The National Cathedral or Washington National Cathedral, located in the capital of the United States, is the second largest cathedral of the nation and the sixth largest in the world. The National Cathedral is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and in 2007 was ranked third on the List of America’s Favorite Architecture.
The dream of a national cathedral came from President George Washington who commissioned Major Pierre L’Enfant to create a visionary plan for the nation’s capital on January 24, 1791. It was L’Enfant who first imagined “a great church for national purposes.” The longest running construction project in Washington’s history officially began on September 29, 1907, when workmen laid the Cathedral’s foundation stone. President Theodore Roosevelt and the Bishop of London spoke to a crowd of ten thousand. The cornerstone came from a field near Bethlehem and had the inscription: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us”. In 1912, Bethlehem Chapel opened for services in the unfinished cathedral, which have continued daily ever since. The National Cathedral was finally completed in 1990 with funding entirely from private sources, after almost two centuries.
The Cathedral has been the location of many significant events, including the funeral services of Woodrow Wilson and Dwight Eisenhower. Washington National Cathedral houses the tombs of many notable American citizens such as :
- George Dewey, navy admiral
- Philip Frohman, cathedral architect
- Helen Keller
- Henry Yates Satterlee, first Episcopal bishop of Washington
- Henry Vaughan, cathedral architect
- President Woodrow Wilson
National Cathedral Design
The National Cathedral’s final design shows a mix of influences from the various Gothic architectural styles of the middle ages, but particularly the English Gothic style. Most of the building is constructed using gray Indiana limestone. The Gothic style cathedral consists of a long narrow rectangular mass, the eight bay nave and the five bay chancel, intersected by a six bay transept. Above the crossing, rising just over 300 feet above grade, is the 91-meter high Gloria in Excelsis Tower.
The top of the tower is the highest point in DC at 206 m (676 ft) above sea level. The one story porch projecting from the south transept has a large portal with a carved tympanum. This portal is approached by the Pilgrim Steps, a long flight of steps 40 feet wide. The building abounds in architectural sculpture, wood carving, leaded glass, mosaics and artistic metal work. There are other works of art including over two hundred stained glass windows, the most familiar of which may be the Space Window, honoring man’s landing on the Moon, which includes a fragment of lunar rock at its center. Most of the decorative elements have Christian symbolism or are memorials to famous persons or events. There is even a gargoyle of Darth Vader on the north tower.
Washington National Cathedral is a church for national purposes welcoming people of all faiths and perspectives, a unique blend of the spiritual and the civic, this Episcopal Cathedral is a voice for generous-spirited Christianity and a catalyst for reconciliation and interfaith dialogue to promote respect and understanding. In 2009 almost 400,000 tourist visited the National Cathedral .