Commemoration of Rachel Weeping For Her Children

by | May 4, 2012 | Other News

People of all backgrounds gathered at The Sacred Heart Cathedral in Richmond on Sunday, April 22 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the dedication of “Rachel Weeping for her Children,” the Holocaust sculpture commissioned by Bishop Walter Sullivan of the Diocese of Richmond. The sculpture was initially dedicated on Yom HaShoah, in April of 1987. The sculpture is the first public Holocaust memorial in the state of Virginia, and the only one commissioned by a diocese of the Roman Catholic Church in the country.

Twenty-six years ago, Bishop Sullivan, well known for his love and devotion to peace and inter group relations, asked Linda Gissen to meet with him to discuss his desire to commission a meaningful and permanent sculpture to teach the lessons of the Holocaust and honor the martyrs of the Shoah. The two met often and decided to use the verse from Jeremiah 31:14: “A voice is heard on high, wailing, bitter weeping, Rachel weeps for her children; she refuses to be consoled for her children, for they are gone” as the inspiration for the sculpture.

Gissen imagined how to transform this passage into visual form; an image came to mind: a grief stricken, inconsolable, emaciated maternal image, weeping with hands to her face, engulfed and surrounded by six flames representing the six million who had perished. As she created the sculpture, Bishop Sullivan and one of the Parish priests often visited her studio to watch Rachel emerge. Gissen created the sculpture of copper and bronze, handcrafting it using the flames of an oxyacetylene welding torch. With Rachel’s granite base, engraved with the word “remember” in both Hebrew and English, she stands 11 feet tall. Rachel, installed on the South lawn of The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart faces the street so that all may stop, reflect and remember. A dedication stone, placed near the sidewalk in front of the statue, is engraved: “Rachel Weeping for Her Children, In Memory of the Martyrs of the Holocaust, April, 28, 1987.”

The service was specially written and the music specifically chosen to honor the memory of victims of the Holocaust, honor those who risked their lives to rescue, and to commemorate Rachel’s 25th anniversary. Participants included Rabbis, Bishops, Cantors, a violinist, a magnificent interfaith choir and lay people including children and adults, public officials, Holocaust survivors, and family members of those who perished. While the congregation paid their respects, members of different faiths were united in prayer, song and friendship. In never forgetting, all were united as one.

Over the years Bishop Sullivan and Gissen often spoke of how the public, when passing Rachel, would stop, reflect, leave flowers, and in many cases cry. Countless members of the Parish came up to Gissen at the event to let her know that every time they see Rachel on Sunday morning they stop to remember. Gissen spoke of the origins of the sculpture and her collaboration with Bishop Sullivan. During his homily, Bishop Sullivan commented on how many of the V.C.U. students stop, read the dedication plaque, become quiet, look at the sculpture and reflect. On Sunday, they both reminisced on the past 25 years and their confidence that Rachel is teaching the lessons they intended: “zachor:” remember.

Everyone had hoped the weather on April 22 would cooperate, providing sunshine so all could congregate around the sculpture after the service. The weather did cooperate, although not as expected; it rained in the direction of Rachel’s tears, as if she was actually weeping. It was a perfect day for gathering and reflection.