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National Cathedral | Washington, D.C.


"Great windows, great music, great architecture, all have a cosmic quality.
They need no interpreter."

(James Sheldon)

My fingers sputter each time I start this post. I begin to describe the soft light, delete delete delete. The High Gothic arches I cherish so much, the ribbed arching, delete delete delete. I can't seem to find the words. I've been all over Europe and experienced some of the most inspiring architecture in the world, and I would say that our National Cathedral easily holds its own.

It's the 6th largest cathedral in the world. The nave stretches a tenth of a mile and soars to 100 feet high, thus qualifying it for coveted Gothic status. It took 83 years to complete (1907 to 29 September 1990...Happy Centennial Birthday, Cathedral!). A unique feature of this cathedral, which reminded me of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, is the contemporary scenes depicted in the stained glass. European cathedrals tend to be fairly predictable with the stations of the cross and the obligatory statue of Saint So-and-So; whereas U.S. cathedrals, much like the U.S. itself, tend to set their own standards and write their own history.

I know people who are really bothered by this; however, I find it not only interesting social commentary, but charming. In the National Cathedral you'll find stained glass depicting Maryland Bay, Woodrow Wilson, the Apollo XI mission...complete with an actual moon rock stuck in the design of the glass, and more. Grace Cathedral, for another example, sports murals depicting the history of California, the Gold Rush, and ruffians of the Western frontier. To some it may seem irreverent, but to me there is something deeply hopeful about immortalizing the contemporary. To understand your place in history, to know that a cathedral built in your lifetime will still be standing 1,000 years from now and that people will marvel at a stained glass window depicting the ancient story of two Civil War generals, is a fascinating idea. I wish more Americans had an awe and respect of their impact and place in history. This world would be a gentler place.


I don't know how accurate the architect's statement really is, but it's aches and I enjoy it: "I know of no other architect who has ever consciously designed a building with the knowledge that he would not live to see its completion. Therefore, I must draw every details more carefully and be more certain of its accuracy and beauty." (Philip Hubert Frohman)

There's an unspeakable pain in loving something so much and yet knowing that you will not ultimately experience the very best of that thing you love. Was the architect dating the cathedral? Because that sounds really familiar to me.

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