Washington Cathedral

Discussion in 'Washington, DC' started by Gargoyle, Feb 5, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. Gargoyle
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    I recommend a visit to the National Cathedral, at Wisconsin and Mass. Ave.
    It's located on the highest hill in D.C., and from the tower you're higher up than the top of the Washington Monument- great views.

    It's a stunning building, full of wonderful carvings, stained glass, and wrought iron work. While it is Episcopal, it is also quite ecumenical, and a comfortable place for all people. It is filled with quiet nooks and crannies where you can sit, catch your breath, and let the noise of the world slip away.

    There are free tours, or you can just wander around. Photo opportunities are endless, and If you can catch a concert there, the acoustics are quite interesting. I spent 5 years working there, and saw something new every day.

    cathedral-2.jpg

    cathedral-1.jpg
     
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  2. CJN

    CJN

    Second everything you've said. It's tremendously beautiful. And the construction they undertook a few years back has made it much easier to visit by tour bus/car. Caution: it's rather far from any DC metro rail system. Would recommend taxi for anyone not staying within several blocks walking distance. And while you're there, don't forget to look for the Darth Vader gargoyle!
     
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  3. Gargoyle
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    The recent construction you mention was to build a much needed underground parking lot. Unfortunately, it was extremely expensive, and I think some promised donations fell through when the economy tanked... they took a huge hit and had to lay off a number of good people.

    I'm not sure if the D.C. taxi system is still by zones the way it was when I lived there, but if so, and IIRC, the corner of Mass. Ave. and Wisconsin Ave. is an intersection of three zones. If you're coming from downtown and get out of the cab on the South East corner instead of the North West corner you reduce one or two zones from your fare, saving a lot and pissing off the cab driver. [​IMG] (could someone confirm this?)
     
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  4. CJN

    CJN

    No, the zones were eliminated a few years ago and replaced with meters. This travel wiki has some information about rates. Oh, there's still fun ways to piss off DC cabbies, by the way: just ask them if they'll take a credit card! They absolutely hate it. Bring cash and don't be surprised if your driver isn't thrilled to take you back to Virginia or Maryland or wherever outside DC you need to go.
     
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  5. joanek
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    joanek Silver Member

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    The Cathedral gift shop is a hit or miss proposition, but i've found some cute stuff there. I love to wander through the garden, too.
     
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  6. ThatJohn
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    ThatJohn Silver Member

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    Fabulously good choir, too, for those of us who are choral music fiends.
     
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  7. mhnadel
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    mhnadel Silver Member

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    And, if you are into Presidential history, Woodrow Wilson is buried inside the cathedral.
     
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  8. Gargoyle
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    He's near the moon window- a very interesting stained glass window commemorating the moon landing. It has a moon rock set in the glass.
    [​IMG]
     
  9. Freddie Listo
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    Freddie Listo Gold Member

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    Gargoyle: would you care to elaborate on your work at the Washington Cathedral? It would be nice to have a walk around and be able to say, "Hey! Gargoyle did that one!"
     
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  10. Gargoyle
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    I'm on my way out right now, I'll try to post something later. Meantime, I have a page on my site about some of the gargoyles and grotesques I carved for the Cathedral.
     
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  11. intueri
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    intueri Silver Member

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    I happened to visit during the snowstorm last year when I had a bunch of meetings canceled. It's too bad it's a bit out of the way, since I'm usually only in town for a day or two; what a lovely place!

    Gargoyle: I'd love to hear more about your work there, too.

    234-1.JPG
    254.JPG
     
  12. Gargoyle
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    Your snow pictures me of this old shot from the 1980's, so I just scanned my 35mm slide. It shows some of the scaffolding still in place, and a work shed with a cement mixer.
    cathedral-snow.jpg
     
  13. Gargoyle
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    ... my experiences at the Washington Cathedral... I don't know where to start. I spent five years working there, under the direction of master carver Vincent Palumbo. He was a fifth generation carver from Southern Italy, and his father had also worked on the cathedral. I assisted on the carving of the triptych tympanums (sculptures in the three pediments over the main West front entrance) representing the creation; those were designed by the sculptor Frederick Hart. I also carved more than three dozen gargoyles and grotesques (a true gargoyle is a functioning waterspout, a grotesque is an exaggerated anthropomorphic or fantastic representation that does not serve as a waterspout), and perhaps a hundred architectural carvings in total. In addition, I did a lot of ornamental carving- rosettes, tracery, finials, pinnacles, inscriptions, etc.

