National Cathedral suffers `significant damage' in quake

August 23, 2011

(RNS) The earthquake that rumbled up the East Coast from Virginia on
Tuesday (Aug. 23) "significantly damaged" the central tower of
Washington National Cathedral, shaking carved stone finials from atop
the iconic church.

The quake also left cracks in the flying buttresses that support the
cathedral, an Episcopal church that serves as a religious focal point
for the country and a "house of prayer for all people."

Cathedral spokesman Richard Weinberg said there were about 200
people, staff and tourists in the cathedral and adjoining offices when
the 5.9 magnitude quake struck at 1:51 pm, but no one was injured.

"There's been significant damage to the central tower," Weinberg
said. "In addition, the finial stones have fallen off three of the four
(corner spires) entirely." 

The ornate finials are the crowning pieces atop the central tower,
which was completed in the 1960s and restored in the 1990s after
repeated lightning strikes.

Weinberg said there was minor damage to other decorative elements,
and said some may be in danger of falling. Engineers found cracks in the
flying buttresses that support the oldest part of the building, but the
supports on the central tower "seem to be sound."

No damage was reported to the cathedral's stained glass windows.

The cathedral will remain closed while engineers assess the damage,
Weinberg said, and he encouraged supporters to donate through the
church's website. "We will be working to fix the damage and raise the
funds necessary."

Weinberg said the cathedral had only suffered minor damage from
lightning in the past, and nothing on the scale of Tuesday's quake.

Formally known as the Church of Saint Peter and Paul, the National
Cathedral was erected under a charter passed by Congress in 1893, but it
receives no support from the federal government.

Completed in 1990, it is the sixth largest cathedral in the world
and the second largest in the United States.