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The Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, also known as the National Cathedral, is located on Wisconsin and Massachusetts Avenues in Washington DC. Although it is an Episcopal church, it is open to those of all denominations, billing itself as “A National House of Prayer for All People”. It is one of the last cathedrals in the world to be done in the classic Gothic style.

"The idea for a national cathedral is as old as Washington itself. In 1791, when Congress selected the site to be the capital of the United States, President George Washington commissioned Major Pierre l'Enfant to design an overall plan for the future seat of government. Included in l'Enfant's plan was a church, 'intended for national purposes, such as public prayer, thanksgiving, funeral orations, etc., and assigned to the special use of no particular Sect or denomination, but equally open to all. ' "

--National Cathedral website, http://www.cathedral.org/cathedral/discover/history.shtml

It took more than a century for the first official step in the building of the National Cathedral to occur. On January 6, 1893, Congress granted a charter to the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation of the District of Columbia, allowing it to establish a cathedral. President Benjamin Harrison signed this charter, with a site,Mount Saint Alban in northwest DC, chosen in 1896. The foundation stone was laid in 1907, with President Theodore Roosevelt attending the ceremony.

It took the next 83 years (with a three-year forced hiatus between 1977 – 1980 due to lack of funds) for the Cathedral to be built, although daily services had been offered since 1912. In 1990, the construction was finally concluded with the completion of the west towers.

Selected interesting features of the Cathedral, taken from the Cathedral’s website at http://www.cathedral.org/cathedral/discover/facts.shtml.

* Higher even than the Washington Monument, the second highest building in Washington DC. By law no building can be higher than the US Capitol on the Mall, which is why most buildings in DC are about 10 stories tall.

Other features (that I learned on a tour):

The Cathedral is sometimes featured in movies and TV, most recently in the funeral episode/season finale of The West Wing in 2001. The tympanum carving on the west facade (the ”front”) was used in The Devil’s Advocate.

Links:
Washington National Cathedral: http://www.cathedral.org/cathedral
Glossary of cathedral terms: http://www.cathedral.org/cathedral/discover/glossary.shtml

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