    Heres Vincent Palumbo and Patrick Plunkett, while we were working on Rick Hart's tympanum sculpture "ex nihilo". Patrick is holding a small pneumatic hammer and chisel. This modern innovation was introduced in the mid 1880's, but we still also use a wooden mallet for some of the work.
    Cathedral-vince-patrick.jpg
    Note the arm in the foreground- that is cut for a "Roman Joint". This is a traditional method of joining parts of a sculpture; we carved the arm separately, with a square plug that exactly fit that hole. The stone in the wall was 24" deep, and at places we carved in as deep as 22". However, the finished work has 36" of relief (the distance from the deepest part of the background to the furthest forward point). That was achieved by carving five arms and one head separately and attaching them in this fashion.
     
  14. Gargoyle
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    Here's the completed central tympanum, "ex nihilo". The figures are over life-sized, and the entire piece is about 16' high and 21' wide (c. 5m x 6.4m).

    Cathedral-Tympanum.jpg
     
  15. Gargoyle
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    Most of what I did is on the West front, due to the construction sequence of the cathedral. Christian churches are frequently oriented with the altar at the East end, and the main entrance at the West. Work started in 1907 at the East end and proceeded West and upwards, so the two West towers were the final elements completed. A lot of my work is on the interior and exterior at the level of the Pilgrim Gallery, which is about 120 feet above ground (c. 36 meters), along with a lot of grotesques another 40 feet higher on the towers. In the Pilgrim gallery there is a tourist information center, and there is an arcade facing out towards Wisconsin Avenue- look up and you'll see seven boss stones. A boss stone is a keystone in a vaulted arch; I carved those in situ (in place- standing on scaffolding and bending backwards. I was more flexible back then). A keystone or boss stone provides an extra weight at a critical point, helping lock together the stones of the arch. People think of mortar has holding the stone together; instead, gravity holds them together, and mortar provides the spacing and buffering to allow for a little movement and flexibility.

    Cathedral-label-mold.jpg
    Here I'm carving a "label mold termination" stone. The label mold is the arched molding above a window or doorway, which keeps rain water from running down onto the window or door. That water than runs down the molding and hits the termination stone, which pulls the water off the wall so it will drop free to the ground. this carving represents the good shepherd.

    While I referred to true gargoyles as functioning waterspouts, most ornamentation on Gothic architecture is actually functional. Gothic cathedrals were designed to soar to the heavens- the walls were pierced with stained glass windows, creating a feel of lightness and dramatic height, and made the stone seem almost delicate and lacy. The pointed arches aimed your view to the sky; imagine the impression these gave in the middle ages, when most people rarely saw a building more than one or two stories tall. This tall, light structure required very sophisticated geometry and engineering; every element needed to serve a purpose and work in conjunction. Column capitals spread the support and focused the pressure of all the weight from above. Flying buttresses braced the walls; pinnacles on the buttresses provided counterbalance to stabilize them from the lateral wind forces. The delicate finials atop the pinnacles helped direct water off the walls, as did the arch moldings over windows, the elaborately moulded cornices, and the gargoyles and grotesques. Water is powerful stuff- it created the grand canyon, and it has causes much of the preservation problems I've encountered in architectural restoration work. Modern architects made a major mistake in the mid-twentieth century when they started omitting cornices, window sills, and the like from buildings, causing many of their buildings to have problems with leakage and internal rust and dampness issues.

    [​IMG]
    These two grotesques represent war and the pacifist. Just like with the cathedrals of the middle ages, our carvings on the Washington Cathedral included observations of the world, the society, and the individuals around us.

