Friday morning Laura was still busy with her scientist friends, so I was on my own to explore D. C. until lunch. I decided to visit the National Cathedral, a place I’d not visited on any of trips to the city.
I boarded the Metro with the morning rush hour throngs. Even with my agoraphobia I managed to make it to the the Woodbury Park stop without freaking out. From the Metro stop it was about a mile hike to the cathedral through some really nice residential sections. I passed several nannies out walking their employer’s spawn.
As one flies into Washington D. C., the cathedral is just as imposing as any of the other national buildings. It’s perched on a high hill overlooking the rest of the city. However, it’s hardly visible as one approaches from the ground – at least, from the direction I was walking. The area is surrounded by wooded park lands and gardens, and it wasn’t until I was right on it that I could see the large structure.
I had about thirty minutes until the building was opened for visitors, so I strolled around snapping a few photos. From the outside the building looks very much like the cathedrals I’ve seen in Europe, with its soaring towers and flying buttresses. Of course, there were gargoyles and sculptures everywhere. Now familiar with the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who, I kept glancing over my shoulder at every statue I passed. It was a malady that would plague me for the rest of this trip.
Soon the doors opened and we were allowed inside. The interior was suitably impressive, with high vaulted ceilings and incredible stained glass windows. The upper windows carried the religious themes of creation and redemption, while the lower windows told the story of the United States. One window, representing space exploration and science, actually has a bit of a moon rock embedded into it.
Several large groups were gathering for guided tours, and I slipped in with one. This group turned out to be a youth choir from Lubbock, Texas. When I mentioned that I, too, was a church choir director, I was introduced to their music director, and we carried on a nice conversation.
The tour guide was aware of the group’s origin, so he pointed out various bits of stone that came from Texas, and other items of interest specific to that state. In general, the tour was very informative. We visited the various chapels and got descriptions of the stained glass windows, sculptures, and other artwork in the church. We lingered a bit in the choir area, and got an update on how the organ was undergoing an extensive rework over the next couple of years.
Apart from main sanctuary with its massive knave, choir, and alter areas, I was amazed at the number of beautiful side chapels. Even below the main level of the church there were several chapels that would have been sufficient for a regular-sized church had they been stand-alone structures.
I knew this was a relatively modern structure built in a 15th century style. I knew there would be some modern compromises, such as the window with the moon rock. I was afraid there would be a disconnect between the old and new styles, but these seemed to have been fused seamlessly. Everything worked architecturally and from a worship standpoint.
As I left the cathedral I wandered through the Bishop’s Garden. There were many flowers in bloom, and the decorative plants made a wonderful framework for the views of the cathedral. A group of artists had easels and paint supplies set up in one corner of the garden. I figured that would be a great place for photos, too.
I was very pleased with my visit, except…
…I couldn’t go everywhere I wanted. I saw so many upper corridors, spiral staircases, and little nooks and crannies I wanted to explore. If I’d had my way I would have crawled up every bell tower and loft area. Oh well. I guess I have to be satisfied with what we mere public people can see.