Washington, D.C.'s Top 10 : Washington National Cathedral

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This glorious Gothic building is the focus of public spiritual life for the city and the nation. The structure – the sixth largest cathedral in the world – was completed in 1990, with a 10-story-high nave and a central tower 676 ft (206 m) above sea level, the highest point in the District of Columbia. Officially named the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the church is Episcopal but invites people of all faiths to worship.

  • Massachusetts & Wisconsin Aves NW

  • 202 537 6200


  • Open 10am–5:30pm Mon–Fri, 10am–4pm Sat, 12:45–4pm Sun (weekend hours subject to change for special events)

  • Donation

  • Dis. access

Building the Cathedral

In 1893 Congress granted a charter to construct Washington National Cathedral. Theodore Roosevelt attended the laying of the foundation stone at the commanding Mount St. Albans location in 1907. The completion of the west towers in 1990 marked the end of 83 years of continuous work. The cathedral is built by the “stone-on-stone” method, using no structural steel. Many architects, including Henry Vaughan, Philip Frohman, and George Bodley, came together to create this inspiring monument. It was built entirely from donations.

Cathedral Floorplan

The Cathedral Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage is a carpeted room on the lower level, provided for prayer and meditation. Pillows on the floor and subdued candlelight create a tranquil atmosphere.

Binoculars or a telephoto lens are a must for appreciating the gargoyles.

Top 10 Features
  1. Exterior

    The architecture of the cathedral is predominantly English Gothic, created using authentic methods preserved since the Middle Ages, including a cross-shaped floorplan, flying buttresses, and multispired towers.

  2. Main Entrance and Creation

    The west entrance is centered within a high Gothic arch containing a lovely rose window. Above the bronze double doors is “Ex Nihilo,” a relief sculpture by Frederick Hart portraying the creation of humankind from chaos.

  3. High Altar

    The imposing high altar at the east end of the nave is made from stone dug from Solomon’s quarry outside Jerusalem; the altar is also called the Jerusalem Altar.

  4. Space Window

    This stained-glass window is notable for commemorating mankind’s 20th-century moon landing. A piece of moon rock, brought back by Apollo 11 astronauts, is embedded in it.

  5. Nave

    The horizontal impression given by the nave is also typical of English Gothic style. Flags of the states are displayed around the outer walls.

  6. South Rose Window

    “The Church Triumphant” is the theme of this elegant stained-glass window. The design of Joseph G. Reynolds incorporates 12 brilliantly colored “petals” and numerous other figures.

  7. Children’s Chapel

    This endearing room is child-scaled with a miniature organ and altar and chairs to fit six-year-olds. Jesus is also shown as a boy in the sculpture here.

  8. Gargoyles and Grotesques

    Derived from decorated spouts on European buildings, these carved ornaments have been given free rein at the cathedral. The 112 carvings include Darth Vader of Star Wars® fame and a predatory-looking owl.

  9. Pipe Organ

    This magnificent Aeolian-Skinner instrument has 10,650 pipes. On most Mondays and Wednesdays at 12:45pm, an organist gives a presentation and then demonstrates with a recital.

  10. Gardens

    A medieval walled garden is the model for the cathedral’s beautiful Bishop’s Garden on the south side of the church. The herb gardens are a delight to the nose as well as the eye: all the stones here originated in a quarry that George Washington once owned.

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