Building for the Ages

The high altar of the Washington Cathedral.

They don’t make buildings like they used to.

The United States and other modern countries are infinitely wealthier than the Medieval societies that raised the great cathedrals. But what has the contemporary world created that will endure as the cathedrals have?  The 14th-century sanctuaries still evoke a sense of awe and wonder. Which of the monstrosities of steel and glass constructed by 21st-century man will be remembered seven centuries from now?

The Washington Cathedral in Washington, D.C., isn’t as ancient as the cathedrals of Europe — construction began in 1907 — but the Episcopalian edifice has been generations in the making. Even as a lad attending St. Albans School, a stone’s throw from the magnificent edifice, I had an appreciation of its beauty. Returning this weekend, nearly fifty years later, I found myself held spellbound. I have yet to see the equal in stonework, woodwork, stained glass, and tapestry anywhere else in North America.

The photo above shows the high altar of the cathedral your humble servant experienced during his one serious flirtation with religion. Upon the recommendation of a beloved teacher, the Rev. Craig Eder, I served as an altar boy for 7:00 a.m. Sunday services. My main functions, as I recall, were lighting the candles, assisting with communion, and snuffing out the candles. I never felt the presence of the holy spirit — or the father, or the son, for that matter — but I was forever struck by the transcendent serenity and beauty of the place.

Here is the cathedral’s organ, which emits a rolling almost thunderous sound that seems entirely appropriate for worship of the Lord almighty.

And here is a view that shows the intricate complexity and delicacy of the Gothic architecture.

But nothing delights me like the stained glass windows that cast their glorious light upon the columns and walls — a veritable Medieval light show.

I feel truly blessed to have spent a part of my childhood in such a place. And even though the religion never took — I’m as atheist as they come — it comforts me to know that the cathedral will last the ages.

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2 responses to “Building for the Ages

  1. What you describe is a pipe organ. Those things are something else totally.

  2. The Cathedral is truly a national resource. Yet it also serves a local function in support of education, and the arts, and its own faith community. So many beautiful and delightful musical events.

    Bring back the Herb Cottage.

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