Washington’s longest-running construction project kicks off…on this day

People wait outside the National Cathedral in Washington before a service. (AP Images)

On this day in 1907, construction began on the National Cathedral in Washington. Its completion more than eight decades later, in 1990, was the culmination of a project that had been in the works since 1792, when President George Washington proposed “a great church for national purposes.”

The cathedral sits atop a hill overlooking the monuments to battles and political heroes of the nation’s capital. Built in English Gothic style, it features exquisite sculptures, ornate wood carvings and more than 200 stained glass windows. It is the second largest cathedral in the United States, eclipsed in size only by Saint John’s in New York.

National Cathedral under construction
The National Cathedral under construction in Washington in 1925 (Library of Congress)

A church for national beginnings and endings

The National Cathedral has been the setting for many significant events in American history. New presidents often attend inaugural prayer services at the cathedral. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his final sermon from its pulpit. And funeral services for three presidents — Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford — were held there.

A home for interfaith dialogue

During World War II, Congress designated the cathedral as the national house of prayer for all people. Reflecting the diversity of religious belief in America, the cathedral promotes interfaith dialogue and cooperation by bringing together leaders of different religious traditions.

Today, the cathedral still embodies President Washington’s original intent to serve all people with numerous interfaith events, including the exhibition “Amen: A Prayer for the World,” featuring the work of Muslim, Christian and Jewish artists.