Große Kugelkaryatide (1971)
by Fritz Koenig

Advent 3, Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Historical Description:  

In 1966, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey commissioned Fritz Koenig to create a centerpiece for the World Trade Center Plaza. Envisioned as a symbol of world peace and completed in 1971, Koenig’s twenty-five-foot high Große Kugelkaryatide (Great Spherical Caryatid—soon nicknamed The Sphere by New Yorkers) was placed in as setting designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki to mimic the Grand Mosque of Mecca. The sculpture was damaged but not destroyed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Temporarily relocated to New York City’s Battery Park, the battered Sphere presently serves as a memorial.

Devotional Reflection:  

For three decades, a giant, rotating sculpture called The Sphere adorned the World Trade Center plaza in New York City. Artist Fritz Koening conceptualized The Sphere as a symbol of world peace, and architect Minoru Yamasaki positioned it in a setting reminiscent of the Grand Mosque of Mecca.

Fritz Koenig's Sphere for Plaza Fountain WTC (2009)

By temporarily relocating the sculpture as a memorial in Battery Park, New Yorkers sought to reclaim and redeem its symbolism. In true indomitable American spirit, a plaque beneath the battered sculpture proclaims“It was damaged during the tragic events of September 11, 2001, but endures as an icon of hope and the indestructible spirit of this country.” With similar resolve, construction at the former World Trade Center plaza is well underway, including a tower that will be the tallest in the United States, soaring to a stately and symbolic height of 1,776 feet.

Such resilience and patriotism are inspiring, as are the stories of faith, heroism, and self-sacrifice that emerged from the smoking rubble of Ground Zero and from those who continue to defend our country around the world.  Yet the very existence of the battered Sphere is a sober reminder that world peace is unattained, that no nation is impenetrable, and that no tower is terrorist-proof.

The Sphere’s creator, lamenting the fate of his damaged masterpiece, once referred to it as a “beautiful corpse.” So too must the Creator of another, grander sphere lament the damage to His handiwork: for all its lovely vitality, this old Earth is in some sense but a “beautiful corpse.” Adam fell, and death shadowed the pristine loveliness of our planet. The post-9/11 irony of the sculpted Sphere is but one small echo of our own sphere’s increasingly urgent groaning under the curse: the earthen womb that was lovingly designed to nurture life is callously stuffed full of death.

The fissures of the Fall dominate daily headlines. No continent, country, or community escapes its devastating consequences.  Terrorists topple towers and power-glutted potentates imperil their own people. The very ground groans and shudders under the curse: earthquakes demolish entire countries, tornadoes ravage the heartland; tsunamis swirl away coastland communities.

Into this accursed cacophony, the words of Isaiah introduce a melody sweet and strong. In the midst of the dismal din, our ears strain to catch the tidings that seem too good to be true: Good news for the poor! Liberty for captives! Gladness for mourners!  

To assure us that this is no mere ethereal, will-o-wisp dream, the prophet goes on to illustrate the reality, the solidity, of the promise. What comfort, in a world where even the sturdiest of structures is vulnerable, and where emergency relief agencies barely scratch the surface of need, to read, “They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations” (Isaiah 61:4).

The painfully real devastations of this beautiful old corpse of an earth will be resurrected in gloriously real, staggering splendor. On the New Earth, we will never again gaze horrorstruck into a pit of smoking rubble, wondering how we can possibly restore structure and safety. Never again will we pick through the pieces of our shattered lives, seeking to salvage a semblance of meaning. Never again will we weep beside a fresh wound in the grave-gashed ground.

Our sphere will be transformed as resplendently as we ourselves, with beauty no longer shadowed by death, but exulting gloriously in the One who vanquished death forever. Mourning shall turn to dancing; ashes to beauty; devastation to exultation.       

 “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,” (Isaiah 61:10a)


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