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St. Paul’s Richmond to rededicate Lee and Davis windows with new meaning

St. Paul’s Richmond to rededicate Lee and Davis windows with new meaning

St. Paul’s Richmond, once known as the Cathedral of the Confederacy, is removing or rededicating all remaining Confederate memorials. The decision came in a June the 14th meeting of the vestry. In 2015 the church removed all memorials depicting the Confederate battle flag. St. Paul’s is adjacent to the State House. Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee attended church there during the Civil War.

To be rededicated, not removed, are three large stain-glassed windows, two that are memorials to Robert E. Lee and one that is a memorial to Jefferson Davis.

The City of Richmond, under an emergency order by the mayor, in recent weeks removed memorials to Jefferson Davis, J.E.B. Stuart, Stonewall Jackson and several other Confederate memorials on city-owned property. There is a court injunction against the governor’s order to remove the Lee Monument on state-owned property. Richmond has been the site of continued protests this summer against racial injustice.

The memorials in the city, and in St. Paul’s, were part of a Jim Crow-era campaign lead by groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy to frame the Lost Cause as a noble cause rather than a cause to preserve chattel slaves of blacks.

The three windows in the St. Paul’s sanctuary are allegorical representations that served Lost Cause tropes. One, dedicated to Lee, shows a young Moses rejecting Pharoah’s offer of power and wealth, just as Lee rejected high command in the Union Army in order to take command of the Army of Virginia. Another shows Paul in bondage with the text, “this man doeth not deserve death or bondage” — a reference to the imprisonment of Jefferson Davis.

The congregation is in a period of discernment around what rededication of the Lee and Davis windows means. The goal is to give the windows new meanings relevant to how the church sees itself today, a church that can become a place of reconciliation.

Allowing for the complications presented by the pandemic, more specifics are expected in the coming months.

See also this page on the History & Reconciliation Initiative at St. Paul’s.

ENS originally reported on this story last week.

Several school districts in Virginia have heeded or are considering the governor’s call to rename schools named for Confederate icons or leaders of Massive Resistance to school integration.

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Fr. Bill Burk

During the first phase of "monument mania," I was in favor of leaving the monuments where they were and erecting mirror monuments to tell the whole story. This would become a 'walk of history' through which (down Monument Ave.) one would also read historic markers explaining the racial conditions in which the original monuments were raised. Sadly, I do not believe this is appropriate in the case of these windows. Moving them to an undercroft museum or a room dedicated to education and learning would be appropriate, leaving them in the sanctuary is not. Such a sad and egregious use of the biblical witness is a component of our faith walk, but to leave them as prominent icons in the Church, I believe, is a contradiction and a distraction.

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Cynthia Katsarelis

I don't really think those windows are redeemable without significant alterations. How do you redeem Jeff Davis with the words “this man doeth not deserve death or bondage” without removing Jeff Davis and replacing him with someone more appropriate? Most of us have moved on and see those things for the appalling symbols that the are, representing white supremacy that continues to this day.

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James Pratt

Do the windows actually depict Lee and Davis, or are there only dedicatory incriptions? If the latter, I think rededication is a way to preserve the art and use it for education. What if the St Paul window were rededicated to all those wrongfully convicted and/or wrongfully sentenced to death? The act of rededication, in a public ceremony, would be a powerful public witness, as well as a reminder that the interpretation of Scripture is not static, but constantly subject to re-examination. Sometimes we need to remember the past mis-use of Scripture.

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Steven Wilson

Actually, I can see how a careful reconstruction of the dedication, including removal of the individual names, might be a powerful reminder that Christians are called to reject the siren song of power and applause, even at cost to themselves. We all know that, for a generation, there will be people who remember and secretly long for the "old meaning." But in 50 years, no one other than historians will see anything other than exhortations to follow your conscience no matter the cost. Kids with wandering attention during over-long sermons won't see Lee and Davis, but Moses and Paul.

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