After 83 years, National Cathedral to get final stone

September 28, 1990|By Frank P. L. Somerville

Among Washington's most impressive landmarks and tourist attractions is the Gothic-style ecclesiastical seat of the Episcopal Bishop of Washington. The official title is Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, but it is far better known by its unofficial nickname: the National Cathedral.

Tomorrow, 83 years to the day after the cornerstone was laid on an undeveloped hill in northwest Washington, the final stone will be ceremoniously inserted in this soaring monument to the glory of God and the artistic inventiveness of mankind.

Dignitaries expected at the outdoor ecumenical celebration at the west end of the cathedral facing Wisconsin Avenue are the Most Rev. Edmond L. Browning, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church with offices in New York, and the nation's most famous Episcopalian, President Bush.

Climaxing a long weekend of events to mark completion of the $130 million edifice -- the world's sixth-largest cathedral of any Christian denomination -- will be a service of consecration inside the nave Sunday morning. But tickets will be required.

More accessible to the general public are tomorrow's festivities, beginning with carillon and band music at 11 a.m.

The actual placing of the last of the structure's many thousands of intricately designed and set stones is scheduled for noon.

Then, beginning at 1 p.m., the bells of the central tower that rises from the great Gothic crossing of the landmark will peal for three hours.

As architecture, the National Cathedral has not been without detractors, who saw it as a colstly anachronism in the modern age. Its completion is a triumph of generations of visionaries who held to the original English Gothic design through decades of changing New World fashion and fund-raising crises.

But not all of the ornamentation evokes the Middle Ages. One of the most popular of the stained-glass windows is an abstraction that swirls around a chunk of moon rock retrieved by U.S. astronauts.

The idea of a national cathedral did not begin with Episcopalians at the turn of this century. It was part of the earliest plans for the nation's capital. French architect Pierre L'Enfant, whose 1791 design became the city's master plan, included a "a great church for national purposes . . . equally open to all."

National Cathedral celebration


7:30 a.m. Holy Eucharist

10 a.m. to noon, Annual Meeting of National Cathedral Association in the Nave, followed by luncheon in the Bishop's Garden.

3 p.m., Tea in the garden for All Hallows Guild members.

4 p.m., Festival Evensong of Thanksgiving. Cathedral Dean Emeritus Francis B. Sayre Jr. will preach.

5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Carillon music by the Washington Ringing Society.


11 a.m., Carillon music, Band Prelude.

Noon, Setting of the Last Stone and Dedication, outdoors.

1 to 4 p.m., Full Peal Attempt by the Washington Ringing Society.

8 p.m., Musical Thanksgiving and Dedication of the Angel Band sculptures.


11 a.m., Consecration and Festival Eucharist. Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning, celebrant; Provost Charles A. Perry, preacher.

1 to 4 p.m., Full Peal Attempt by the Washington Ringing Society.

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