After 12 years in limbo, Washington National Cathedral gargoyle now has its head back

By ENS Staff
Posted Aug 24, 2023

Washington National Cathedral lead stone mason Joe Alonso, in a photo from his Instagram account, holds the head of the gargoyle “Bat-like,” which was severed during the 2011 earthquake, in preparation for its reattachment on Aug. 23, 12 years after it was damaged.

[Episcopal News Service] Twelve years to the day after a Washington National Cathedral gargoyle’s head was detached from its body by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the Washington-D.C. area and damaged the cathedral and other area buildings, the two pieces were reunited on Aug. 23.

The earthquake caused extensive damage to the cathedral’s central tower, where pinnacles were toppled, falling inward onto the roof and not onto the ground, and finials on towers and parapets rotated in place.

The gargoyle was struck by debris falling from pinnacles above it, which severed the head from the body but otherwise didn’t damage it. The head was left dangling on a drainpipe that ran through the gargoyle, designed to direct water away from the building. The head was retrieved two months after the earthquake and was housed in a display box, awaiting the day it could be returned to its rightful place.

The cathedral’s lead stone mason, Joe Alonso, and his crew used three stainless steel pins, glue and epoxy to reattach the head to the gargoyle, which had been nicknamed “Mr. D. Capitated.” They worked on scaffolding several stories above the ground and had to move quickly, given the quick drying time of the materials used.

Officially, the gargoyle is known as “Bat-like,” described in the cathedral’s “Gargoyles and Other Grotesques” guidebook as a “winged, bat-like creature with saw-toothed eyelashes, curled whiskers and extended claws.”

On hand for the festivities was Andy Seferlis, whose father Constantine Seferlis carved the gargoyle in the 1950s.

Bat-like’s neighboring gargoyle, “Flat-nosed Humanoid,” had his wings damaged by a falling piece of limestone, and he received a new hand-carved arm by stone carver Andy Uhl in July.

After the 2011 quake, the cathedral was closed for three months to stabilize the heavily damaged central tower. When it reopened, black netting was installed across the nave’s ceiling to protect visitors from any falling debris, and two salvaged limestone pinnacles were displayed near the entrance.

The earthquake caused $38 million in damages, and by mid-2022 about half the needed repairs had been made, according to information on the cathedral’s website.  Fundraising continues to cover the remaining costs.