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The National Cathedral takes center place in the Bush state funeral

The National Cathedral takes center place in the Bush state funeral
A final ride on the funeral train will end the multi-day, multi-state memorable event

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
December 5, 2018

Ever since former President George HW Bush died Friday, November 30, long held state funeral plans were launched, which includes a presidential funeral service at the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Washington. The Episcopal cathedral, better known as the National Cathedral, has since its construction played a huge role in the mixing of politics and religion -- church and state -- in the nation's capital. It is at the National Cathedral, perched upon Mount Saint Albans -- the highest point in Washington -- that the Constitutional right of "freedom of religion" is practiced, as opposed to heeding the clarion call of "freedom from religion."

A national cathedral was first the gleam in the eye of Washington's master architect, Pierre L'Enfant. In 1792, L'Enfant envisioned a "great church for national purposes." Initially, land was set aside for such a structure, but eventually the National Portrait Gallery was built on that site.

For nearly a century, L'Enfant's hope and dream for a "great church for national purposes" languished. Plans for such an endeavor were again sparked in 1891, but it was not until 1893 that the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation of the District of Columbia was granted a charter from the 52nd Congress to establish the cathedral in the fulfillment of L'Enfant's dream for a national church for his "Federal City." A governmental city was specifically designed as the permanent seat of the Government of the United States. Within that city would be a "church intended for national purposes ... assigned to the special use of no particular sect or denomination, but equally open to all."

Construction began Sept. 29, 1907 and President Theodore Roosevelt was present when the foundation stone was laid. Then, 83 years later to the day, on Sept 29, 1990, President George HW Bush was present when the last decorative finial was placed to mark the formal completion of the cathedral. Then 28 years later, Bush-41 was returned to the cathedral for his state funeral, based upon the 1979 Book of Common Prayer burial office. His is only the fourth full president state funeral held at the National Cathedral.

Cathedral funeral rites

Full state funerals were also held for presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower (1969); Ronald Reagan (2004); and Gerald Ford (2007). Memorial funeral services were held for presidents Warren G. Harding (1923); William Taft (1930); Calvin Coolidge (1933); Harry S Truman (1973); and Richard Nixon (1994). President Woodrow Wilson was interred in Bethlehem Chapel in 1924. He is the only American president interred at the National Cathedral. The only other presidents to be buried inside of a church are the presidents Adams -- John and John Quincy. Both Adams-2 and Adams-6 and their respective first ladies -- Abigail and Louisa -- are interred at United First Parish Church, a Unitarian Universalist Church, in Quincy, Massachusetts.

More than 200 people are interred at the National Cathedral, including: Admiral George Dewey (1917); church architect Henry Vaughan (1917); Secretary of State Frank Kellogg (1937); Diplomat Thomas Wasson (1948); First Lady Edith Wilson (1961); Helen Keller (1968); church music composer Leo Sowerby (1968); Cathedral architect Philip Frohman (1972); Senator Mike Monroney -- D-OK (1980); Secretary of the Treasury John W. Snyder (1985); National Cathedral Dean Francis Sayre (2008); and most recently, homosexual Matthew Shephard. Bishops Vickey Gene Robinson (IX New Hampshire) and Marianne Budde (IX Washington) jointly officiated at the October reinternment rite.

Episcopal bishops interrned at the National Cathedral include: Thomas Claggett (I Maryland -- reinterred 1989); Henry Satterlee (I Washington -- 1908); Alfred Harding (II Washington -- 1923); Angus Dun (IV Washington -- 1971); William Creighton (V Washington -- 1987); and John Walker (VI Washington -- 1989).

Although they were not buried at the National Cathedral, funeral services were held for: Secretary of Commerce Ronald Brown (1996); Admiral Jeremy Boorda (1996); Ambassador Pamela Harriman (1997); Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham (2001); Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson (2012); Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI -- 2012); and Senator John McCain (R-AZ -- 2018).

Notable memorial services have been held for: King George VI (1952); First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (1962); Martin Luther King (1968); the victims of the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (1998); the victims of 9/11 (2001); the members of Space Shuttle Columbia (2003); Astronaut Neil Armstrong (2012); the victims of the Sandy Hook School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut (2012); and South Africa President Nelson Mandela (2014).

Martin Luther King preached his final Sunday sermon on March 31, 1968, at the National Cathedral. He was assassinated four days later, April 4th in Memphis, Tennessee. Others who have preached from the National Cathedral's "Canterbury Pulpit" have included: Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1995; Billy Graham, who preached following 9/11/2001 attacks; the Dalai Lama (2003); and Cameron Partridge, the Episcopal Church's first transgendered priest -- transmale Katherine "Cameron" Partridge -- 10 years after "his" transformation in 2014.

