Posted by Elaine Marie Cooper
My ears perked up when my husband beckoned me into the family room: “Hon, come watch the Kirk Cameron movie, ‘Monumental.’ He’s talking about the Pilgrims.”
I had heard about the movie but knew nothing about it except its title. Quickly drawn into watching this documentary about the beginnings of our country, I was especially surprised when Mr. Cameron visited a huge edifice. It was a monument to honor these enterprising heroes who traveled thousands of miles to obtain the freedom to worship God without having to bow to the king of England.
I was stunned.
Even though I have visited Plymouth to see the landmarks like the Plimouth Plantation and the replica of the Mayflower, I knew nothing about this 81-foot tall monument set on the summit of a hill. And it turns out that I am not alone. Most visitors to Plymouth are surprised to find out about this amazing architectural creation. It used to be readily visible, yet tree growth over the years has all but obscured its presence. It now stands in the middle of a housing development. According to visitors that have actually seen it, viewing this granite monument is a breath-taking experience.
The National Monument to the Forefathers is the largest, freestanding granite monument in the world. But if its size is not impressive enough, the design itself is awe-inspiring and speaks to the faith-filled beginnings of this nation of America. In fact, the central figure of this statue is the 36-foot-tall woman named “Faith.” Her feet stand on Plymouth Rock and her finger points upward toward heaven.
Surrounding Faith are four figures: Education (with Wisdom on one side and Youth led by Experience on the other), Law (attended by Justice and Mercy), Morality (between a Prophet and an Evangelist holding the Ten Commandments in one hand and the scroll of Revelation in the other), and Liberty (with Peace flourishing and Tyranny overthrown). Just the description takes your breath away!
There are bas relief images surrounding the base of the monument depicting the Pilgrims’ history. They include images of the travelers leaving Delft Harbor in the Netherlands, the signing of the Mayflower Compact, the landing at Plymouth Rock, and the treaty with Massasoit, Sachem of the Wampanoags.
This incredible memorial was birthed through the efforts of the Pilgrim Society in 1820—just 44 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Its purpose was to be a tribute to the “memory of the virtues, the enterprise, and the unparalleled sufferings of their ancestors.”
The National Monument to the Forefathers was designed by artist and architect Hammatt Billings from Milton, MA. The creative Mr. Billings designed other monuments as well, some beautiful Victorian mansions, and even the illustration for the cover of the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
The cornerstone for the Plymouth monument was laid in 1859. The $150,000 needed to fund the endeavor were provided by the Federal Government, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the State of Connecticut, and 11,000 individuals. One of those individuals was then President Abraham Lincoln. There is an archived copy of the receipt for his donation of ten dollars.
The construction for the project was put on hold soon after the laying of the cornerstone, due to the onset of the Civil War. Unfortunately, Billings, who died in 1874, never saw the final memorial since it was not completed until 1889.
According to Paula Fisher, Director of Marketing and Group Services at the Plymouth County Convention and Visitors Bureau, there are believed to be about three million Mayflower descendants in America today (including Paula and myself). But whether descended by blood or by belief in the desire to worship freely, we can all celebrate the memory of the Pilgrims and the stance they took for religious liberty. The National Monument to the Forefathers is a stunning symbol of that declaration.
The next time I visit Plymouth, it will be at the top of my “must-see” list.
The 400th Anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims is right around the corner in 2020! It should be quite a celebration.
(Photos courtesy of Plymouth County Convention and Visitors Bureau)