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  • Author: Nathan Heavers x
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Marking Sacred Ground through Imported Trees and Medieval European Sculpture at the Washington National Cathedral


The landscape of the Washington National Cathedral contains a variety of sacred objects imported from Europe and Asia. They include stone sculptures and living flora. Many of the stone objects came from the collection of George Grey Barnard, an American sculptor, trained in Paris, who travelled Europe in the early 20th century purchasing medieval antiquities (Weinberger, 1941). How do we understand these displaced pieces incorporated into this new context? On the one hand, their use in the landscape brings it significance, a physical and tangible connection to the roots of Christianity. On the other hand, they remind us of the relative youth of this sacred landscape and the question of what makes places sacred. Is a place sacred because of something inherent to it or do we mark ordinary ground with significant objects to sanctify it? Largely, the Washington National Cathedral landscape seems to demonstrate the latter approach. Imported objects mark and validate the sacredness of the site from medieval stone archways to significant pairs of trees.

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