National prayer services

The National Cathedral is a house of prayer and in a time of national crisis, the Cathedral throws open its doors for prayer. In 1934, "Supplication for the Peace of the World" was held; during World War II (1941-1945), interfaith services were held throughout the war years "On Behalf of a United People in Time of National Emergency;" in 1973, Leonard Bernstein conducted the National Symphony in Haydn's Mass in Time of War at the Cathedral, praying for peace in Vietnam; in 1979,
a prayer service for the Iranian hostages was held, than a service of thanksgiving was held in 1981 following their release; in 1987, American and Russian churchmen held a four-day vigil in preparation for the Reagan-Gorbachev Summit; in 1991, an interfaith peace service and candle light march was held, seeking peace in Iraq in Gulf War I and in 2003 another service seeking peace in Iraq on the eve of Gulf War II; in 2005, there was a national day of prayer for the victims of Hurricane Katrina; "Strength Through Unity" service for the victims, families, and survivors of the earthquake in Haiti was held in 2010; and the Cathedral opened its doors to Muslim Friday prayers (2014).

Washington National Cathedral is considered a house of prayer for all people and a spiritual home for the nation. As a national church, it is dedicated to serving the country and its many faith traditions.

However, the National Cathedral has turned more and more political and liberal through embracing the culture in an attempt to be expansive and inclusive. It hosted its first same-sex wedding in 2010 and then joyfully pealed its bells for one hour in 2013 in celebration of the Supreme Court striking down DOMA -- the Defense of Marriage Act. It also pealed its bells in 2014 to mark the 50th anniversary of its bells. Then, last month the bells again were pealed to mark the centennial of the 1918 Armistice ending World War I.

Flying buttresses and vaulted ceilings

The Neo-Gothic style church features pointed arches, flying buttresses, ceiling vaultings, 215 stained-glass windows, 112 gargoyles, and transepts. With a foot print of 7,712 square meters, it is only 163 square meters smaller than St. Paul's Cathedral in London, England. St. John the Divine in New York City is the largest Anglican cathedral in the world, with a footprint of 11,200 square meters. Construction on St. John's started in 1892 and is still ongoing. St. Paul's Basilica at the Vatican is the largest church in the world, with an internal footprint of 15,160 square meters. The home church to the world's 1.3 billion Catholics was started in the early 1500s.

On Aug. 23, 2011, a 5.8 earthquake centered near Mineral, Virginia, shook the National Cathedral, which was 95 miles away from the epicenter and caused damage to flying buttresses, pinnacles and gargoyles. Since the Cathedral had no earthquake insurance, nor receives any funding from the federal government or the national Episcopal Church, the Cathedral has to shoulder the full $25 million cost to repair the structure. At present, the Cathedral is seeking funds and grants and endowments to help cover the repair costs. Initially, it cost $65 million to build the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

Officially the National Cathedral is the seat for Michael Curry, the XXVII Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, even though his formal offices are in New York City. It is also the official seat for Marianne Budde, the IX Bishop of Washington. Both the Presiding Bishop and the Bishop of Washington are involved in the presidential funeral.

However, neither the national church nor the diocese chip in to help financially support the Cathedral and its national ministries. The Cathedral depends on private donations, gifts and revenue raised through its gift shop and tours.

The intersection of sacred & civic life

Through the years, the National Cathedral has been a place of prayer for the nation, a sacred place where politics and faith intertwine and hold hands. As early as 1898, President William McKinley attended the dedication of the Peace Cross on the Cathedral Close to mark the end of the three-month Spanish-American War. This happened two years after Bishop Satterlee chose Mount Saint Albans as the location to build the Episcopal cathedral and nine years before the construction of the edifice was started. In 1907, the Bishop of London, Arthur Winnington-Ingram, joined President Roosevelt for the laying of the foundation stone. Five years later, Bethlehem Chapel -- the first of nine chapels -- was opened and formal prayer was started at the Cathedral.

President Woodrow Wilson showed up in 1918, giving thanks for the end of the Great War (World War I -- 1914-1918). In 1921, President Warren G. Harding and the 34 delegates of the Washington Conference on Limitation of Armaments attended a special Way of Peace service at the Cathedral. Seven years later, President Calvin Coolidge opened the XLIX Episcopal General Convention at the Cathedral. It was the second time and last time that General Convention met in Washington, DC. The first time was in 1898 when the XXXIX General Convention met before the first spade of dirt was turned to build the National Cathedral.

