The Washington National Cathedral is one of the tallest points within Washington, DC, as well as being one of the largest landmarks in a region filled with them — it physically dominates the skyline in the northwest section of the city, and can be seen from great distances because of its elevated position atop Mount Saint Alban. Because it’s so big and requires so much ongoing annual maintenance, the Cathedral offers a number of paid tours — some self-guided and others led by a docent — throughout the facility, the best of which climb far up into the bell towers and explore places normally unseen by the casual visitor.
I was gifted one of these tours by my wife as a birthday present a couple of years ago, and it was a spectacular experience. I’ve always loved seeing and visiting cathedrals of all denominations, and I’ve watched this one gradually reach completion since my family arrived in this region back in the mid-1970’s.
At the time, it was projected that the National Cathedral would take another 50-to-100 years or so to be finished, but an accelerated building program resulted in the end of 83-years of major construction in 1990. Sadly, the Cathedral was heavily damaged during a rare 5.8-magnitude earthquake in 2011, which resulted in many millions of dollars worth of damage and another 18-to-25 years of restorative construction. Fortunately, most of the interior spaces open to visitors are now clear of construction efforts and protective netting that was visible for many years following the earthquake, and the Cathedral is looking ready for its close-up once again.
This particular guided tour is considered physically demanding and strenuous because of all the stair-climbing involved, which reaches up some 20-stories into the bell towers and roof of the structure — both inside and out — as well as requiring participants to be on their feet for the entire length of the two-hour exploration of the building (there is no seating available except once the tour is completed). However, if you’re game, you can come back with some wonderful memories and great photos.
Washington National Cathedral
Mount Saint Albans
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