Washington DC, A to Z: Vaulted Ceilings Keep the Cathedral from Falling Down

Actually its the pointed arches, vaulted ceilings and flying buttresses that keep a Gothic cathedral from falling down but that’s far too long for a blog title.

Washington National Cathedral (last mentioned in the post Gargoyles on the Cathedral Walls) was built in the Gothic style. It also was engineered and constructed  using traditional Gothic techniques.

The stability of the architecture is maintained by the force of gravity: the weight of the building, and the various elements of the building—buttresses, pinnacles, arches, vaulting—push against each other to keep the building intact and upright. Cathedral Age

Many different vault styles were used in the Washington National Cathedral. I’m not sure which styles are represented below.  And I’m not exactly sure where some of these photos were taken.  I tried to follow the self guided tour in this pamphlet but frequently had to take detours or wait;   many groups of adults on guided highlight and specialty tours  and  many groups of teenagers on school trips are in the Cathedral at any given time.

Washington National Cathedral
Somewhere in the Crypt
Washington National Cathedral
Pilgrim Observation Gallery
Washington National Cathedral
Somewhere in the Main Level

Gothic architecture brought two major advantages to buildings:

  • Buildings could be much taller (and not fall down).
  • Since exterior walls were no longer used for support, the building could have thinner walls and many windows.

The Washington National Cathedral contains over 200 separate stained glass windows. One of the stained glass windows even includes a piece of the moon.

Washington National Cathedral
Scientists and Technicians Window

There are many virtual tours on the Cathedrals website. See Gargoyles on the Cathedral Walls for more information and links.

If you are thinking about visiting the Cathedral while on a visit to DC, directions are on the Cathedral’s web site.  It’s a 20 minute express bus ride from  Dupont Circle (where we were staying) or a 30 minute express bus ride from the White House (bottom right corner of the map) to the Cathedral.

The Cathedral is also a stop on some of the hop-on / hop-off bus tours.


9 thoughts on “Washington DC, A to Z: Vaulted Ceilings Keep the Cathedral from Falling Down

  1. Now this is fantastic! I'm still blog hopping like mad as we drawn down to the end. I LOVE your theme and these DC posts. Interesting, well presented. The Cathedral is one of my favorite places with its endless stories of how and why things are as they are there. This post on the Vaulted Ceilings is great. Thanks for giving your readers something worthwhile to spend time on. Well done.


  2. This was my first visit to the Cathedral, being in DC for a whole week really made it more feasible. We weren't originally planning on staying a full week but the place we went to had a promotion that made it cheaper to stay 7 nights than 5.


  3. Thank you so much. I wasn't originally planning on writing so much. I love finding out the stories behind places. V was going to be Vulture (from the zoo) until a few days ago when I read an article about Gothic architecture.


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