The Foundation Stone: Henry Yates Satterlee and the Creation of the Washington National Cathedral

By Williams, Peter W. | Anglican and Episcopal History, September 2008 | Go to article overview

The Foundation Stone: Henry Yates Satterlee and the Creation of the Washington National Cathedral


Williams, Peter W., Anglican and Episcopal History


The Foundation Stone: Henry Yates Satterlee and the Creation of the Washington National Cathedral. By Richard Greening Hewlett. (Rockville, Maryland: Montrose Press, 2007, Pp. xi, 199. $19.95.)

The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., is one of the most prominent outward and visible signs of the Anglican presence in the United States. Although the cathedral is well known both as a unified entity and as the sum of some remarkable parts-the Space Window, Woodrow Wilson's tomb-its origins are not always well known either to casual visitors or to scholars of Anglicanism. Richard Hewlett's biography of the cathedral's most seminal planner, Henry Yates Satterlee-who was also the first bishop of the Diocese of Washington, D.C.-is a significant contribution not only to the history of the cathedral but also to our understanding of the role of the Episcopal Church in the Progressive Era of American history.

Hewlett's book is really a "twofer." A scholarly biography of Satterlee, based on the extensive documentation which Hewlett curates as the cathedral's archivist and historiographer, is wrapped around Satterlee's own "Private Record," which constitutes chapter five of this brief and accessible work. The stories of Satterlee and the cathedral become inextricably intertwined after the former is named bishop, with the plans for a cathedral already under way among the clergy of the newly created diocese. Previously Satterlee, who came from a prominent but not vastly wealthy New York family, had served as rector in a small upstate community and then at Manhattan's Calvary Church. In both roles he dedicated himself to turning his parish into an agency of communal transformation. Influenced by the Anglo-Catholic movement in England and theologians such as Charles Gore, he eschewed terms such as "the Social Gospel" and "institutional church" as too sociological, insisting instead that the parish was a sacramental community that combined secular with spiritual transformation. …

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