This stunning panoramic photo of the famous cathedral at Cologne, Germany prompted me to look it up on Wikipedia and find out when it was built. I assumed it was built in the Middle Ages. Not quite right. It was begun in 1248, worked on for about 200 years (as cathedrals often were in those days)… but work on it stopped in the 15th century. It wasn’t until 1842 that the Prussian government, having discovered the original medieval plans (and for its own nationalistic reasons), decided to finish the work, which was completed in 1880 — 632 years after the project started.
As someone who has a tendency to start projects, drop them, and then return and finally complete them months or even years later, I find this story fascinating. Sadly, I think we live in a particular time and culture where we receive the triumphalist message that “Everything has already been completed and achieved materially and socially; all that remains are just tweaks and minor improvements.” (The ever-quotable Walter Brueggemann has lots to say in response to that.) We tend to talk a lot about “restoring and revitalizing” in Syracuse and other local communities, but this story makes me wonder what unfinished work remains around here. Not just architectural, of course (is there any besides Carousel?) but other kinds. I suppose the recently announced “100% Literacy” effort for Onondaga County is an example of taking up unfinished work.