The Proposed Memorial to General Robert Edward Lee in the Washington Cathedral

Note: The following is taken from the July 1949 issue of The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (volume 57, pp. 301–6), and used by persmission of the Virginia Historical Society.

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As the Washington Cathedral goes forward in building, it promises to become truly a national shrine. In an era of short term planning, its spires stand out on the skyline of Washington City comparable to the dome of the Capitol and the Washington Monument—a building for the ages. The type of construction set up by the architects ensures that the edifice shall endure for a thousand years to come. Indeed, engineering authorities say it is difficult to predict the disintegration of such a structure. In historical terms the prospect for this great church on Mount Saint Alban is that five hundred years from now it will be the Westminster Abbey of America.

When the ideas of honoring the great men of our nation and especially of memorializing our soldiers were introduced into the Cathedral plan, then the appeal to the American people became universal. In the Patriots’ transcept, the memorial to all men who have fought for this country, foot-soldier and chief-of-staff are to be honored all together. The records of the Cathedral make certain that no soldier’s service need go unappreciated.

To Washington, Wilson, Jefferson, and Madison great personal memorials have been erected already. Now the opportunity to erect a fitting memorial to Robert E. Lee here in this great sanctuary has been presented to the people of the South. By whom else could this work be so significantly or lovingly done? Where else could it be so advantageously placed as here, in the city now not only the capital of the United States, but of the world—a mecca for the footsteps of posterity—here where thousands go who will never cross the Potomac to see the South’s veneration of Lee as evidenced at Stratford and Lexington?

To Lee—a great soldier to be placed in his proper rank among soldiers, a great patriot to represent his native state and the Confederate States of America in their proper perspective in the nation’s history, a great churchman to have fitting recognition in his chosen church&8212;this memorial of memorials catches the interest and imagination of all true Southerners everywhere.

The proposed memorial is to be one of the niches of the outer wall of the Cathedral—a generously proportioned, self-contained unit. The physical dimensions—such as serve for a small chapel—are commensurate with the great significance of the memorial. The approximate measurements are twelve feet from side to side, fourteen feet from front to back, twenty feet from marble floor to vaulted stone ceiling. Containing four vaulted arches, a completely vaulted ceiling, and a stained glass window, the niche is made up of the most beautiful component parts of cathedral art and architecture.

The newly assigned location on the south aisle of the great nave gives the Lee Niche a prominent place near the center of the church where thousands pass each week. This portion of the building is to be the next bay put under construction. With foundations already finished, this location has the great charm of promise of completion while those who are to give the inspiration and endowmentm ay see the realization of their plan.

Even as the eye is the window of the heart, so is the niche the organ of that muted light which is the atmosphere of cathedrals. The double lancet window of the Lee Niche, lit by the southern sun through all the daylight hours, will look out over the Bishop’s Garden on the brow of Mount Saint Alban toward the Potomac and Arlington. The design stained upon the windows will be based upon the life of General Lee. The measurements of the glass will be approximatelyfo ur feet in width by five in height.

Into the base stone on the wall below the window will be carved an inscription acceptable to the Lee Memorial Committee and the Cathedral authorities. Lighting will be provided to show these words to the greatest advantage. Executed with the consummates kill of the stone-cutter’s art seen throughout every detail of the Cathedral, this carving will add artistic interest to the niche as well as declare its meaning and purpose.

It can be literally said of this memorial that those who honor their country’s patriots, in so doing perpetuate themselves in the memory of posterity. Of few other memorials can it be said that without being lost in the total endowment, each contribution will stand on its own identity. The great Cathedral book, planned to carry the names of all donors, will give evidence to future generations as to whom this memorial to our great Confederate is from. The records of this book will contain not only the names of the contributors but will also memorialize the Confederate soldier and World War soldier whom the donor wishes to honor. Should a person wish to include two or more sons or friends or relatives of Confederate ancestry, additional contributions may be made. This book should compose in its rolls a great body of patriotic Confederates—past, present, and future.

The book is to be placed in the niche, attached to a suitable table, and provided with adequate lighting. The paper and binding are to be of material to withstand time and use. The illumination and script of this book will be of such beauty, significance, and legibility as to comport with its timeless importance. With every consideration being made to insure its lasting qualities, the replacement of this volume, when that need arises, will be provided for in the permanent endowment set aside for the maintenance of the niche.

