Religion has played a significant role in American life throughout the country’s history. Many of America’s greatest leaders have been influenced by the teachings of the Bible, and biblical verses can be found in many of their speeches and quotes now preserved on DC’s monuments. In his book Myths in Stone: Religious Dimensions of Washington, D.C., Jeffery F. Meyer describes how “there is a religious message implicit in most of the buildings, memorials, art, and iconography of Washington that recalls the original conviction so often stated by the Founding Fathers, that the Almighty stood behind the American experiment.” During my internship at Museum of the Bible, I was tasked with researching these sites for the purpose of creating a Google map for guests that shows the biblical dimensions of Washington, DC.
My research took me throughout the city, from the Jefferson Memorial on the Potomac River to Union Station on the North Side of the Capitol building. On these monumental buildings it is possible to see numerous biblical inscriptions, each of which communicates something important. An instructive example of this is the Washington Monument. As visitors ride the elevator to the top of the monument, it slows down at occasional moments to showcase the many commemorative stones the builders placed into the monument’s walls. These stones presented an opportunity for individual citizens and groups to offer their own tributes to one of the most influential founders of their nation. Two of these stones include direct biblical quotations, the stone donated by the Sabbath School Children of the Methodist E. Church in Philadelphia (Luke 18:16 and Proverbs 22:6.) and the stone donated by the Methodist Episcopal Church Sunday School (Proverbs 10:7). These organizations found the perfect words for their tributes in the everlasting words of the Bible.
Figure 1: The Washington Monument. In addition to the two stones, there is also a Bible in the cornerstone and the aluminum cap bears the inscription, Laus Deo, "Praise God."
While the Washington Monument’s commemorative stones represent a fascinating picture of national religion at the time of its construction, it is an anomaly among DC’s monuments. Most DC monuments only include inscriptions that were chosen by the architect or planning commission. The Lincoln Memorial, for example, displays two of Lincoln’s quotes, each of which was chosen to remind the reader of Lincoln’s lasting influence on the country. One of these quotes comes from Lincoln’s second inaugural address and includes two direct Bible quotations, Matthew 18:7 and Psalm 19:9. In choosing this speech to be a part of the monument, its designers were acknowledging the role religion played in Lincoln’s life and policies, especially as it related to his understanding of the Civil War.
Figure 2: Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address inside the Lincoln Memorial. The Bible verses are highlighted.
The Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial are just two examples of how the Bible is memorialized in the city’s stone. There are many others. Using the map we have developed, we encourage you to explore the Bible’s presence in these and other monumental sites across Washington, DC, the next time you visit.
By Deanna Adams, Editorial Research Intern