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"A Room of Quiet"
The Meditation Room, 
United Nations Headquarters

In the original plan for the new Headquarters, a tiny room had been provided as a place dedicated to silence, where people could withdraw into themselves, regardless of their faith, creed or religion, but Dag Hammarskjöld wanted something more dignified. In his efforts he was supported by a group, composed of Christians, Jews, and Moslems, the "Friends of the UN Meditation Room", who combined their efforts and provided the money for a room worthy of a world organization. 

The work on the room began, and Mr. Hammarskjöld personally planned and supervised in every detail the creation of the "Meditation Room".

Meditation Room, 
United Nations Headquarters 
( photo © F. Lère)

Abstract mural in the Meditation 
Room by painter Bo Beskow
( photo © F. Lère)

 An example of his interest is reflected in this exchange of correspondence in Swedish regarding the design of the fabric to be used for the carpeting. The letter by Dag Hammarskjöld is translated

Journalist Pauline Frederick gave another example of this interest in an interview for the UN Oral History Collection. "He was instrumental in creating what he called the Meditation Room. He said that "This House" - which he referred to the UN frequently... - This house must have one room dedicated to silence... I remember very distinctly one night, when I heard that he had been working most of the night, and about two o'clock in the morning, he called some of his aides in, and they assumed that there had been some bad news from one of the fronts where the United Nations Emergency Forces were then located, but he said, "I want to go down to the Meditation Room." And he took them down to the Meditation Room, and it was about, as I said, two o'clock in the morning, and there he spent considerable time directing the painters to put just the precise coat of paint on the walls of that Meditation Room, so the light would be just as he wanted it. So he had a very close feeling about the spiritual. And he felt that it should be the center of the United Nations. He had a special crew of painters working on the Meditation Room that evening. He said, "We want to bring back, in this room, the stillness which we have lost in our streets, and in our conference rooms, and to bring it back in a setting in which no noise would impinge on our imagination."

He banned chairs and replaced them with benches; in the center of the room he placed a six-and-half-ton rectangular block of iron ore, polished on the top and illuminated from above by a single spotlight. This block, which was a gift of the King of Sweden and a Swedish mining company, was the only symbol in the Room.  Mr. Hammarskjöld described it as "...a meeting of the light, of the sky, and the earth... it is the altar to the God of all.... we want this massive altar to give the impression of something more than temporary..."

In addition, an abstract mural, a composition of interlocking geometric patterns which is supposed to evoke a feeling of the essential oneness of God, was ordered by Dag Hammarskjöld from his artist friend Bo Beskow. 

The room was re-opened in 1957. Dag Hammarskjöld wrote the following text to be distributed to the visitors of the room:

"We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence. 

This house, dedicated to work and debate in the service of peace, should have one room dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense. 

It has been the aim to create in this small room a place where the doors may be open to the infinite lands of thought and prayer. 

People of many faiths will meet here, and for that reason none of the symbols to which we are accustomed in our meditation could be used.

However, there are simple things which speak to us all with the same language. We have sought for such things and we believe that we have found them in the shaft of light striking the shimmering surface of solid rock.

So, in the middle of the room we see a symbol of how, daily, the light of the skies gives life to the earth on which we stand, a symbol to many of us of how the light of the spirit gives life to matter. 

But the stone in the middle of the room has more to tell us. We may see it as an altar, empty not because there is no God, not because it is an altar to an unknown god, but because it is dedicated to the God whom man worships under many names and in many forms. 

The stone in the middle of the room reminds us also of the firm and permanent in a world of movement and change. The block of iron ore has the weight and solidity of the everlasting. It is a reminder of that cornerstone of endurance and faith on which all human endeavour must be based. 

The material of the stone leads our thoughts to the necessity for choice between destruction and construction, between war and peace. Of iron man has forged his swords, of iron he has also made his ploughshares. Of iron he has constructed tanks, but of iron he has likewise built homes for man. The block of iron ore is part of the wealth we have inherited on this earth of ours. How are we to use it? 

The shaft of light strikes the stone in a room of utter simplicity. There are no other symbols, there is nothing to distract our attention or to break in on the stillness within ourselves. When our eyes travel from these symbols to the front wall, they meet a simple pattern opening up the room to the harmony, freedom and balance of space. 

There is an ancient saying that the sense of a vessel is not in its shell but in the void. So it is with this room. It is for those who come here to fill the void with what they find in their center of stillness."

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