The National Cathedral

The National Cathedral

By Brandon Osborne

Visiting our nation’s capital is like jumping into a history book being able to experience the buildings and spaces where history was made and memorialized. One such place is the Washington National Cathedral.

Understanding the history of the National Cathedral adds layers of texture to the entire experience.  The building was envisioned in 1791 by President Washington, who commissioned Major Pierre L’Enfant to create a visionary plan for the nation’s capital.  The Cathedral wasn’t completed until the opening of the west towers in 1990 and after almost two hundred years our nation finally had a “great church for national purpose” President Washington had envisioned.

The interior of the National Cathedral offers space to hold large gatherings by providing a height/width ratio comfortable for many participants.  Large gatherings held here have included the state funerals of four of our nation’s presidents: Woodrow Wilson, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Regan and Gerald Ford.

Many weddings are held here, including that of a close friend of mine.  The intimate nature of my friend’s wedding reminded me how critical the architecture was to that moment.  The ornate detailing of the stained glass windows, the juxtaposition of elegant wood partitions to masonry, and the acoustics of the grand organ played a part in this intimate moment.

The unbelievably powerful exchange between the ceremony itself and the architecture were undeniable.  As the ceremony began one aspect of how this space was designed for just such an occasion occurred to me: the movements of the wedding party to the main alter where the vows would be exchanged was incredibly symbolic.  The sectional change of the wedding procession from beginning to the alter represented three separate thresholds to be crossed before entering the ceremony space, taking one step to higher ground at the crossing of each threshold.  The anticipation of making this walk was palpable for the participants as well as the congregation appropriately seated in raked seating to make seeing the procession coming as well as the ceremony itself easier.