Tuesday, December 24: Our family has a longstanding tradition of visiting Washington National Cathedral on the morning of Christmas Eve. We always reenact the same ritual, and our children, even though they’re grown now, insist that we don’t change one aspect of it. Even while I was gone for the last three years in Korea and Oman, the family continued on the tradition without me.
One of the main reasons we come on Christmas Eve is to see the annual exhibit of nativity scenes from around the world, which runs through January 12, 2014. This year’s exhibit, entitled “What Child is This,” is in the crypt (lower level), just outside the Bethlehem Chapel. I’ll write another post about the exhibit, to follow this one.
We always start our visit by walking through the nave and admiring the architectural sculptures, wood carvings, leaded glass, mosaics, artistic metal work, and other works of art, including over 200 stained glass windows. Most of the decorative elements have Christian symbolism or are memorials to famous persons or events.
The richly decorated Gothic-style National Cathedral, completed in 1990, sits on a landscaped 57 acre plot of land on Mount Saint Albans in Northwest Washington, 400 feet above sea level. By some measures, the Cathedral is the sixth largest in the world, second largest in the United States. The top of the tower is the highest point in DC. The Cathedral is built primarily of gray Indiana limestone; some concrete and structural steel are used sparingly.
President George Washington disclosed a plan for the “City of Washington, in the district of Columbia” on January 4, 1792; this plan set aside a lot designated for “A church intended for national purposes, …, assigned to the special use of no particular sect or denomination, but equally open to all.” Though the original lot wasn’t used for the Cathedral, the site at Mount Saint Albans was chosen over a century later.
The building of the cathedral finally started in 1907 with a ceremonial address by President Theodore Roosevelt.
We walk through all the chapels, including the Holy Spirit Chapel, the Bethlehem Chapel and the Joseph of Arimathea Chapel.
After walking though the main church, the crypt and all the chapels, we take the elevator to the seventh floor, where we can see views of Washington and the exhibit “Though the Earth Be Moved,” a look at the impact of the 2011 earthquake on the Cathedral.
The Cathedral has been the location of many significant events, including the funeral services of Woodrow Wilson and Dwight Eisenhower. Its pulpit was the last one from which Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke before his assassination. The Cathedral is the burial-place of many notable people, including Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller, Admiral George Dewey, Bishop Satterlee and the architects Henry Vaughan and Philip Frohman (National Park Service: National Cathedral).
I’m so pleased to be back home again to celebrate the holidays with my family, after three long years away. Last year in Oman, I had to work on Christmas Day. 😦
Finally, we walk out to the grounds, but as it’s a freezing day and we’re all hungry for our lunch at the Lebanese Taverna market in Arlington, we head home to finish getting ready for Christmas.
In the gift shop, we find a bumper sticker which shares a great message for the holiday.