Washington National Cathedral
Massachusetts and Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.
The childhood trip I took to The Washington National Cathedral stands out in my mind as one of the best. I had always wanted to take my kids - the only drawback was finding the courage to navigate Washington, D.C. When Lydia Horan (and her fabulous Fine Arts Club) decided to study the medieval period, and Kim Dukes agreed to lead a caravan of cars into the District, I was delighted that my kids would finally have this experience. I was also curious to see if it would impress me as much now as it did over thirty years ago.
I was not disappointed; it was even more incredible than I remembered. First of all, we had arranged for a tour guide, and he turned out to be excellent. Dr. John Chamberlain (a kid-friendly, retired pediatrician) met us upon our arrival and proceeded to give us a fantastic journey through the Cathedral. He was appreciative of the children’s questions and didn’t seem to be in a hurry as other tour groups passed us by. He showed us the small stuff - like tiny mice carved in limestone...with a cat carved nearby. He even had a cool laser light that could point 98 feet overhead to whatever detail he was discussing.
The Washington National Cathedral can best be described as an artistic and architectural wonder. Designed in true Gothic style, it is the world’s sixth largest Cathedral. Since the project was dependent on private donations, it took 87 years to complete because the work had to be halted at times for lack of resources. Although administered by the Episcopal Church, many denominations hold services at this "house of prayer for all people." Who remembers that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached his last Sunday sermon there in 1968?
Inside the Cathedral, I felt like I was walking through a story book, which told not only religious history, but the history of our country. I saw incredible stained glass windows, located with thought to the sun’s path across the sky, depicting themes ranging from The Creation to Lewis & Clark. There is even a "space window" of the Apollo XI flight which contains a moonrock within the stained glass. I saw intricately detailed wood and limestone carvings that made me feel like I was in the finest of museums. And I saw the kids’ delight in the Children’s Chapel with child-sized seats, a statue of Jesus as a six year old, and kneelers needlepointed with baby animals.
A trip to the Observation Tower allowed not only a view of the city, but a close-up of the building’s structure (complete with the typical Gothic flying buttresses the kids are studying). The outside of the Cathedral is equally amazing, with countless detailed carvings (including a few gargoyles) and many acres of gardens and smaller outbuildings you are free to explore. In warm weather, a picnic and casual stroll would be great.
The tour completed, we then drove through some of the D.C. cityscape to the Franciscan Monastery. This unique religious community is surrounded by 30 acres of gardens and contains replicas of many of the world’s holy shrines. Friar Cornelius gave us a free tour of the church that included a trip down into the Roman catacombs, so realistic that many of us found it to be creepy. Although the Monastery is a "reproduction," it was quite different from the Cathedral and interesting enough to merit a visit. Also along the way, are the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the National Zoo, and Rock Creek Park.
DIRECTIONS TO THE WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL: I-66 to Rosslyn, cross Key Bridge into Georgetown, Right onto M Street, Left onto Wisconsin to Cathedral on Right. Parking is free...keep looking. Tour Group phone number is (202) 537-6207. We paid a booking fee of $10.00 for the group and $2.00 for each adult/$1.00 for each child (suggested donation). Cameras are allowed inside.
Click here for Washington National Cathedral Web Page
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