Washington National Cathedral

The National Cathedral is recognized as the national church of the U.S., and is a designated landmark on the register of historic places. Located at the intersection of Massachusetts and Wisconsin Avenues, it is the official site of the presiding bishop of the Episcopal church of the U.S., and the Episcopal diocese of Washington, DC.
The Cathedral, located on 57 acres on Mount Saint Alban, is the sixth largest in the world, second largest in the U.S. On September 29, 1907, a crowd of 10,000 people watched as President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone, inscribed with the words from John 1:14, “…and the word became flesh…” Delayed by WWI, private funding support was eventually obtained through the efforts of Gen Pershing. Several architects were employed during the 83 years it took to complete the Cathedral in 1990 beginning with George Bodley and including Henry Vaughan and the principal architect Philip Hubert Frohman.

The length of time for its construction is not surprising when one views the intricacy of the materials and design. The Gothic architecture of the National Cathedral is easily identified by the pointed arches, flying buttresses, stained glass windows, and three separate towers. An eight-bay nave is separated from the chancel or sanctuary by a six-bay transept or crossing from north to south. The Gloria In Excelsis Tower rises 301 feet above the crossing, where the Pilgrim Observation Gallery at 676 feet above sea level is the highest point in DC. At the top of the 234’ northwest tower is the gargoyle, a sculpture of Darth Vader, probably the only one of him on a religious building. The winning design came from a children’s art contest sponsored by the builders of the Cathedral and is in keeping with the Gothic theme. The central tower has two sets of bells, a 53-bell carillon and a set of 10 hand bells, rung individually to produce a melodic effect. A 40’ wide set of Pilgrim Steps lead to the entrance below the carved tympanum of the one-story porch at the south transept. Although the majority of the Cathedral is Indiana grey limestone, stone from other countries was used, as well, including the pulpit from the Canterbury Cathedral, the bishop’s seat from Glastonbury Abbey, the high altar from the ledge of rock of Christ’s sepulcher, and the cornerstone itself from a field in Bethlehem. The Cathedral is filled with sculpture, carvings, wrought iron, mosaics, stained glass, and a number of large needlepoint canvases. One can only imagine the amount of maintenance and upkeep that is required, all of which is provided by private funding.

The Great Organ, with 10,650 pipes, was installed by the Ernest M. Skinner Organ Company in 1938. Regular organ recitals are given Monday and Wednesday from 12:30 to 1:00 p.m. The two choirs of the Washington National Cathedral, the Men and Boys, formed in 1909, and the Men and Girls in 1997 give regular performances. The boys attend St. Albans and the girls the National Cathedral School on singing scholarships. These world-renowned choirs of young, beautiful voices are frequently heard at numerous state and local functions, in the Christmas national broadcast, at morning Eucharist, and afternoon Evensong. The summer festival at the Cathedral this year will feature a number of concerts and recitals including music by the combined choirs, the United States Marine Corps Band, an evening of jazz with Brubeck’s son Chris, and Broadway and opera selections by Daniel Rodriguez. Ph: 202- 537-2238 for ticketed events — most are free.

There are approximately 14,000 members of the National Cathedral Association across the U.S., and every year each state has its own prayer day, and every four years, a major state day is observed. Pilgrimages to the Cathedral are encouraged and dignitaries from the designated state are invited to participate as speakers. At times, visitors to the Cathedral may choose to walk the Labyrinth on the last Tuesday of each month as a part of the Cathedral Crossroads Program of music and prayer from 6:30 to 8:45 p.m., or enjoy the outdoor walled Bishop’s Garden and stone pavilion near the Herb Cottage. Other attractions within the Cathedral include the large stained glass Rose window of the Last Judgment, the Space Window honoring the landing on the moon, and the window of the Lewis & Clark expedition.
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Monthly services at the Cathedral began with WWII, and during the years since then, it has been the site of numerous national events including the state funerals of Eisenhower, Reagan, and Ford, and the presidential inaugural prayer services. Thousands of visitors from every religious faith and every country come to the National Cathedral to worship, mourn, and remember the nation’s leaders and the tragic, yet memorable, events that have left a profound effect upon the entire world. The Cathedral is the final resting place of many famous people in our nation’s history such as Helen Keller, Stuart Symington, and George Dewey, as well as Woodrow Wilson, who remains the only U.S. president to be interred in DC. A great sense of peace and well being and some sadness lie within the walls of this “national house of prayer,” where the victims of the 9/11 tragedy were memorialized and Martin Luther King gave his last Sunday sermon from the Canterbury pulpit in 1968.

Hours: Sunday, 8:00 a.m. — 6:00 p.m., Monday — Friday — 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Saturday — 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Extended summer visiting hours.
Tours: (30-minute guided and audio), Sunday, 12:45 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Monday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., and 12:45 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., to 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Services: 4 (5 in the summer). Five Sunday Eucharist services, and a contemporary folk mass.
Parking: Garage at Wisconsin Avenue and Hearst Circle. Monday — Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., $3/hour, $12/maximum; Saturday, 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., $4; Sunday, 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., free for worshipers, after 4:00 p.m., $4.
Museum Store: Daily, 9:30 to 5:00 p.m. Cathedral Greenhouse: Monday — Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Herb Cottage: adjacent to the Cathedral, open 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

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