Tour of Washington National Cathedral / by Todd Henson

Washington National Cathedral viewed from across the street.

A number of years ago my brother and I signed up for a tour of Washington National Cathedral put together by Washington Photo Safari. We met a group of other photographers one Saturday morning and were led around the Cathedral by a very knowledgeable docent, along with a couple professional photographers from Washington Photo Safari. The docent taught us about the Cathedral and the Safari photographers taught us how to photograph the Cathedral.

As part of our tour we were led into portions of the Cathedral not normally open to the public. This was fantastic, getting to see the building from different vantage points. This alone was worth the trip.

Inside the Cathedral

Downstairs we were able to view the beautiful stained glass windows, which I showed a sampling of in a previous post. When light shone through the windows we sometimes were treated to vibrant colors reflecting off the nearby walls and hallways. This was a very beautiful location.

Colorful hallway illuminated by stained glass windows.

Light shining through a stained glass window.

Upstairs we were privy to an entirely different view of the interior of the building, looking down over the Nave towards the Great Choir, and behind that the High Altar. There were tours being conducted below while we were upstairs. You can see a group of people standing before the High Alter in one of the photos.

The Great Choir, and beyond that the High Altar. Photographed from an upstairs balcony.

Interior view of Washington National Cathedral from an upstairs balcony.

Photographing a photographer photographing details in Washington National Cathedral.

Outside the Cathedral

While upstairs we were led outside onto one of the walkways, and while we were out there it began to snow. This was a perfect day! We photographed the flying buttresses and pinnacles while snow lightly fell from the sky.

Details outside Washington National Cathedral, photographed from walkway.

From this perspective we had very good views of some of the damage caused by the 2011 earthquake. The Washington, D.C., area is not very prone to earthquakes, so these buildings were not built with earthquakes in mind. The Cathedral suffered large amounts of damage. You can see some of the damage in the photographs of the pinnacles.

Pinnacle atop Washington National Cathedral damaged by 2011 earthquake.

Pinnacle in the snow. Notice the hairline horizontal cracks from the earthquake.

They are still working to repair the damage 7 years later, and expect to continue doing so for years to come. The cost of the repairs is extraordinary so they repair as funds become available.

A missing pinnacle, having either fallen in the earthquake or been taken down for repairs.

After the tour we walked around the outside of the building for a while, photographing various elements. One amazing sculpture at the front of the Cathedral is titled Ex Nihilo, and depicts the birth of mankind. It’s quite a sight to see in person.

Ex Nihilo sculpture atop doors of Washington National Cathedral.

Looking Ahead

I would love to visit Washington National Cathedral again one day. I’d like to take a normal tour of the downstairs features, something we didn’t do during this trip. But I’d also like to take another of these special tours through the upper reaches of the building.

Details outside Washington National Cathedral.

Beautiful archways upstairs in Washington National Cathedral.

I’d highly recommend a visit if you’re ever in the Washington, D.C., area. And I’d recommend the Washington Photo Safari group. This is the only tour I’ve taken with them, but I enjoyed it. The tour was a little less about photo instruction and a little more about access to the Cathedral and the docent, but the tour instructors were always near by to answer questions and were periodically offering advice on things to shoot and different techniques to try.

Metal sculpture on front door of Washington National Cathedral.

Have you ever been to Washington National Cathedral, or attended a Washington Photo Safari? If so let me know what you thought about it in the comments below.

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