President Donald Trump said that the phrase “Praise be to God” is etched into the top of the Washington Monument during his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday morning.
“Laus Deo,” Latin for “Praise be to God,” is engraved on the aluminum cap that tops the Washington Monument.
“Our rights are not given to us by man, our rights come from our Creator,” Trump said during his remarks. “No matter what, no earthly force can take those rights away. That is why the words ‘Praise be to God’ are etched atop the Washington Monument, and those same words are etched into the hearts of our people.”
The Latin phrase “Laus Deo,” which translates to “Praise be to God,” is engraved on a nine-inch tall aluminum pyramid that tops the monument.
The inscription faces East, towards the rising sun, while the other sides of the cap are engraved with the names of the engineers who erected the monument, figures associated with its construction and dates of construction milestones. Parts of the inscriptions are still visible up close today.
The National Park Service (NPS) caused controversy in 2007 when an educational replica of the cap was moved while the Washington Monument was being renovated. The angle of the replica was adjusted such that the “Laus Deo” inscription was not visible, and a new plaque description omitted that the words meant “Praise be to God.”
The NPS quickly apologized, adjusted the angle of the replica so the phrase was visible and noted the meaning of “Laus Deo” in a new plaque.
Other national monuments also contain religious references. President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address etched into the Lincoln Memorial quotes a Bible verse and mentions God six times. Quotes by President Thomas Jefferson that are etched into his memorial also reference God. There are Bible verses inscribed on statue plaques inside the Library of Congress.
When the Washington Monument was completed in 1884, the 555-foot tall obelisk became the tallest building in the world at the time.
Although aluminum is ubiquitous today, it was expensive and rare when the Washington Monument was built. The 100 oz cap cost $225 (thousands of dollars today after inflation). Colonel Thomas Lincoln Casey of the Army Corps of Engineers, who oversaw completion of the monument, also considered capping the monument with brass, bronze or copper, plated with platinum. He chose aluminum in part because it would not tarnish, resembled the color of marble and could act as a lightening rod to protect the rest of the monument.
Dr. M. Brian Ives, former president of the American Metals Association, said that “when the Washington Monument’s capstone was cast, it was quite an achievement” due to limited knowledge of casting aluminum at the time. Tiffany’s jewelry store in New York displayed the cap prior to instillation.
Engineers later affixed the aluminum cap with gold- and platinum-plated rods to better attract lightening. In “one of the strangest thefts on record,” the rods were stolen from from the top of the monument while it was under construction during the Great Depression.
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