In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended a post inaugural national prayer service in honor of his second inauguration. Other presidents doing the same thing include: Ronald Reagan (1985); George HW Bush (1989); George W. Bush (2001 & 2005); Barack Obama (2009 & 2013); and Donald Trump (2017).

In 1957, Queen Elizabeth II joined President Dwight Eisenhower in the War Memorial Chapel. She came again in 1976 to join President Gerald Ford for the dedication of the Cathedral's complete nave and the West Rose Window. But it is her son, Prince Charles, who crossed the ocean this week to attend President Bush's state funeral, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Prince of Wales' father, Prince Philip, represented the Queen in 1963 for John F. Kennedy's state funeral.

In Washington, DC, presidential state funerals have been held for: William Henry Harrison (1841); Zachary Taylor (1850); Abraham Lincoln (1865); James A. Garfield (1881); William McKinley (1901); Warren G. Harding (1923); William Howard Taft (1930); John F. Kennedy (1963);); Herbert Hoover (1964); Dwight D. Eisenhower (1969); Lyndon B. Johnson (1973); Ronald Reagan (2004); Gerald Ford (2007); and now George HW Bush.

Non-presidential state funerals were held for: Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (PA-R -- 1868); Five-star General John J. Pershing (1948); the Unknown Soldiers of World War II & the Korean War (1958); the Unknown Soldier of World War I (1921); Five-star General Douglas MacArthur (1964). President Eisenhower was also a World War II five-star general, but being a president, he received a full presidential state funeral.

The George Bush 41 locomotive

Following President Bush's National Cathedral funeral Wednesday (Dec. 5), he will be returned to Houston, Texas, for a funeral at his home church -- St. Martin's Episcopal Church on Thursday (Dec. 6). Bush was a huge fan of the Oak Ridge Boys, who have interrupted their Christmas tour to attend the Houston service and sing Amazing Grace for their presidential friend.

In addition to being a fan of the Oak Ridge Boys, the former president was also a fan of the railroad and would frequently travel by train while campaigning. The Union Pacific took note of that and in 2005, Union Pacific D70ACe diesel locomotive, dressed in Air Force One colors, was presented to the George Bush Presidential Library. When the President saw it, he exclaimed "Wow!" and asked if he could "take it for a spin."

How do you say "No" to a president, even a former president? So, after a quick crash course in train engineering, Bush took charge of the engineer's throttle of the 210-ton machine and drove the engine for two miles. Since then, the Union Pacific locomotive number 4141 has been kept in readiness for its debut as a presidential funeral train.

The Presidential Funeral Trains have a precedent. In 1865, Abraham Lincoln returned to Springfield, Illinois, on a funeral train. Twenty years later, Ulysses S. Grant was returned to New York City on a funeral train. In 1881, James Garfield died in Elberon, New Jersey and his body was returned to Washington, DC, on a funeral train. In 1901, William McKinley also died away from the District of Columbia, dying in Buffalo, New York and a funeral train returned him to the Washington. In 1923, Warren G. Harding died in San Francisco, California, and a train brought him across the continent for his state funeral.

When Franklin Roosevelt died in 1945, a train brought him back to Washington from Warm Springs, Georgia. Then following his private funeral at the White House, that same train took him to Hyde Park, New York, for burial.

The last time a presidential funeral train ran was in 1969 to bring Dwight D. Eisenhower back to Abilene, Kansas, following his funeral rites at the National Cathedral.

President Bush's funeral train ride will be short. It is less than 100 miles from Spring, Texas -- where the Union Pacific tracks run -- the College Station. The train will run through the back woods of the Brazos Valley, passing through such small bergs as Wellborn (population 100); Todd Mission (107 souls); and the near ghost town of Stoneham (12 people). Hufsmith is a neighborhood in Tomball and the larger cities along the special funeral train are Magnolia (1,300); Pinehurst (4,600) and the bustling metropolis of Navasota (7,500). This is where Camp Allen is located. The flag-draped casket will be so affixed and visible on the train, that all can see it as the train passes.

The last time people turned out to see a Union Pacific train was in 2004, during the XXXVIII Super Bowl in Houston. Union Pacific brought in its 4-6-6-4 Challenger steam engine, pegged the world's largest still-operating steam engine. The steamer, billowing black smoke and white steam, was a crowd pleaser as people lined the train tracks all the way from Houston to Omaha, Nebraska, to watch the train return to its home port. As a steamer, it had to stop frequently to take on fuel and water.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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