Witness History at the Washington National Cathedral
September 28, 2013
WASHINGTON, DC, USA – Our nation’s capital has no shortage of beautiful and imposing edificies (think: the U.S. Capitol, Jefferson Memorial, and National Gallery of Art, to name a few). But few hold a candle to the architectural delight found in the northern section of the city. What began as a vision in the late 18th century eventually came to pass in 1990 as the Washington National Cathedral, a stately Gothic cathedral complete with a 234-foot tower, soaring ceilings, and flying buttresses.
Though the city is home to another architectural beaut in the east (Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception), this particular cathedral’s origins are as old as the city itself. It began when Pierre L’Enfant (commissioned by President George Washington) envisioned a grandiose version of Washington, complete with a so-called “Grand Avenue” and “a great church for national purposes.” However, it wasn’t until nearly a century later that this Gothic masterpiece came to be.
One of the six largest cathedrals in the world, the Washington National Cathedral has remained a centerpiece of history and national importance—even since its first cornerstone was laid in 1907. It’s held memorial services for World War II soldiers, President Ronal Reagan’s state funeral, and Dr. King’s last Sunday sermon in addition to foreign dignitaries like Queen Elizabeth II; you’re truly witnessing history in the making while roaming these soaring halls.
Expect quirky touches like a piece of lunar rock in the stained-glass Space Window and a sculpture of Darth Vader on top of the West Tower alongside traditional touches like a first edition King James Bible in the cathedral’s Rare Book Library. And when you’re looking for some quiet reflection and contemplation, this is one of the best places in DC to do so; you won’t encounter much of the hustle and bustle found around tourist DC here.
Afterward, you can head back to the heart of the capital for classic sights like the National Mall and Roosevelt Memorial among others. In all its glory, it’s hard to deny the impressive sight this imposing cathedral exhibits. Just make sure to sit down for a bit and take it all in before you go; after all, it’s not everyday you get to visit the place where presidents of now and yesteryear have roamed.
Read more about the Washington National Cathedral in our Washington, DC guide.