The idea of a National Church was first mentioned by the great General and first American President, George Washington, but this dream did not begin to take fruition for more than a century. Like all great projects, it takes time and lots of money to make the dream a reality. Today the completed church plays an important role in its nation’s history having hosted many national days of prayer and several presidential funerals.
The National Cathedral is a beautiful NeoGothic church situated on the highest point in the District of Columbia. It’s built in the style of the great European cathedrals and has a tall central tower (30 stories high), 231 beautiful stained-glass windows (one of which has a moon rock embedded in it), spires, flying buttresses, and 112 gargoyles and grotesques (including one of Darth Vader — see if you can find it!). The church has 59 acres of grounds with beautiful gardens and walkways.
Like most buildings in the United States, the church is relatively new, constructed during the years that spanned the 20th century. Construction began in 1907 and was completed 83 years later in 1990. The stone used to build the church is limestone quarried in Indiana. The nave is massive and there is a beautiful wooden choir area and many side chapels. It has a crypt level, which we didn’t explore, where President Woodrow Wilson and others rest (Wilson is the only president buried in D.C.)
The Cathedral is under the administrative oversight of the Episcopal Church (Church of England) but is open to all faiths. There’s a gift shop and also a café serving coffee, desserts, brunch and lunch located on the grounds in the 1904 Old Baptistry building.
Seeing the Cathedral
If you like visiting great churches, as most people I know do, this is one you shouldn’t miss seeing when visiting Washington D.C.. The church’s spire can be seen from a distance, and as you approach it you can’t be help but be impressed by it’s great size, beautiful architecture and fine attention to details.
That impression of great beauty continues when you enter. Besides the massive size of the construct, when we visited I was most impressed by the beautiful light pouring through the stained glass, as seen in our first clue in this week’s puzzle.
I love studying light and that coming through the stained glass in this cathedral was truly impressive. I’m so glad we didn’t got on a cloudy day or we would have missed it. Be sure you study the large diversity of stained glass windows within the cathedral, including it’s magnificent Rose Window.
I doubt there are many other churches where you have spaces named in honor of past presidents, like you see at the National Cathedral…
Admission was free when I visited, although there may be an admission fee now ($12)– check with the Cathedral before you visit. You can tour it on your own with a free guide that you’ll find at the entrance. Free 30-minute highlights tours are also available and there are a number of specialty tours you’ll need tickets for like tower climbs and bird watching tours.
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