After the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, New Yorkers felt feelings of immense loss. Some New Yorkers were able to find healing through a symbolic representation of their faith in the form of a crossbeam unearthed at Ground Zero.
When the World Trade Center was built, the use of prefabricated parts helped bring costs and production time down. These parts, known as t-beams were bolted or welded together and formed what may remind some people of a Latin cross.
When one considerably intact t-beam was found in the debris of Ground Zero, many of the first-responders who were of the Christian faith, turned the t-beam into a makeshift shrine. During the recovery and clean-up process, Catholic mass was performed every Sunday at the cross.
After the clean-up process was complete, the cross was then moved to St. Peter’s Church across from the World Trade Center site where it became a popular tourist attraction and place of pilgrimage. When the formation of a memorial and museum dedicated to September 11th was announced, it was revealed that the cross would be added as part of the exhibit.
Objecting to this was the secular organization American Atheists, who believed that since Ground Zero was now a public space, religious symbols should be banned, especially considering the fact that victims of other faiths and nonbelief were also lost during the attack. The group’s legal challenge was dismissed by a 2nd U.S. Circuit judge who ruled that the cross was “historical in nature” and did not discriminate against any other groups.
The Cross at Ground Zero remains at the National September 11th Memorial and Museum as part of a display on how New Yorkers tried to find meaning in the disaster, alongside other symbols both religious and secular.