Washington National Cathedral

photo by: Brian Thomson/The Ethan James Foundation

Saving America's Historic Sites

Washington National Cathedral

  • Constructed: 1907-1990
  • Location: Washington, DC

In 1896, the extraordinary, 57-acre hilltop parcel of Mount Saint Alban was selected for Washington National Cathedral. The foundation stone for the enormous sanctuary was laid in 1907, initiating a building campaign that would last for 83 years. The Cathedral was constructed primarily in the masonry tradition of the great medieval churches of Europe, and includes 112 gargoyles, 231 stained glass windows, and at least one stone weighing more than five tons. While serving as a house of worship, the Cathedral has also played a central role in national ceremonies, including presidential inaugurations and funerals, while hosting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Unfortunately, the 2011 earthquake that rocked the nation’s capital had a devastating impact on the historic structure. Massive pinnacles and decorative carvings twisted, broke, and shattered on the ground. At the time of the earthquake, the Cathedral was already struggling with a backlog of maintenance and repairs. After damage by the earthquake, the structure’s preservation needs exceeded $50 million. In 2021, the National Fund for Sacred Places provided a grant of $250,000 to support repair of earthquake-damaged nave buttresses on the south transept, part of a $7.2 million project that was completed in March 2023.

In his grand design for the new American capital city, Pierre L’Enfant (1754 -1825) proposed setting aside land for a “great church for national purposes.” Although the Cathedral has a local congregation and serves as the seat of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and of the Bishop of the Diocese of Washington, it fulfills the national ideal envisioned by L’Enfant by providing a place for Americans of all faiths to worship, reflect, celebrate, and mourn.


Restoration of the iconic cathedral that stands atop one of the highest hills in the nation's capital is ongoing.

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