Discover / Washington National Cathedral
Save a National Treasure
Washington, DC
TYPE: Building
The Washington National Cathedral was completed over the course of 83 years. | Photo: National Trust
The Washington National Cathedral was completed over the course of 83 years. | Photo: National Trust
Restore the iconic cathedral that stands atop one of the highest hills in the nation's capital.


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. Now, due to the new damage, the structure’s preservation needs exceed $50 million.

National Significance

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.

Campaign Goals

  • Raise awareness about the challenges facing Washington National Cathedral.
  • Raise funds to support its restoration.

Ways To Help

Donate to our campaign to protect Washington National Cathedral.

Tell us why the Washington National Cathedral matters to you.

Posted on March 13, 2014

The Public Affairs team of the National Trust recently spent the day at the Cathedral for a retreat at the Sayre House on the Cathedral grounds.  A visit wouldn’t be complete without a tour of the Cathedral. The Public Affairs team got an opportunity to see some of the progress since the earthquake damage. Check out the sun shining beautifully onto the floor in the pulpit where many great people have spoken.

Inside the cathedral  Taking photos inside the cathedral

Posted on April 19, 2013

The Washington National Cathedral has events for the entire family throughout the spring & summer months.  Enjoy music and live entertainment at the annual spring festival; have tea and scones, while enjoying the scenic view of the nation's capitol; or be shocked and amazed during a tour of the gargoyles that line the Cathedral.  Whatever your leisure pursuit, the National Cathedral has something for everyone.

On May 3 & 4 come  and enjoy the annual outdoor spring festival at the National Cathedral which features plant sales, floral and horticultural displays, boutique booths, tasty foods, music, entertainment, plus fun activities for children, including rides on the antique carousel.

Throughout the summer take time to enjoy an in-depth tour of the Cathedral followed by a traditional English tea with sandwiches, scones, and a scenic view of the city.

Looking for something more grotesque?  Come get an up-close tour of the stone gargoyles that decorate Washington National Cathedral.  The tour includes a slide show an outdoor tour.

This August, discover the allure of wrought iron work by attending the Forged in Fire: Cathedral Ironwork Tour at the National Cathedral. The tour will include detailed imagery of techniques used by master black smiths to decorate this magnificent building. 

Posted on January 25, 2013

-- Written by David J. Brown, Executive Vice President and Chief Preservation Officer

Every four years, when the country gathers to inaugurate a president, some of the nation's most historic buildings take center stage. From the Benjamin Latrobe-designed St. John's Church where the First Family attends a morning service, to the White House where the President meets with his successor or the leaders of Congress, to the U.S. Capitol where the Chief Executive takes the oath of office under a magnificent dome largely completed during the darkest days of the Civil War -- our nation's peaceful transfer of power occurs in and around stately buildings that are cherished witnesses to history.

And the inauguration ceremonies end the following morning at yet another historic building -- Washington National Cathedral -- where the nation's secular and religious leaders gather for the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service.

I have attended many different services and ceremonies beneath the Cathedral's soaring vaults. I remember Evensong services in the great choir where I heard young trebles sing a "Pie Jesu" that lifted the congregants -- all twenty of them -- to another level of grace. The sanctuary worked surprisingly well as a backdrop for this intimate gathering. But when the sanctuary is filled to capacity with thousands of guests and visitors gathered in common cause, the transformative power of the Gothic structure atop Mount St. Alban becomes self evident.

What do historic spaces such as the Cathedral -- where National Trust president Stephanie Meeks and I were privileged to attend this morning's 57th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service -- have to offer that other buildings do not?

Washington National Cathedral, like any important historic building, reminds us that our lives are built on the shoulders of those who came before and that we have a responsibility to those yet to come. When the Children of the Gospel Choir sing the traditional spiritual "Way over in Beulah Lan" and we think of those who struggled to see beyond this time and place, their voices rise and linger in a building that holds a piece of lunar rock in the Space Window. Beautifully sung calls to prayer from the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian traditions remind us that the Cathedral was built as a House of Prayer for all people, not just the privileged and powerful. When The Reverend Adam Hamilton of Leawood, Kansas, builds a sermon around the emancipation story, the Walter Hancock statue of Abraham Lincoln bears silent witness to those who have made great sacrifice for the good of the nation.