For two decades the United Daughters of the Confederacy have been considering this great Confederate memorial—that here, where the nation’s heroes are to be honored side by side, the patriotism of the Confederacy shall have recognition. No boy from either side of the line must ever stand in this great gathering of soldiers and wonder at the absence of a Southern hero. One must be there lest the question be: were the men who wore the Gray really patriots; did they fight for their country to keep it the way their forebears founded it? They were and they did; and, for their sake, their beloved leader must have place where the great spirits of our nation’s history are to be enshrined.

As long as eighteen years ago the U.D.C. was looking toward this project. Accordingt o the minutes of the thirty-fifth annual convention of the Texas Division at Lubbock, October 1931, Mrs. Oscar Barhold, past president of the Division, recommended that “a fitting memorial to General Lee be placed in the Washington Cathedral.” So well was the recommendation received that Mrs. C. C. Cameron, also a past president of the Division, moved that Mrs. Barthold be given a rising vote of thanks for bringing the proposal to the convention.

However, it was the opinion of the General Convention, meeting in Jacksonville, Florida, in November 1931, that until the projects in hand were completed, this great undertaking should be held in mind as a future memorial.

The Proposed Memorial to General Lee in the Washington Cathedral

At Jackson, Mississippi the 1946 General Convention of the Daughters of the Confederacy instructed Mrs. L. M. Bashinsky of Troy, Alabama, ex-president general of the society, to consult the authorities of the Washington Cathedral in regard to the placing of a bronze memorial plaque in the crypt honoring General Lee.

Canon Merritt F. Williams, now Dean of the Cathedral, replied to Mrs. Bashinsky’s inquiry saying that only a memorial commensurate with General Lee’s position among the nation’s great men would be acceptable to the Cathedral. In keeping with the memorial to Washington and Wilson, the Lee Niche was proposed.

The proposal was presented by Mrs. Bashinsky to the General Convention of the U.D.C. in Miami, Florida in 1947. The by-laws of the society provide that any appeal for more than five thousand dollars must be submitted to the states for ratification or rejection. This procedurew as to have been followed by a referendum to be taken in 1948.

At this General Convention—held in Savannah, November 1948—the referendum vote was taken defeating the Lee Memorial; but the project had not been submitted to all the states and the referendum could not be taken as an expression of the opinion of the general membership. Following this referendum,a recommendation was passed to extend the consideration of the memorial for one year, during which time the committee was instructed to make further studies, secure a more advantageous location for the niche, clarify and correct any objections, and report their new findings to the 1949 convention in New Orleans.

To finance this memorial $145,000 must be raised by January 1, 1955. In that time every U.D.C. chapter must collect an amount equal to one dollar and twenty-five cents for each of its members. That is, a chapter of one hundred members must contribute a total of one hundred and twenty-five dollars—as a minimum. With widespread interest outside the society, many contributions coming to the Chapters from individuals of Confederate ancestry who are not members themselves will serve to reduce the quota required for collection within the chapters.

The quota required of the Texas Division has been underwritten, thus guaranteeing its collection. Many cash donations have been received by Mrs. Bashinsky from Southern people in all parts of the country, evidencing their desire to be included in this great Confederate memorial.

The work of the Lee Memorial Committee for 1949 is to make certain that the information about this great project be carried to every person who could possibly want to be included. Today there are many people who still adhere to or are returning to the principles of government for which General Lee fought. They, recognizing historical justice, will want to help make certain that here in the Westminster Abbey of America a records hall be kept to show that those principles are still held to be tenable.

In England every tourist hears and sees the story of the Barons of Runnemede, who started the trend of government that has culminated in Britain’s present regime. However, little is seen or heard about the men—the greater lords of England—who stood with the king and lost the field on that momentous day in 1215. They, too, had principles. Seven hundred years ago those soldiers—victor and vanquished—were also concerned that, as in the terms of our Declaration of Independence, other men should understand and be sympathetic with their position, but the victor told the tale—in text and monument.

Today we must take our place in current affairs if we would be thought of down the centuries as having mattered in our day—or as having lived at all. To have a personal part in an undertaking that will further the building of our nation’s most timeless shrine, that will include many thousands of Southern people yet identify each one, and bear witness to our patriotism when “like our sires our sons are gone,” that is as nearly to touch immortality as any mortal can.

MRS. L. M. BASHINSKY, Chairman,
Troy, Alabama