By Kelly Wise Valdes
Washington National Cathedral is most certainly a must-see when visiting the nation’s capital. It is the sixth largest cathedral in the world as well as the second largest in the United States.
This cathedral broke ground in 1907, using the same mallet that George Washington used to set the capitol cornerstone. The construction briefly halted during both world wars and because of financial difficulty during the Great Depression. The cathedral was officially completed with the placement of the final stone September 29, 1990, which was exactly 83 years to the day after it was begun.
With its gothic design, the Washington National Cathedral has congregational seating, large arches, crosses and vaults that were built stone by stone. Many visitors come for the cathedral’s Gargoyle Tour that takes place between April and October. There are many of these stone statues outside of the cathedral including a Darth Vader gargoyle located at the northwest tower.
Outside there is an English-style Bishop’s Garden with boxwoods, ivy, tea roses, yew trees and an assortment of sculptures and stonework from European ruins. The intricate glass-stained windows light up the inside of this architectural masterpiece.
The cathedral’s Flower Mart is held annually on the first Friday and Saturday in May and is one of Washington’s renowned festivals. Each year, one Washington embassy is honored and festivalgoers are treated to the culture, traditions, food and art of the selected country. This is one of only two times during the year that visitors can climb the 333 steps to the cathedral’s tower.
The cathedral is Episcopalian, but it’s often used for interfaith services. State funerals for presidents Eisenhower, Reagan and Ford were held here. The tomb of Woodrow Wilson, the only president buried in Washington is on the south of the structure.
The view of the city from the Pilgrim Observation Gallery is extraordinary. Visitors are invited to a traditional English afternoon tea in the gallery most Tuesdays and Wednesdays following a one-hour cathedral tour. Tours are offered daily and are $15 per adult and children younger than 12 are $6. For more information, visit www.cathedral.org.