These special places cannot serve the nation without the love, care, and support provided by countless stewards. Last year the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Washington National Cathedral a National Treasure to help those stewards recover from the damage of an unexpected earthquake and develop a vision forward for the preservation of this magnificent landmark.

It was clear again this morning why we need historic places such as Washington National Cathedral. During the service, The Reverend Dr. Raphael Gamaliel Warnock, Senior Pastor at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, asked everyone to join hands for the final prayer in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He did so in front of the pulpit where King gave the last Sunday sermon of his life. In that sermon, King said, "We must all learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will all perish together as fools"

Throughout this weekend of the inauguration of a president, Washington's historic buildings reminded the country that we have often disagreed -- and even fought -- as a nation. However, they also speak to the fact that we have come together more often than not to focus on the ideals that make us Americans. In the extraordinary, and yet also humbling, space of Washington National Cathedral, Dr. Warnock's final prayer called us again to those ideals.

"Let us recommit ourselves this day to one another and to the work of building together the beloved community. May God transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of the human family. And through us may all the families of the earth be blessed"

Posted on November 29, 2012

Written by Nell Ziehl, Project Manager

If you have not done so already, I hope you'll check out the great front-page article on National Cathedral in the Fall 2012 edition of Preservation.

Cathedral restoration has officially commenced and the preservation plan that will guide the rest of the restoration is almost complete.

Please check back often for additional updates on Washington National Cathedral. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.


Posted on August 23, 2012

Written by Nell Ziehl, Project Manager

I’ve just returned from the Washington National Cathedral, where we celebrated a wonderful, $5 million gift from the Lilly Endowment to launch restoration efforts at the site. Reverend Dr. Frank Wade, the interim dean of National Cathedral, thanked Lilly for the generous contribution and noted that many partnerships, including the National Trust’s National Treasures campaign, have helped to make the restoration a reality. 

Dean Wade also made the beautiful point that, while large donations are deeply appreciated, the National Cathedral’s heart is its community, and every contribution – no matter how small – helps to strengthen that heart. Reverend Jean Smith spoke on behalf of the Lilly Endowment and Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust, spoke on behalf of our organization.

Today, we were reminded that the nation came together to build the National Cathedral over 83 years, and its restoration won’t happen overnight. The Lilly Endowment’s gift is an enormous step in the right direction.

Please check back often for additional updates on Washington National Cathedral. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

Posted on July 20, 2012

Written by Nell Ziehl, Project Manager

I’m Nell Ziehl, the National Trust's project manager for Washington National Cathedral. I’ll be providing you regular updates as we work with the National Cathedral to raise awareness and funding for its restoration following the 2011 earthquake that rocked the nation’s capital.

This week, I’m pleased to announce that the National Trust awarded $5,000 through its Preservation Fund to help the National Cathedral conduct a seismic study with Columbia University and the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory. The study will help us understand what threats exist to the National Cathedral from future seismic activity, and what steps can be taken to reinforce the building as part of its restoration. 

Please check back often for additional updates on Washington National Cathedral. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

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Ray Foote on November 28, 2012
For the 27 years I've lived here, the Cathedral has always been an icon for me. It represents not just incredible craftsmanship, architecture, and engineering, but also a powerful idea: that America is a land of many, many faiths. The Cathedral always opens its doors to all and offers a symbol of inter-faith and ecumenical reconciliation. I also had the privilege of being on staff there from 2000 to 2006 where I met countless people touched by that place. I've posted a photo from one morning when I was allowed to climb the scaffolding to watch the late Dieter Goldkuhl install a window; what a cool experience. I'm glad THIS national treasure is part of the Trust's campaign!
John Richmond, Brattleboro, VT on August 02, 2012
As angst-ridden teenagers, my best friend and I used to drive to the National Cathedral in the dead of night. Sitting on its steps under the gaze of its gargoyles and towering sandstone, we would discuss everything from girls to politics, physics and religion. Neither of us has believed in God from the time we were little boys. And though the late hour precluded entry, the Cathedral offered us a cherished refuge anyway.
Ross Bradford, Washington, DC on August 02, 2012
I was immediately drawn to the Washington National Cathedral not only because of its architectural beauty, but also because of what it offers inside – a vast musical repertoire performed by resident musicians and choirs, like the Cathedral Choral. The Cathedral is not only a house of worship for all people, it is an important arts venue where performances of the great masterworks – both new and old – truly come to life.

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