Sharing the Memorials Registry: A 9/11 Memorial at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine

A firefighter in a formal FDNY outfit looks at a sculpture by Meredith Bergmann at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on the Upper West Side.
Meredith Bergmann's sculpture at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Sharing the Memorials Registry is a series devoted to highlighting the diverse ways in which individuals and communities commemorate the 9/11 victims through the creation of public memorials. Learn more at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum’s Memorials Registry, which tracks 9/11 Memorials throughout the world.

Having watched the Twin Towers collapse and smelled the lingering, rising smoke, sculptor Meredith Bergmann began an 18-inch model of a commemorative sculpture a few days after the attack. She told me that she wanted “to create an allegory to express the idea that America had woken up.”

Bergmann was invited to exhibit the small model at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in the Upper West Side neighborhood of New York City, on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

The dean of the cathedral and his staff were enthused about the artwork and told her they had some debris from the World Trade Center that she could incorporate. The debris had been kept under a tarp in the cathedral’s garden since 2001. When the cathedral commissioned a large version of the statue, Bergmann incorporated the rubble into the statue’s pedestal as a reliquary.

“The female nude represents New York City—young, strong and even tough,” Bergmann told Epoch Times. “There’s an element of motherhood, of the body absorbing threats. Her hands, with palms facing in, are in a gesture both of protection and of prayer.”

While sculpting, Bergmann was influenced by images ranging from St. Sebastian pierced by arrows to St. Francis receiving the stigmata because of "the way the two buildings were pierced and the way the city and the country experienced a dark epiphany,” she told The Columbia Spectator.

As Bergmann’s website explains:

"When New York was attacked I was shocked, horrified and very angry. I’d been thinking about the Houris, the virgins who were supposed to be waiting to greet and serve the terrorists in Paradise, and what a travesty that idea made of all that is truly feminine. I imagined them being greeted by this woman instead. I felt she should be absorbing and surviving the attack, wounded but alive…

"[The sculpture is] permanently installed on a pedestal with glass sides that holds fragments of the Twin Towers … I was able to draw on the long tradition of reliquaries–beautiful containers made of metal and crystal, often shaped like miniature buildings–that were crafted to preserve and exhibit pieces of the bodies or belongings of heroes or saints that could teach profound lessons, boost the power of prayers and sometimes work miracles. This reliquary pedestal is shaped like a building, too: The beveled corners and angled top are based on Minoru Yamasaki’s design for the World Trade [Center]. Inside are interconnected pieces of metal, concrete and wood from some kind of flooring or structural wall–and some shredded magenta fabric from some kind of lingerie, still bearing a label from Victoria’s Secret, size small. There was a Victoria’s Secret store on the World Trade Center concourse, and the garment may have lain there on a shelf when the whole building came down on it. For me, as a counterpoint to my sculpture, this shred is a terribly poignant reminder that so much that is intimate was exposed, so much that is life-affirming was killed, so much that is instinctive was attacked."

By Lester J. Levine

Lester J. Levine is the author of “9/11 Memorial Visions: Innovative Concepts from the 2003 World Trade Center Memorial Site Memorial Competition,” (McFarland, 2016). Visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museums Registries to learn more or to submit a memorial from your community.

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