National Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral (officially named the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul), is the Episcopalian cathedral of Washington D.C. and the national house of prayer of the USA. The sixth largest cathedral in the world and second largest in the United States, the National Cathedral is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It is affiliated with the U.S. government through a Congressional charter signed on January 6, 1893, but does not receive any federal, state or city funding.


History of National Cathedral

In 1792 Pierre L'Enfant's Plan of the Federal City set aside land for a "great church for national purposes." The National Portrait Gallery now occupies that site. In 1893, the United States Congress granted the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation of the District of Columbia a charter to establish anew cathedral. A commanding site on Mount Saint Albans was chosen and Frederick Bodley, England's leading Anglican church architect, was appointed the head architect.

Construction started September 29, 1907 with a ceremonial address by President Theodore Roosevelt and the laying of the cornerstone. In 1912, Bethlehem Chapel opened for services in the unfinished cathedral, which have continued daily ever since. When construction of the cathedral resumed after a brief hiatus for World War I, both Bodley and Vaughan had passed away; American architect Philip Hubert Frohman took over the project.

Washington National Cathedral's pulpit was the last one from which Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke prior to his assassination in 1968. The building was finally completed on 29 September 1990 after almost a century of planning and 83 years in construction. It was funded entirely from private sources; maintenance and upkeep continue to rely upon private support.

The cathedral has been the site of two Presidential state funerals: for Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald W. Reagan, and a presidential burial in the cathedral mausoleum: Woodrow Wilson. Eisenhower lay in repose at the cathedral before lying in state. In addition, a memorial service for Harry Truman took place at National Cathedral, which foreign dignitaries attended because of the advanced age of his wife, Bess.

The National Cathedral has also hosted important interfaith services, including the 9/11 memorial service and the Reagan funeral.

What to See at National Cathedral

The National Cathedral's final design shows a mix of influences from the various Gothic architectural styles of the middle ages, but particularly the English Gothic style such as that of Canterbury Cathedral or Bristol Cathedral. Most of the building is constructed using gray Indiana limestone. Some concrete and structural steel were also used sparingly.

Washington National Cathedrals its on a 57-acre (230,000 m²) plot on Mount Saint Alban in northwest Washington, DC. The building consists of a long eight-bay nave with wide side aisles and a five-bay chancel, intersected by a six-bay transept. The south porch has a large portal with a carved tympanum. This portal is approached by the Pilgrim Steps, a long flight of steps 12 m (40 ft) wide.

Over the crossing is the 91-meter (301-foot) high Gloria in Excelsis Tower. Its top is the highest point in Washington, DC, at 206 m (676 ft) above sea level. Uniquely, the tower has two full sets of bells - a 53-bell carillon and a 10-bell peal for change ringing.

The interior of Washington National Cathedral abounds in architectural sculptures, wood carvings, mosaics and wrought iron pieces. There is even a gargoyle of Darth Vader on the north tower. There are other works of art including over two hundred stained glass windows, the most familiar of which may be the Space Window, honoring man's landing on the Moon, which includes a fragment of lunar rock at its center.

Most of the decorative elements naturally incorporate Christian symbolism and biblical stories, but the cathedral is also filled with memorials to persons or events of national significance: statues of Washington and Lincoln, state seals embedded in the mosaic floor of the narthex, state flags that hang along the nave, and stained glass commemorating events like the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Washington National Cathedral and its mausoleum and columbariums house the tombs of many notable American citizens, including:

Quick Facts on National Cathedral

Site Information
Names:Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul · National Cathedral · Washington National Cathedral
Country:United States
Styles:Gothic Revival style
Dedication: St. Peter and St. Paul
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:38.930575° N, 77.070513° W
Address:3101 Wisconsin Ave NW
Washington, D.C.
Hours:May-Aug: Mon-Fri 10-5, Sat 10-4:30, Sun 8-5
Sep-Apr: daily 10-5
Lodging:View hotels near National Cathedral
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.


  1. Wikipedia (some text incorporated under GFDL).
  2. Fodor's Washington D.C.
  3. Washington National Cathedral: A National House of Prayer for All People – official website
  4. Episcopal Diocese of Washington

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Map of National Cathedral

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