Washington National Cathedral

Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul

By Congressional designation, Washington National Cathedral is America’s “National House of Prayer” for all people. This church, which sits atop Mount Saint Alban in northwest Washington, D.C., is the world’s sixth largest cathedral. The church is the seat for the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

Washington National Cathedral History

Washington National CathedralThe idea for constructing a national church dates back to George Washington’s presidency, but it was President Theodore Roosevelt who helped set the cornerstone for the cathedral in 1907. Church clergy began holding daily services in 1912; however, the Gothic cathedral building that dominates the skyline of today took 83 years to complete. All money for the church construction and decoration came from private donations.

The final resting place for one president (Woodrow Wilson) and the setting for several presidential funerals, the National Cathedral is also a site that many use as a spiritual refuge in times of crisis or mourning for national or world leaders. The cathedral held monthly services during World War II and sponsored a prayer and remembrance service three days after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached his last Sunday sermon in the cathedral; a memorial service for King was held in the cathedral five days later.

Washington National Cathedral Design and Construction

Washington National Cathedral was constructed using Indiana limestone and, with its exterior flying buttresses, stained glass rose windows, vaulted ceilings, and towers, was designed and built as a classic Gothic cathedral. 112 Gargoyles line the roof, 288 angels and 231 stained glass windows are incorporated in the building.

Three rose windows are included in the cathedral’s façades: The Creation (the West Rose) by Rowan LeCampte, The Church Triumphant (the South Rose) by Joseph G. Reynolds and Wilbur H. Burnham, and The Last Judgment (the North Rose) by Lawrence B. Saint.

LeCampte’s window seems to illustrate the verse from the Book of Genesis, “And God said, ‘Let there be light.’” The artist uses a multitude of colors within the glass rather than symbols or icons to tell the story of Creation.

When visiting, be sure to check out the distinctly American touches in this Gothic cathedral. State flags hang in the nave, and state seals are embedded in the mosaic floor. Statues of Washington and Lincoln are found within, and stained-glass windows honoring the Lewis and Clark expedition and the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima are part of the building.

The Space Window (found on the south aisle of Washington National Cathedral) contains a lunar rock presented to the church by the first men to land on the moon, the astronauts of Apollo 11.

Tour groups and individuals are welcomed daily, but visitors are urged to check the cathedral’s Web site before their visit because church events or services may prevent touring.

The cathedral sponsors concerts and organ recitals throughout the year; that schedule can also be found on the Website.

by Katie Calvert