Washington National Cathedral
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3101 Wisconsin Ave. NW
HOURS: Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.;
tours 10-11:30 a.m. and 12:45-3:30 p.m.;
nave level June 1-Aug. 31
Tues. and Thurs. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.;
tours 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:45 p.m., and 3 p.m.
COST: $5 suggested contribution
Perched on high ground not far from the city’s highest point, Washington National Cathedral dominates the DC skyline, a Gothic masterpiece that took 83 years to build. It is the second-largest cathedral in the United States after St. John the Divine in New York City, and the sixth-largest in the world.
Technically named the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, the church is home to the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington as well as the bishop of the Episcopal Church USA. It holds more than 1,200 services each year and has a growing neighborhood congregation of its own.
The plan for a national house of worship was actually pitched by Pierre L’Enfant, whose design for Washington included such a worship space of national significance. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that work began on one, however.
In 1907, President Roosevelt laid the foundation stone, using the same mallet that George Washington used to install the Capitol cornerstone. Construction ebbed and flowed between wars and economic crises, and the last stone was installed in 1990.
The church was built entirely with private funds; although its organizational body was chartered by Congress to establish a “cathedral for the promotion of religion,” it has no official governmental role. But that’s not to say it hasn’t hosted its share of historic events.
It held the funerals of Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, was President George W. Bush’s place of worship for the National Prayer and Remembrance Service on September 14, 2001, and has served as the gathering place for inaugural prayer services. It is the site of President Woodrow Wilson’s grave as well as Helen Keller’s and Anne Sullivan’s.
The cathedral’s principal designers, British architect George Frederick Bodley, and later, Philip Hubert Frohman, set out to build a church to rival Europe’s finest: The Gothic National Cathedral features flying buttresses; spires; 231 stained glass windows, including one that contains a moon rock obtained during the Apollo 11 mission; 112 creepy gargoyles; and 288 angels and grotesques, including the likeness of Darth Vader.
On Aug. 23, 2011, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck the DC area, shaking many of the city’s historic buildings. Two—the Cathedral and the Washington Monument—remained closed for months afterward. The cathedral lost two stone finials from its tallest tower and suffered structural damage. While the church remained closed at the time this travel guide went to press, the grounds remain open.
© Patricia Nevins Kime from Moon Washington DC, 1st Edition