What is the Washington National Cathedral?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2019
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The Washington National Cathedral is located in Washington, D.C. in the United States. It is officially known as the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, and as the second largest cathedral in the United States, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has played host to a score of historical events, including the funerals of four U.S. Presidents and countless memorials and remembrances. The Washington National Cathedral was built starting in 1907 and began services in 1912.

Plans for the Washington National Cathedral — in its nascent form, a church to service national purposes — date back to the eighteenth century when George Washington charged Major Pierre L'Enfant to plan the layout and function of the nation's capital. L'Enfant designed a place for national worship and envisioned a great cathedral. Though his original location did not end up being the final location for the Washington National Cathedral, the plans to build such a place were carried out over a century later. Today, the cathedral is a major tourist draw in the D.C. area in addition to the regular members who frequent the church.


While the cathedral opened only five years after initial construction began, the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul would be under construction for 83 years. Throughout its history, the cathedral has evolved physically but has remained an active place of worship throughout. The final phase of construction was completed in 1990 while President George H.W. Bush was in office. The cathedral is made from Indiana Limestone and is designed as a Gothic structure. It features several stained glass windows, flying buttresses, vaulted ceilings, and many arches throughout the building.Some specific materials came from other locations throughout the world, such as the stones in front of the altar, which came from Mount Sinai in Jerusalem.

Known as a National House of Prayer where all faiths are welcome, the Washington National Cathedral has played host to countless prayer services attended by United States Presidents and other prominent politicians and leaders from throughout the world. In times of national crises, the cathedral often becomes the focal point of national mourning, prayer, and worship. Memorial services were held there shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and a memorial service was held shortly after Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. He delivered his final sermon in the cathedral just days before his assassination.


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Post 2

@MissDaphne - That really was a good episode! A friend of mine who has oodles of money sends her daughter to the National Cathedral School in Washington, which is right near there.

It's actually an Episcopalian church. I think the term "catholic" in this context doesn't just mean Roman Catholic; Anglicans, Episcopalians, and perhaps the Orthodox churches also consider themselves Catholic churches. I guess it has to do with the structure of the church, etc.

Post 1

The Washington National Cathedral is absolutely gorgeous! I've seen it in person a few times. I was also a big fan of The West Wing and they shot a really good episode there (a funeral for a White House staffer) called "Two Cathedrals." I think it won a Peabody. It had an excellent scene in which Martin Sheen is alone in the Cathedral yelling at God in both Latin in English. (My favorite line, "Have I displeased you, you feckless thug?") Then he lights a cigarette and puts it out on the floor.

My question is about the religious nature of the Cathedral. Is it a Roman Catholic church? (The article says Catholic is in its name.) Or is it just ecumenical? Is there a religious affiliation at all.

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