Friday, October 21, 2011

Cathedral Cataclysm

For those of you who scoffed at the earthquake that rocked the East Coast back in August, let me give you a little reality check. The Washington Monument is still closed. The National Cathedral, despite having hosted a high profile memorial service on September 11th, is also out of bounds to visitors with plans to reopen sometime in November. We're not talking Haiti here or even San Francisco. Much of the damage is only visible to the experts. But damage to the cathedral's Gothic pinnacles is (or I should say was because the repair work has progressed considerably since I took these pictures in early October) very much in evidence.

Although the technology is 21st century, I can't help conjuring up Ken Follett's Pillars of Earth with its vivid descriptions of how early Gothic cathedrals were built, the experimentation, and the tragedies that happened along the way.  I'm pretty sure that today's engineers have a better understanding of structural physics as well as more sophisticated technology to keep everything in place while the stone masons do their thing.  And yet, tinkering with a massive hunk of stone is not for the faint of heart.  Nor for the faint of pocket.  The repair bills are in the multi millions. 

Want to know more?  Check out this fascinating Washington Post feature on the damage and techniques for repair.  Really interesting even if you're not an engineer.


  1. I am sufficiently afraid of earthquakes that I could never scoff at one no matter how small.

  2. I'm not scoffing! The earthquake ended up doing more damage to our home in Annapolis than Hurricane Irene.

    And a bit off topic, but I just heard about another one for the structural engineers - Big Ben is leaning. It's minimal but the tilt is now visible to the naked eye.