Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tour and Tea at the Washington National Cathedral, DC

On September 29, 1907, foundation stone was laid for the Washington National Cathedral after President Theodore Roosevelt presented the ground breaking ceremony to a crowd of more than 20,000 people.  This cathedral was built to be a nation's cathedral, a place where the nation could gather and unite for prayer and important national events.  It wasn't until 83 years later that under President George Bush, the Cathedral would finally be "complete", of course decorative elements of the structure are still added today!  It is the sixth-largest cathedral in the world, and the second-largest in the United States.  A grand place, indeed!
Formally The Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the Washington Cathedral is its more commonly used name.  With a neogothic design, the Washington National Cathedral reaches high into the sky with its elongated, peaked towers, ornately carved archways, and hand carved pinnacles.  The neogothic design began in England in the 1740's and grew to popularity by the early 19th century.  The romantic beauty of this style was intertwined with the rekindled love of  Medieval times, a time in which was then seen, as a Golden Age.  When industrialization throughout the big cities of the world progressed, people began to seek the lost beauty of a once romantic and story book time, neogothic architecture began blooming all over the world and then finally came to America as a sort of retreat from the machine made era the world was learning.
What is not surprising is that Pierre L'Enfant had a hand, not only in the building of our beloved Washington DC, but in 1792, had set aside land on which would some day be home to a "Grand Church of National Purposes"; that land now holds The National Portrait Gallery.  Instead, in 1893, the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation of the District of Columbia was granted money from congress to create the Cathedral.
The Washington Cathedral has seen many Presidents, both speaking to the public, or returning to God, it has seen two World Wars and recently an earthquake that shook it to its core.  Its walls are made not only of leaning stone that will withstand the test of time, but it also has the spirit of the American people to continue to heal itself for centuries to come!
If you are an out of town visitor or you have lived here all your life, a visit to the Washington Cathedral is always a lovely way to spend your afternoon!  Most people do not know about the Tour and Tea offered here, so I want to let you in on the secret!!!  Tour and Tea is held every Tuesday and Wednesday beginning at 1:30pm, by reservation only!  And you might make them a couple of weeks in advance because they fill up and sell out rather quickly!  You meet in the nave of the Cathedral and your tour guide will take you on an hour and fifteen minute tour highlighting aspects of the Cathedral one might miss on a self guided tour.  There are also special tours that focus on other aspects of the Cathedral and its history, but I took my Mother and I on the Cathedral Highlights Tour and Tea.  Our guide told us stories from the Cathedral's past, showed us the burial tomb of President Woodrow Wilson, navigated the meaning behind some of the most beautiful stained glass windows I had ever seen, and introduced us to fine tapestries, eccentric wood carvings, golden paintings, colorful mosaics and meticulous rod iron work.

After walking the main level of the Cathedral, an afternoon tea was held at 2:45pm in the West Tower, seven levels above the main floor.  My Mother and I were seated next to two high, arched windows with quite a view!!!  Looking out while seated at our table for two, we looked upon The National Mall, you could see the Monument, Thomas Jefferson and Lincoln memorials and the Capital; you could also see the Potomac River, The Kennedy Center, and the cityscape of Roslyn, VA.

We sat at a small table dressed in floral linens, fine china and accompaniments like devonshire creams and jams.  We dined on Earl Grey loose leaf tea, made specifically for the Washington Cathedral and delicate, finger sandwiches, scones, and eclairs:) 
After our tea, I took my Mother on another tour, only we went below the main level, into the small, intimate chapels underneath the earth.  These chapels are adorned with beautiful mosaics, low lit lamps and fine paintings and they are not to be missed on your visit!

There are a few shops there as well to find a small souvenir to help capture the moment of your day, and in the spring there are beautiful gardens to venture through!  

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