January 15, 2019 - 12:40 PM

The Peace Tree Explained

By Rebecca Merrill

As the Cathedral becomes decorated for Christmas, one piece that often catches visitors’ eyes is Peace Tree in the Cathedral’s Narthex and many wonder why, exactly, the Cathedral has a Christmas Tree covered in 1000 paper cranes.

Lore Schirokauer, a long-time Cathedral volunteer, was the first to suggest this unique Christmas tree in the mid-1980s. After a major fire in 2001 necessitated several years of cleaning and restoration work in the Cathedral, the origami cranes were feared lost. Catherine Skopic, a Cathedral volunteer and member of the Congregation of Saint Saviour, stepped in to help, folding hundreds of cranes herself and organizing an origami crane-making workshop for fellow members of the Congregation, as well as enlisting help from members of the Cathedral School community. After the cranes are set onto its branches, the Peace Tree is dedicated in a Cathedral School service focused on world peace, diversity, and global understanding.

The crane symbolizes happiness and long life in Japan, where legend has it that this elegant bird lives for 1,000 years. Accordingly, folding 1,000 origami cranes is said to make wishes come true.

Sadako Sasaki (1943-1955) is perhaps the most famous person to have sought to make her wish come true by folding 1,000 cranes. Just two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Sadako, like so many others, suffered from the terrible effects of exposure to its radiation. By age ten, she was dying of leukemia. Wanting to live, and remembering the Japanese legend, she spent the final months of her life folding origami cranes out of whatever scraps of paper she could find. It is said that she died before she reached her goal. In admiration of her courage and in honor of her memory, Sadako’s friends continued and completed what she had so hopefully begun.

Sadako’s story has become as legendary as that of the crane. After her death, as her story spread, the origami crane took on an additional layer of meaning as an international symbol of peace. From the World War II memorials in Hiroshima to Saint Paul’s Chapel in New York City after the September 11 World Trade Center attacks, garlands of origami cranes have been laid anywhere and everywhere people wish for peace.

Here at the Cathedral, more cranes are added to the tree each year. The Cathedral welcomes you to enjoy the Peace Tree and to reflect upon the wishes for peace it represents.

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