The Unique Features of the Washington National Cathedral in Washington DC
November 17, 2021
During our recent trip to Washington DC, we visited the Washington National Cathedral (officially named The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul), which is a gothic cathedral that rivals any that we have visited in other countries. Although we have been to Washington DC many times, this was actually the first time that we actually went to the cathedral. At the moment, the number of visitors allowed is limited and you should get tickets in advance, but you aren’t required to visit at specific times and can visit anytime during the day of your ticket. Once at the cathedral, you can take a self-guided tour using information provided by the cathedral or simply wander through the cathedral if you prefer.
Obviously the high ceilings of the main cathedral hall are quite dramatic as you walk towards the High Altar located on the opposite side of the entrance. as you face the altar, there are three chapels located to the right of the altar, the War Memorial Chapel, the Children’s Chapel, and the St. John’s Chapel, which is directly adjacent to the High Altar. Sitting in front of the High Altar, which is separated by wooden arches, are two ornate pulpits. One of the pulpits is the Canterbury Pulpit, which is made from stones from the Canterbury Cathedral in the UK. To the left of the High Altar is St. Mary’s Chapel and Holy Spirit Chapel.
Another highlight of the cathedral are the 231 fascinating stained glass windows that are located all around the cathedral hall. There are many traditional types of stained glass windows depicting religious images, but there are many non-traditional windows as well. Some of the more unique are the Space Window, which celebrates America’s exploration of space and actually contains a piece of moon rock brought back by the Apollo 11 astronauts. The Woodrow Wilson War and Peace Window is dedicated to the only president that is buried in Washington DC. And, of course, there is no missing the Creation Rose Window that appears to change color during the day as the sun’s position changes.
Walking the exterior of the National Cathedral is equally enjoyable with its height, pointed arches, gargoyles, and stone grotesques. There is a Darth Vader grotesque located on one of the towers, but it is almost impossible to see without binoculars. It was added in the 80’s after a contest was held for children to design a statue for the cathedral. It is worth taking the time to walk around the entire cathedral and there is a self-guided tour that will provide information on some of the 112 gargoyles that adorn the church exterior.
The Washington National Cathedral is not located in downtown Washington DC with all of the Smithsonian Museums, Monuments, Capital, and White House, but it is worth taking the time to visit. The fact that it isn’t located next to all of the other tourist sites is probably one of the reasons that we hadn’t visited it before, especially with so many things to see in Washington DC. We certainly enjoyed our visit and glad that we walked the 60 minutes to get there from where we were staying in the Georgetown area.