Cathedral Timeline

The dream of a national cathedral dates to the days of George Washington’s presidency. Memorable moments in the life of the Cathedral include President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1907 speech, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last sermon, and President Ronald Reagan’s State Funeral.

1791: An idea as old as Washington itself
1893: The most commanding spot in the city
1907: The first stone
1912–1969: History under construction
1969–1990: A crowning achievement
2001–Present: A new century of leadership

1791: An idea as old as Washington itself

On January 24, 1791, President George Washington commissioned Major Pierre L’Enfant to create a visionary plan for the nation’s capital. It was L’Enfant who first imagined “a great church for national purposes.” Not until a century later, with support from community leaders such as Charles C. Glover, did plans for building Washington National Cathedral gain momentum.

1893: The most commanding spot in the city

On January 6, 1893, Congress granted a charter (incorporation papers) to the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation of the District of Columbia, allowing it to establish a cathedral and institutions of higher learning. Signed by President Benjamin Harrison, this charter is the birth certificate of Washington National Cathedral.

After his consecration in 1896, the Rt. Rev. Henry Yates Satterlee, the first bishop of Washington, secured land on Mount Saint Alban—the most commanding spot in the entire Washington area.

1907: The first stone

The longest-running construction project in Washington, D.C., history officially began on September 29, 1907, when workmen laid the Cathedral’s foundation stone. President Theodore Roosevelt and the Bishop of London spoke to a crowd of ten thousand. The stone itself came from a field near Bethlehem and was set into a larger piece of American granite. On it was the inscription: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

1912–1969: History under construction

After Bethlehem Chapel opened for services in 1912, the Cathedral quickly became a place for services of national focus, even as it remained under construction.

  • 1918 – President Woodrow Wilson attends official thanksgiving service for the end of the First World War.
  • 1921 – President Warren G. Harding leads all 34 delegates to the Washington Conference on Limitation of Armaments to a special Cathedral service through the “Way of Peace” entrance by Bethlehem Chapel.
  • 1928 – President Calvin Coolidge opens the General Convention of the Episcopal Church at the Cathedral.
  • 1941 – Monthly services begin on behalf of a united people in a time of emergency; community memorial services are held at the Cathedral for World War II soldiers.
  • 1956 – President Woodrow Wilson’s tomb in the Cathedral is dedicated.
  • 1968 – The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preaches his last Sunday sermon from the Canterbury Pulpit.
  • 1969 – World leaders gather for President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s State Funeral.

1970–1990: A crowning achievement

As construction finished, the Cathedral’s place in history was firmly established.

  • 1976 – The Cathedral’s nave and west rose window were completed and dedicated in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II and President Gerald Ford.
  • 1982 – The Pilgrim Observation Gallery was completed and opened to the public.
  • 1983 – The final phase of construction began with the setting of the first stone for the west towers.
  • 1990 – The completion of the west towers marked the end of 83 years of construction.

2001–Present: A new century of leadership

In the new millennium, Washington National Cathedral continues to grow and change to fill the spiritual needs of the nation. The Cathedral was the site of President George W. Bush’s Inaugural Prayer Service and the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance service on September 14, 2001. In 2002, the Cathedral’s Christmas Day service marked its fiftieth nationwide telecast. Thousands mourned the deaths of presidents Ronald Wilson Reagan (2004) and Gerald Ford (2007).

In 2007, the Cathedral marked the start of its second century with a centennial celebration including festivals, reunions, exalted liturgy, concerts, lectures, and the inauguration of the new dean’s Sunday Forum.

Parking at the Cathedral

Parking in the Cathedral’s underground garage is free on Sundays for services and organ recitals; parking for concerts and programs is available for an event-parking fee. Learn more about parking options for individuals and groups.