The National Cathedral is a Washington DC landmark. I can see it as I drive into work in the morning and as I drive out. It was built atop Mount Saint Alban, the highest point in DC. It is the sixth largest cathedral in the world.
In 1893 the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation of the District of Columbia was given a charter by Congress to build the cathedral and establish it as the National House of Prayer. Construction started in 1907 and, with a few interruptions, it was finally completed in 1990. Services started in 1912 and have consistently taken place ever since.
“The Cathedral has long served as a grand spiritual center where Americans unite to worship and pray, mourn the passing of world leaders, and confront the pressing moral and social issues of the day.”
I’m not sure how they picked the Episcopalians to be the spiritual center. I would guess it has something to do with England. When Henry VIII was excommunicated, he started the Church of England and made himself head of the church. The Episcopal Church derived from the Church of England. With our close ties to England, I suppose that is why they were chosen. But I could be wrong.
Today the Episcopalian Church is one of the more progressive churches with both women and homosexuals being ordained. It shows they are inclusive and diverse. It seems fitting since America is a diverse country.
There were several architects but the style is Gothic. Flying buttresses, gargoyles, grotesques, carved towers, stained glass windows, and vaulted ceilings are all there. No expense was spared. The main building consists of Indiana limestone, but stones from Canterbury Cathedral, Glastonbury Abbey, Soloman’s Quarry near Jerusalem and the Chapel of Moses on Mt Sinai were all incorporated into the pulpit and the altar.
The organ was installed in 1938 and today it has 10,647 pipes. It is one of the 20 largest organs in the world. There is a free recital most Sunday afternoons. I have attended a couple of these and would recommend them. It is a beautiful organ.
Two hundred stained glass windows, including the contemporary Space Window which has a piece of the moon imbedded in it, adorn the cathedral. The moon rock was donated in a ceremony on July 21,1974 by the crew of Apollo 11 — Neil Armstrong, Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin and Michael Collins. There are also stained glass windows commemorating the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima and the Lewis and Clark expedition.
On the outside gargoyles and grotesques adorn the roofs and towers. Gargoyles are functioning drainage pipes. Water flows through them. Grotesques are purely decorative. The National Cathedral is covered with 112 gargoyles and 3,000 grotesques and carvings. In 2011 there was an earthquake that damaged the Cathedral tower and forced the removal of one broken gargoyle.
There were two competitions for decorative designs for the Cathedral. The second was in the 1980s when the Cathedral, along with National Geographic World magazine, sponsored a competition for children. The third-place winner was Christopher Rader of Kearney, Nebraska who submitted a drawing of his futuristic representation of evil, Darth Vader. The sculpture was placed on the northwest tower with the other winning designs: a raccoon, a girl with pigtails and braces and a man with large teeth and an umbrella.
Darth Vader bobbleheads are available from the Cathedral Store.
The Cathedral is used to visitors and offers multiple tours. They do charge admission and reservations are recommended.
Kathleen Gamble was born and raised overseas and has traveled extensively. She has a BA in Spanish and has worked in publishing, printing, desktop publishing, translating, and purchasing. She also designs and creates her own needlepoint. She started journaling at a young age and her memoir, Expat Alien, came out of those early journals. Over the years she has edited and produced an American Women’s Organization cookbook in Moscow, Russia, and several newsletters. Her first book, Expat Alien, was published in 2012 and she recently published a cookbook, 52 Food Fridays, both available on Amazon.com. You can also follow her blog at ExpatAlien.com.