The New Rugged Cross

Immediately following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, there was an extensive search to rescue any surviving victims. On September 13, 2001, one of the construction workers, Frank Silecchia, was searching in the debris under 6 World Trade Center. He has said that he had been having a silent conversation with God, in despair at the wreckage. He felt lost in his heart, mind, and every other way. In the tangled mess of destruction, there were no longer any straight lines, no reference points.

Frank turned around and saw a void, which he later called a "chapel," and saw three vertical lines through the dust. As he got closer, he saw three crosses of steel beams. The central one, 20 feet tall, had a shroud of ductwork draped over its left beam. Frank took this as a sign that God was present in the midst of the destruction, and it became used as a shrine and place of prayer. In early October, the central cross was moved to Church & Liberty Streets, next to the morgue trailers. It became used as a regular place of worship as the debris was cleared from the WTC site. (See Wikipedia: World_Trade_Center_cross.)

One of the chaplains who worked in the WTC recovery, Lisa Bellan-Boyer, had met the cross and Frank and heard his story and the way the cross was used as a place of interfaith spiritual respite. Just preceding the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, she recalled a well-known hymn about the “old rugged cross.” She quickly wrote down an additional verse and refrain about the WTC's “new rugged cross,” feeling that the words came from a source beyond her. They evoke the way that cross speaks to both the reality of brutality and the hope of God's continued presence. She has said that she felt the new verse answered those who were proclaiming the disaster a sign that God had turned away.

“The Old Rugged Cross, with a New Verse”

On a hill, far away,
stood an old rugged cross,
the emblem of suffering and shame.
And I love that old cross, where the dearest and best,
for a world of lost sinners was slain.

So I’ll cherish the cross, (the old rugged cross,)
till my trophies at last I lay down,
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
and exchange it someday, for a crown.

Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
has a wondrous attraction for me;
for the dear Lamb of God left his Glory above,
to bear it to dark Calvary.   REFRAIN

In the old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
a wondrous beauty I see,
for ‘twas on that old cross, Jesus suffered and died,
to pardon and sanctify me.   REFRAIN

To the old rugged cross, I will ever be true,
its shame and reproach gladly bear;
then he’ll call me someday,
to my home, far away,
where his Glory forever I’ll share!   REFRAIN

Near the Pit, so close by,
stands a “New Rugged Cross,”
an emblem of catastrophe.
It reminds us of those, ‘neath that bright morning sky,
who faced their own Calvary.

And I look to that cross, that new rugged cross,
As it stands, so solid and square,
With hope, as a sign, from the Spirit of Love:

“The Old Rugged Cross” words & by George Ben­nard, 1913.

“The New Rugged Cross” verse and refrain by Rev. Lisa Bellan-Boyer, copyright 2002 & 2011 and used by permission.

Artwork by Keith Piaseczny,, copyright 2002 and used by permission.


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