there is no peace until the better nature stands, as in the great statue of St. Michael, the archangel, with Satan under his feet. We say peace has its victories, as well as war. Let us say rather that there is no victory except in concord and peace. Any other is a presentation of Christianity which talks to profane and superficial men of the passing feelings instead of the vigorous faith. Stagnant humanity clothes itself in the purple and fine linen of materialism and mammon worship. Why, I am sure that there is no inconsistency and no contradiction, but absolute harmony, in the use of the words peace and cross. The peace comes through the pardon that the cross procures.

My dear brother, we stand by you and behind you today. We glory in this sacred enterprise, and, as all the States of the Union have put their stones into that beautiful obelisk which lifts its majestic head above the capital city and the nation, so I believe all the dioceses of our Church may send a stone to build the cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul. As bishop of the capital city of the Empire State, I speak to the bishop of the capital city of the nation, a nation which we dare not call imperial, but which, nevertheless, is a nation, every one of whose subjects is a sovereign. In speaking to the bishop of the capital city, I venture to pledge a pillar from the Diocese of Albany for this cathedral, and shall tender the love and the loyalty of the people of Albany to the cathedral. May God bless your purpose and your prayers, and may God give to all nations unity, peace, and concord.

The Gloria in Excelsis was sung to the old setting, well understanded of the people; and then, after the Thanksgiving for Victory, the Prayer for the President, the Prayer for Congress (the Prayer for the Unity of God’s People and that for Missions had been earlier said), the people were let depart with the Blessing of Peace.

Let depart! This they seemed to be in no hurry to do. Some were lingering to examine more closely the cross and to read its inscriptions; some to take in the whole beauty of the scene — the distant city, monument, and capitol; the fringe of woodland, rich background for the great white cross; the pretty chapel among the trees; over all, the blue sky of a perfect day. An atmosphere steeped in sunshine was excuse enough for lingering on the hillside. A more prosaic reason was that when the other people had gone, we prudent loiterers would have more room on the cars that were to take us into town.

I have neglected to say that “America” was sung in a way that befitted so illustrious an occasion, an occasion national, I venture to think, in its interest. Few States or Territories were unrepresented in the great assembly that took part in the first service on the site of the cathedral of Washington. Who can foregather what representation there will be when the topmost stone shall be brought, or the majestic fane be consecrated to the worship of the God of nations? May the “Peace Cross,” its first-erected stone, be a symbol and an omen of what the growing, the completed cathedral shall be to them that dwell under its shadow, or bless its wider-spread influence, its work for “him who died upon a cross of tree.”

The Peace Cross, a 20-foot-tall monument, still stands just Southwest of Washington National Cathedral. Commemorating the truce that ended the Spanish-American War, it was the first monument erected in association with the cathedral, whose construction would formally begin on September 29, 1907, when its cornerstone was formally laid in a ceremony featuring an address by President Theodore Roosevelt, McKinley’s successor.


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