When many of us hear the word “cathedral,” we associate it with the great structures of the Roman Catholic faith. The National Cathedral however, whose official name is the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, was commissioned by the Episcopal Church.
Architectural credit for the building’s design goes to George Frederick Bodley, a noted cathedral builder of the late 19th century. While he created the master plan, he didn’t live to see much of the actual construction. I don’t imagine anyone who saw Teddy Roosevelt speak at the laying of the foundation stone in 1907 saw the finished cathedral – since it took 83 years to complete.
The cathedral’s is designed in the gothic revival style, and is constructed of 150,000 tons of Indiana limestone. Its central tower is 30 stories tall, and it features more than 200 stained glass windows. Located in the northwest quadrant of the District of Columbia, it occupies one of the highest vantage points in all of Washington.
Since it is the National Cathedral, it hosts an unusual mix of spiritual and civic activities. Among the historic events it has hosted include: the state funerals of four U.S. presidents (Wilson, Eisenhower, Ford, and Reagan) and a memorial service for another (Truman), a memorial service for victims of the September 11 attacks, a national prayer service on the day following the inauguration of every president since Ronald Reagan (except for Bill Clinton), and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last sermon.
The cathedral has been voted the third favorite building in American architecture in a public poll conducted by the American Institute of Architects.