In 1893 President Benjamin Harrison signed the charter that Congress had approved for the Protestant Episcopal Foundation of the District of Columbia to establish a cathedral and educational institutions.
Three years later, land on Mount Saint Alban was acquired by the first Bishop of Washington. In 1907 construction began. Even while only partial constructed, services with a national focus began to occur at the cathedral. In 1918 Woodrow Wilson attended the thanksgiving service here for the end of WWI. It was also here that the State Funeral for President Eisenhower occurred in 1969.
It was not until 1990, after 83 years, that construction was completed.
The Washington National Cathedral was primarily built out of Indiana Limestone. For construction, limestone blocks were laid upon each other with layers of mortar between the blocks. Flying buttresses of stone brace the walls while a steel beam construction supports the roof but is not structurally integrated into the rest of the building.
The building fills 83,012 square feet and weighs 150,000 tons. The central tower is just over 300 feet tall and the building is just less than 458 feet long on the inside.
The Cathedral has an open door policy for worship services and on the evening of the final Tuesday of every month invites those interested to walk its labyrinth, an elaborate floor pattern, for contemplative prayer, a tradition that dates back for Christians to the 4th Century in Algeria.
A regular series of lectures and discussions are held by the Washington National Cathedral, often focused on discussing socially relevant issues from a faith perspective.
More than 60% of the cathedrals lectures, educational programs as well as its ministries come from individual donations.
The Cathedral is located at 3101 Wisconsin Avenue NW and provides free parking for those attending worship services in its underground garage beneath the building from 6 AM until 11 pm on Sundays.
The Cathedral sells a variety of items in its store that range from the spiritual to the ordinary as part of its ongoing efforts to fund its programs and services.
For a small fee a variety of tours of the Cathedral and its grounds are offered. Tours include a self guided and audio tour about stained glass and gargoyles at the cathedral.
Guided tours require reservations in advance and they center on a range of topics including the architecture of the building itself, patriots and statesmen depicted in artwork at the Washington National Cathedral, Behind the Scenes Views of the Cathedral and a tour of the Gardens.
There are also periodic exhibits organized in the Rare Book Library room and the Crypt as well musical recitals and concerts.
The Tenleytown/American University Metro station on the Red Line is only a mile and a half from the cathedral. One can walk from there or board the 31, 32, 36 or 37 bus heading southward. Other city buses may be faster to get to the Cathedral from areas of town far from the Red Line.