Interesting facts about the Washington National Cathedral

washington national cathedral

The Washington National Cathedral, is a cathedral of the Episcopal Church located in Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States.

The official name of the cathedral is the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington.

Washington National Cathedral is of Neo-Gothic design closely modeled on English Gothic style of the late fourteenth century

It is the sixth largest cathedral in the world and the second largest in the United States.

Washington National Cathedral stands tall in the nation’s capital. It is the city’s fourth-tallest building and the building with the highest point, rising 206 meters (676 feet) above sea level atop Mount Saint Alban in Northwest.

The cathedral is the seat of both the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and the Bishop of the Diocese of Washington.


Stonemasons and builders erected the cathedral beginning in 1907, completing it 83 years later in 1990.

Construction started September 29, 1907, with a ceremonial address by President Theodore Roosevelt and the laying of the cornerstone.

The completion of the west towers marked the end of 83 years of construction, as President George H.W. Bush wishes “God speed the work completed this noon and the new work yet to begin.”

The $65 million to build the cathedral was raised through private donations.

Designed by four different architects, this 7,712-square meter (83,012-square foot), structure is comprised of Indiana limestone.


The cathedral is built in the shape of a cross, its length extending some 160 meters (530 feet), and can seat about 4,000 people.

Its design shows a mix of influences from the various Gothic architectural styles of the Middle Ages, identifiable in its pointed arches, flying buttresses, a variety of ceiling vaulting, stained-glass windows and carved decorations in stone, and by its three similar towers, two on the west front and one surmounting the crossing.

The height of the two west towers is 71.3 meters (234 feet) and the height of the central Gloria In Excelsis Deo tower is 91.7 meters (301 feet) -the highest point in Washington, D.C.

washington national cathedral towers

There are 288 angels atop the two west towers.

There are 112 gargoyles and 1000 grotesques on the Washington National Cathedral.

There were two competitions held for the public to provide designs to supplement those of the carvers. The second of these produced the famous Darth Vader Grotesque which is high on the northwest tower, sculpted by Jay Hall Carpenter and carved by Patrick J. Plunkett.

washington national cathedral darth vader

Unique in North America, the central tower has two full sets of bells—a 53-bell carillon and a 10-bell peal for change ringing. The largest bell measuring 2.6 meters (8 ft 8 in) in diameter and weight 10,886 kilograms (24,000 pounds).

washington national cathedral bells

The one-story porch projecting from the south transept has a large portal with a carved tympanum. This portal is approached by the Pilgrim Steps, a long flight of steps 12 meters (40 feet) wide.

washington national cathedral entrance

The interior of Washington National Cathedral abounds in architectural sculptures, wood carvings, mosaics and wrought iron pieces.

washington national cathedral interior

The scale and size of the Cathedral’s High Altar reflect its significance in the church’s life, but also the more practical need to be seen from the far end of the nave, 160 meters (530 feet) away. In fact, the golden cross at the center of the altar stands about 1.8 meters (6 feet) tall.

washington national cathedral high altar

The long stalls of the Great Choir stand between the High Altar and the nave. The oak stalls were designed by Cathedral architects and carved by furniture makers Irving & Casson-A.H. Davenport and Company. During the week, the Great Choir provides seating for worshippers, and on Sundays, for the Cathedral Choir.

washington national cathedral great choir

The Cathedral’s spectacular vaulted ceiling transmits the weight of the roof and walls across delicate ribs and down the heavy trunks of stone piers.

washington national cathedral ceiling

There are 215 stained glass windows in the Cathedral – the most familiar of which may be the Space Window, honoring mankind’s landing on the Moon, which includes a fragment of lunar rock at its center; the rock was presented at the dedication service on July 21, 1974, the fifth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission.

washington national cathedral space window

Most of the interior decorative elements have Christian symbolism, in reference to the church’s Episcopal roots, but the cathedral is filled with memorials to persons or events of national significance: statues of Washington and Lincoln, state seals embedded in the marble floor of the narthex, state flags that hang along the nave, stained glass commemorating events like the Lewis and Clark expedition and the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima.

Throughout its long history, the impressive place of worship has been inextricably connected to the national and international stages as the venue for state funerals and memorial services for American presidents, the destination for presidential prayer services post inauguration, host to British royalty and even the site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last Sunday sermon in its Canterbury Pulpit.

The cathedral has been designated by Congress as the “National House of Prayer.”

In 2007, it was ranked third on the List of America’s Favorite Architecture by the American Institute of Architects.

In 2011 a rare 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck the east coast and caused an estimated $32 million in damage to the Cathedral.

People of all faiths, or no particular faith, are among the 500,000 who visit or come to worship each year.