There’s a word being thrown around a lot with regard to the Cordoba House location.


WASHINGTON — A place is made sacred by a widespread belief that it
was visited by the miraculous or the transcendent (Lourdes, the Temple
Mount), by the presence there once of great nobility and sacrifice
(Gettysburg), or by the blood of martyrs and the indescribable
suffering of the innocent (Auschwitz).

When we speak of Ground Zero as hallowed ground, what we mean is
that it belongs to those who suffered and died there — and that such
ownership obliges us, the living, to preserve the dignity and memory of
the place, never allowing it to be forgotten, trivialized or

t that’s not actually what it means at all.

hallowed[ˈhæləʊd(liturgical) ˈhæləʊɪd]


1. (Christianity / Ecclesiastical Terms) set apart as sacred

2. (Christianity / Ecclesiastical Terms) consecrated or holy


p>To be consecrated. To be set apart. To be by human hands designated as holy, not by some god or gods, not by a mystery or visitation, but by the use to which humans intend it be put. Action, not passivity. Location matters, Krauthammer lectures us, but. Voice matters too. We do this. We consecrate and hallow this ground. It is what we make it.

Cemeteries are for history and proof, for a space where communication with the dead makes sense. Churches, temples, mosques, meeting halls, circles are for reaching upward toward God as he reaches down to us, for a meeting place between the human and the divine where each can see the other’s glory. An altar is a table, where something is broken and shared by all who come to it, in radical and absolute equality. Without those gathered for the meal, it’s just a table. These places are not defined as sacred space by lines on a map; it’s their use that makes them what they are. It’s how the people within them behave. Their purpose comes from what is done there. The ground isn’t the point.

I’m a Roman Catholic by baptism, confirmation and choice, so my experience of the word is tempered this way: We are divided into parishes, but a parish isn’t a building. It’s a collection of souls. Did you know that a parish priest is responsible for everyone in his parish, not just the Catholics, still less just the Catholics who come to Mass and give to the collections and send their kids to the school? The ones doing it right, they’re responsible for everybody. For the care of all the souls in that parish, Catholic or no. For anyone who comes to their doors. The ones doing it right, that is. Precious few of those, these days. Still, the principle matters. The word, people tell us now, matters. Hallowed.

The noun is from the Old English adjectivehálig, nominalized asse hálga “the holy man”. TheGothic word for “holy” is eitherhailags orweihaba, weihs. “To hold as holy” or “to become holy” isweihnan, “to make holy, to sanctify” isweihan. Holiness or sanctification isweihia. Old English like Gothic had a second term of similar meaning, weoh “holy”, with a substantivewih orwig, Old High Germanwih orwihi (Middle High Germanwîhe, Modern GermanWeihe). TheNordendorf fibula haswigiþonar, interpreted aswigi-þonar “holyDonar” or “sacred to Donar”. Old Norse is a type ofshrine. Theweihs group is cognate to Latinvictima, an animal dedicated to the gods and destined to besacrificed.

Dedicated to the gods. Most of those opposed to the mosque, most of those defenders of freedom and liberty and those square blocks of lower Manhattan, would call themselves Christian. I don’t think they have the foggiest, but that isn’t the point either. The point is that dedicating a place to God so as to turn others away from it is pointless and stupid and wrong. Is an empty church hallowed? Is salted earth hallowed? How far must the hallows reach? How many miles must their borders enclose? Someone has died everywhere you look. Photos and crosses and teddy bears at intersections, growing dirty and tattered in the wind and sun. Where do the boundaries end? Where is it appropriate to build a place to reach upward and sing to God of the glory of mankind?

Everywhere is hallowed. Someone I can’t now find to cite wrote that Jesus’ whole, you know, thing is that systems don’t matter the most, abstract ideas don’t matter the most, that people matter the most. What we do to and for and with each other matters the most. We hallow the ground. We hold it holy. Not by praying there, or not praying there, but by being there ourselves and acting as dedicated to the gods. The rest of it is differences in expression and thought and symbol and I’d never say those don’t matter, but they don’t matter more than we should matter to one another.

If we’re doing this right, if we’re holding a place as holy, setting apart as sacred and dedicated to the use of God, a place, it should be everywhere. It should be an expanse wider than we can measure, and we should never reach the borders. And in that space should be the burning wreckage and the ashes, and the strip clubs, and the fast food restaurants, and the gay bars, and the straight bars, and the mosques, and the temples, and the churches, because if we’re doing this right, this is all hallowed ground.



8 thoughts on “Hallowed

  1. Athenae,
    You make me wish I was a priest, because if I was, you have just written my homily.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  2. If “ground zero” is hallowed ground, so is Columbine High School.
    I don’t notice them suspending classes.

  3. Wasting your breath, A.
    Wingnuts are all spawned from Humpty Dumpty, who famously declared:
    `When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
    `The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
    `The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master – – that’s all.’

  4. The worst thing in my mind is the wingnuts go out of the way to use words like Hallowed to describe Ground Zero but treat it as anything but. Like I said over at my place, we deal in symbols and sensitivities now, not actual doing and meaning.
    In other words, if the place is so hallowed, then honorsits saints and help them get healthy again or die with dignity and the gratitude of a decent nation.

  5. I’d argue that there are some spots that are secularly hallowed: battlegrounds like Gettysburg and Antietam; parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone; the Washington and Lincoln Monuments. The thing is, I’d object to anyone building in these places: Disney, McDonalds, Haliburton, whoever.
    I didn’t realize, however, that holiness was contagious. You don’t want anyone to build on Ground Zero? Fine. That that hallowing means there’s some sort of anti-Muslim infection spreading into all Manhattan? Not fine. Particularly as the connection of Muslims to 9/11 is as imaginary as the connection of Christians to Catholic pedophile priests.

  6. A. this is one of the examples of why I never miss a day reading this blog. At times you write something so perfect, so appropriate to what is happening today, that it just sends chills down my spine. Really great writing and as perfect as it gets. Thank you.

  7. Best comment was on the Daily Dish. I was something like, “I hope they open a coffee shop next door called, ‘The Hallowed Grounds.'”

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