Question by Christian Dugan:

 

My Lord, a cathedral is the principal church of a diocese in which the bishop has his seat (cathedra in Latin). In the light of this, I have a problem with what is being constructed in Ridge, Accra, and being called a National Cathedral. This Cathedral will not have a resident bishop like other cathedrals, for example, the Washington National Cathedral also called the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington.  This cathedral is the seat of the Episcopal bishop and it belongs to the American Episcopal Church, even though high state functions take place there.  In our own case, how will it be a national cathedral since it will not be the seat of anyone bishop but will rather be owned by a constellation of churches?

Answer:

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a cathedral as (1) a church that is the official seat of a diocesan bishop; (2) something that resembles or suggests a cathedral (as in size or importance), e.g., a cathedral of business, the sports cathedral. The word “cathedral” is derived from the Greek word kathedra, which became cathedra in Latin and “cathedral” in English.  The original Greek word referred to “the (raised) seat of the bishop”.  The cathedral church in every diocese is that church in which the bishop has his chair or seat.

What, then, is the National Cathedral of Ghana? According to its website, “The National Cathedral is a historic project that provides a sacred space and infrastructure for the formal religious activities of the nation, like state funerals and presidential inaugural services. It is this national character that distinguishes it from the other Cathedrals in the country”.  At the unveiling of the National Cathedral Designs on 6 March 2018, the President of the Republic of Ghana, His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, whose brainchild the National Cathedral is, stated that the National Cathedral represents a sacred space for the nation. The Cathedral, thus, addresses a missing link in our national architecture, i.e. church for national purposes. It will be an interdenominational house of worship and prayer and will serve as the venue for formal state occasions of a religious nature, such as the inauguration of Presidents, state funerals, national thanksgiving services, amongst others. The National Cathedral will be a unifying monument around which to elevate shared conversations on faith and on national transformation. It will also serve as a rallying platform to promote deep national conversations on how, collectively, we can build the progressive and prosperous Ghana we desire.

The Executive Secretary to the Board of the National Cathedral, Rev. Victor Kusi Boateng, in a statement made on Thursday, 23 December 2021, made it known that this Cathedral, when completed, is also going to be a burial place for all ex-presidents and important personalities when they die.  He explained that the project, which is going to be the biggest Bible Museum in the world, will serve a number of purposes.  He said that it is also going to be the biggest Biblical museum in the world to be called the African Museum of the Bible.  According to him, it is envisaged that the National Cathedral of Ghana will also be a religious tourism centre.

How will the National Cathedral of Ghana compare with others, for example, the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington, commonly known as the Washington National Cathedral? This is an American cathedral of the Episcopal Church, located in Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States. From its earliest days, the cathedral has been promoted as more than simply an Episcopal cathedral. Planners hoped it would play a role similar to Westminster Abbey in the United Kingdom. They wanted it to be a national shrine and a venue for great services. For much of the cathedral’s history, this was captured in the phrase “a house of prayer for all people”. In more recent times, the phrases “national house of prayer” and “spiritual home for the nation” have been used. The cathedral has achieved this status simply by offering itself and being accepted by religious and political leaders as playing this role. Contrary to popular misconception, the United States government has not designated the Washington National Cathedral as a national house of prayer.

From the foregoing, we can say that the Washington National Cathedral is a national cathedral.  It was not built as one but it has attained a national character over time.  It is a cathedral in the original sense of the word, i.e. a church that is the official seat of a diocesan bishop, in this case, the Cathedral of a bishop of the Episcopal Church.

In discussing national cathedrals and national houses of prayer, we may mention the magnificent and world-famous Westminster Abbey which is not a cathedral but is England’s most important church and has a national character. The building itself was originally a Catholic Benedictine monastic church until the monastery was dissolved in 1539.  Between 1540 and 1556, the abbey had the status of a cathedral and seat of the Catholic bishop. After 1560 the building was no longer an abbey or a cathedral after the Catholics had been driven out by King Henry VIII, having instead been granted the status of a Church of England “Royal Peculiar” –  a church responsible directly to the sovereign –  by Queen Elizabeth I. It was re-founded as the Collegiate Church of St. Peter in Westminster by Queen Elizabeth I in 1560.

Since the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066, every British sovereign has been crowned in the Abbey except Edward V and Edward VIII, neither of whom was crowned. Additionally, Westminster Abbey has a long tradition of royal weddings, beginning with Henry I’s marriage to Matilda of Scotland in 1100. It was in the Abbey that on 2 June 1953 Queen Elizabeth II was crowned. The abbey was also the venue for the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011. The Abbey has not only been the setting for Coronations, it has also witnessed numerous other royal occasions such as state weddings and funerals, including the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997.

The National Cathedral of Ghana will not be the seat of a bishop like the one in Washington.  It will be like the Westminster Abbey which is technically not a national cathedral but has attained the status of one. In like manner, the National Cathedral of Ghana will play significant roles in our national life not only as “a sacred space for the nation” and a national house of prayer but also as the place where important national events will take place as mentioned above.  In performing such roles, this Church can be regarded in a loose or secondary sense as a national cathedral.  This will be in line with the second definition of “cathedral” offered above by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “something that resembles or suggests a cathedral (as in size or importance), e.g., a cathedral of business, the sports cathedral”.  In this case, it will be a Cathedral that will handle national business by providing a national space for prayer and other religious functions, the inauguration of Presidents, state funerals and national thanksgiving services.  If business and sports, which are secular activities, merit to be associated with the concept of “cathedral”, the various activities that will take place in the National Cathedral of Ghana, some of which will be religious, qualify it to be called a cathedral in the secondary sense of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition of a cathedral.

For further explanations or enquiries, you may contact the author, Most Rev. Joseph Osei-Bonsu, Catholic Bishop of Konongo-Mampong, on this number: 0244488904, or on WhatsApp (with the same number).  Email: [email protected]