Thursday, July 31: Yesterday, FedEx delivered my papers from the university in China where I’ll be working, so after my class today I head downtown to the Chinese Embassy’s visa office on Wisconsin Avenue. The process seems pretty straightforward. I have to return next Wednesday, August 6, to pick up my passport with my visa in it. It looks like I’ll be on my way before too long.
As there’s nothing else to do at this point but wait, and as I’m already downtown, I go to visit Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral. It’s another on my list of places to photograph in D.C., and it’s not far from the visa office, so I show up on the doorstep of the Cathedral only to find all the doors locked.
According to the Cathedral’s website, each of the transliterated Greek words which make up the name, Haghia and Sophia, has two meanings: the former means “holy” and “saint” (like, the Latin sancta), while the latter means “wisdom” and is also a female name. Probably through the Germanized Latin rendering of the name of the Cathedral in Constantinople, Sankta Sophia, Saint Sophia came to be accepted in English. However, Greek name means Holy Wisdom, for the cathedral is dedicated to Jesus Christ, who is the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24), and not to a saint named Sophia. The word Saint is by custom always spelled out in the name.
On the facade, surmounting an arch which embraces the three main entrance doors, is found in relief the two-headed eagle which expresses the unity of the Byzantine State and the Church. The early Byzantines felt that the Church would baptize the whole spirit and organization of society and the Emperor would provide for the physical welfare of the people as the vicar of God on Earth.
Around the side of the Cathedral, I find a doorbell and ring it. As I’m about to give up and leave, a man appears from around a corner. I tell him I’m a photographer and have heard the Cathedral is a beautiful place to photograph. He’s happy to take me in and show me around.
It’s quite dark inside, and he offers to turn on the lights, but he can’t get the light switch to work. I take some pictures in the dark. Finally, he comes out from a room where he’s been flipping switches and tells me he can’t get the lights to come on. They have trouble with them periodically, apparently. I tell him not to worry; I’ll just come back another day.
The architectural style of the Cathedral is Byzantine, with the typical central dome about 80 feet high symbolizing Jesus Christ as head of the Church.
This parish was established in 1904 by newly arrived Greek immigrants. After worshiping in rented or makeshift quarters, the community built its own church at 8th and L Streets, N.W. It was completed and dedicated in 1924, remaining there until moving to this site, which was purchased in 1943. Ground breaking and foundation stone laying occurred on September 25, 1951.
The building, designed by architect Archie Protopapas of New York City was ready for occupancy on February 19, 1955. The first service was celebrated on February 20, 1955. The cornerstone was laid by President Dwight D. Eisenhower with His Eminence Michael, Archbishop of North and South America, officiating on September 30. 1956. Saint Sophia was elevated to the status of a cathedral on September 24, 1962.
I hope I’ll be able to get back to take better pictures another time, but I don’t know if I’ll make it before I leave. There’s always next year!