Cathedral History

Centennial of Bethlehem Chapel Cornerstone

All Saints’ Day, November 1, 2010, marks 100 years for crypt chapel.

Satterlee II

Washington National Cathedral commemorates a century since laying the cornerstone for its Bethlehem Chapel. With two other below-ground chapels dedicated named for Joseph of Arimathea (who gave his tomb for Jesus’ burial) and for the Resurrection, Bethlehem Chapel contributes to the Cathedral’s symbolic and literal foundation. The cornerstone service was originally held on All Saints Day (November 1) 1910, three years after ground had already been broken for the Cathedral itself. View 1910 service program

Bethlehem Chapel lies directly below the high altar at the east end of the Cathedral’s nave. It holds the alabaster tomb of Bishop Henry Yates Satterlee (1843–1908), who laid the Cathedral’s main cornerstone in 1907. His grandson, Henry Yates Satterlee II, used the same trowel to lay the Bethlehem stone in 1910. Bishop Alfred Harding, Satterlee’s successor, presided.

Charles Henry Brent, missionary bishop of the Philippines, delivered a sermon on the occasion. “This Christian temple will serve to promote a real Christian unity,” he declared. “I would willingly sacrifice all small points of Episcopalian doctrine to bring about this consummation. We Episcopalians have many insularities and prejudices which we might as well view dispassionately. They are no essential points of creed; they merely seem so. In days to come there will be a truly catholic church, when all differences of the past will be forgotten and there will be a broad and true religious spirit.”

Between 3,000 and 5,000 people took part in the cornerstone liturgy, held in a natural amphitheater produced by excavations to begin the chapel. A flooring of autumn leaves provided decoration, along with potted palms and flowers. A choir of 100 boys and men from St. Alban’s, St. Mark’s, and St. Paul’s churches—and the future Cathedral—provided music, along with buglers and cornetists from the U.S. Marine Band.

The following items were placed within the cornerstone:

  • a $5 gold piece, given by Mrs. Satterlee ($113.69 in 2009 dollars, with $2,705.82 purchasing power)
  • a brown stone cross from the old East building in New York Seminary where Bishop Satterlee was once a student
  • copies of the “Washington Diocese Journal” for 1910, the program leaflet, and the Washington Post for November 1, 1910
  • a picture of Bishop Satterlee, along with his Cathedral Builders’ Book
  • a piece of the granite foundation stone from the Cathedral of New York City
  • a piece of the old mulberry tree under which Leonard Calvert stood when making a treaty with Native Americans in Maryland
  • a Roman tile from old Southwark Cathedral in England to commemorate Bishop Satterlee’s close friendship with Bishop Talbot of Southwark
  • no Bible or Prayer Book, “for the reason that they were placed in the cornerstone of the Cathedral three years [earlier]”

The chapel was completed by 1912, two years after its cornerstone was laid, at a cost of $200,000. As the first portion of Washington National Cathedral to be completed, it served for many years as the Cathedral’s only indoor worship space.

Learn more

Take a 3-D virtual tour of Bethlehem Chapel »

Explore the chapel in this narrated video »

View photographs in a electronic photo gallery »

Take a theological look at the foundation stone in a video meditation »

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