(The Washington National Cathedral in Washington DC. The cathedral is open to the public and has regular services every Sunday. (Photo used by permission of soomness.)
On Saturday, October 12, 2019, I joined over 700 youth from 96 Episcopal churches across the country at the Washington National Cathedral. These young people gathered for the National Acolyte Festival in a procession or march at the beginning of the service representing each of their home churches. The National Cathedral hosts this gathering of youth each October.
My visit to the Cathedral afforded an opportunity to learn more about this landmark in Washington, DC.
The Washington National Cathedral is a major tourist attraction in the nation’s capital. It is officially known as The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington as part of the American Episcopal Church. Originally an idea of President George Washington, construction of the cathedral began in 1907, but wasn’t finished until 1988. Throughout the cathedral’s 45 year history since the official establishment in 1979, it has hosted many major events and welcomes 270,000 visitors annually.
The huge church known as the National Cathedral is open to visitors each day. It offers various tours which focus on its history, architecture, or its huge pipe organ (which consists of 10,647 pipes). Yet more than a tourist attraction, the Cathedral is an active Episcopal church. It holds four Holy Eucharist services each Sunday, plus at least one every other day of the week. It’s congregation consists of parishioners who live in Washington, DC, as well as neighboring communities in Maryland and Virginia.
The cathedral has been the site of funerals for many recent Presidents, including President Ronald Regan in 2004, Gerald Ford in 2007, and George H.W. Bush in 2018. Also in 2018, the cathedral hosted the official funeral for the late Senator from Arizona, John McCain. It is also the final resting place of President Woodrow Wilson, who is buried within the Cathedral.
The cathedral itself has a gothic look to it, even though it was only built in the last century. This architecture, known as Neo-Gothic, complete with flying buttresses and an extensive collection of stained glass windows, is quite amazing and inspiring to anyone who visits the cathedral. If you look closely at the northwest tower, you may catch sight of a familiar and iconic villain: Darth Vader. In 1980, sculptor Jay Hall Carpenter and stone carver Patrick J. Plunkett added the Darth Vader gargoyle to the tower’s collection of over 200 whimsical gargoyles.
On August 23, 2011, an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.8 rattled the piedmont region of Virginia. The earthquake caused damage to the cathedral, including a 350lb finial that fell 20 stories off the northwest tower. Someone stole the finial later that night. In 2017, major repair began on the cathedral, but it is unknown when stone carvers like Sean Callahan and Andy Uhl will finish repairs.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the National Cathedral. Next time you are in Washington DC, don’t forget to stop by this iconic landmark. Whether you wish to attend a worship service, take a tour or simply sit in quiet reflection within one of the most beautiful churches in America, the Washington National Cathedral is a splendid attraction in a city full of memorable sights.