    So, when you look at a gothic cathedral, keep in mind that every element you see is there for a purpose. Try to look at it with the eye of both an engineer and an artist, and figure out why they did things the way they did.

    ... more to come, whenever I get around to putting down some random thoughts...
     
  16. Gargoyle
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    Cathedral-north-side.jpg
    North side of the cathedral. You can see the flying buttresses in the middle to left of this photo, with the tall pinnacles providing structural counterbalance.
     
  17. Gargoyle
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    This is a boss stone in the vaulted arches of the south nave aisle, which I carved in situ about 80' above floor level. view from directly below. IIRC it was about 18 or 20" diameter (45cm)

    [​IMG]

    And this is a capital with a bulldog arch mold termination stone next to it. (actually all part of one block, the mass of the block supports the arch above and transfers the weight and pressure to the column and wall). The bulldog was in honor of a priest who had been the head of the Cathedral boys school for many years, and who had pet bulldogs. The priest had crooked teeth, which here are carved in the bulldog as a little element of personalization; donors had made a generous gift to the cathedral in honor of him (the priest, not the bulldog) and this bay was dedicated to his service.
    Cathedral-Bulldog-capital.jpg
     
  18. 2soonold
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    2soonold Gold Member

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    I remember my "hillbilly" grandparents donating to the construction of the National Cathedral.[​IMG]
    Grandma and her sister had been to Europe and seen the great buildings of the kings and queens of Europe. She believed that in a society like ours it would the responsibility of the citizenry to build the great buildings of our country.
    My grandfather had fought in Europe during World War 1. Although he was not an Episcopalian, he like the idea that if we could come together as one to fight, there should be a place where we could come together to pray.
    I met Frederick Hart once. My first visit to Washington, DC. was in 1993. I was already past 50. After an emotional visit to the Vietnam Memorial, I took a cab to the National Cathedral. The magnificence of the edifice was somewhat overwhelming for me that day.
    I returned to my car, which was parked on the top of a parking deck close to Union Station. The sun was setting, and I could see the National Cathedral on a hill in the distance. It was a firey, hazy, Monet-esque sort of vision. It was interesting to think that God was up there keeping a watch over what we as a people were doing with this opportunity we call the United States of America.
     
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  19. milepig
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    milepig Silver Member

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    For anyone who is a walker, it is actually fairly easy to reach on foot from the Woodley Park/Zoo stop. The walk is through a nice residential area. When I do this walk I'll often return by walking back down Mass Ave toward DuPont Circle, or on down Wisconsin to Georgetown, but these are fairly long hikes.

    From Woodley, you can head down Calvert, veer onto Cleveland and on up Woodley Rd after a quick jog up 34th from where it meets Cleveland (by this point you'll see the Catherdal). Or go up Connecticut to either Woodley Rd, which becomes Garfield, or Cathedral Ave until either of those 2 routes intersect with 34th, and then North to Woodly Rd.

    BTW - the church, it's clergy, and it's properties are EpiscopAL, the people are the EpiscopalIANS
     
  20. 2soonold
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    2soonold Gold Member

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    Episcopaliens?[​IMG][​IMG]
     
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  21. Gargoyle
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    Well, at least you know they're not Episcopapalists. :D
     
  22. milepig
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    milepig Silver Member

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    Only if they're also Scientologists.
     
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  23. Gargoyle
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    Two more views of the Cathedral:

    Cathedral-west-elevation.jpg

    Cathedral-North_elevation.jpg
     
  24. MSPeconomist
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    I'd love to someday see it in snow. When I lived in DC as a student for summer jobs, I always enjoyed visiting the National Cathedral. We would try to go for a performance, but first arrive early enough to wander around. I always found the gift shop disappointing, but this might have changed since then.
     
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  25. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    This is the most interesting and educational thread I have seen here or anywhere. Gargoyle, you've really done it now!

    I am a great fan of religious architecture, fanatic maybe, and have visited many around the world, including ones in several very odd places. The cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul has been a favorite for me since the sone of a friend of mine became a member of the youth choir.
     
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