All Hallows Guild: 100 Years of Service

Celebrating 100 years of service to the gardens and grounds of Washington National Cathedral, All Hallows Guild was founded in 1916 to maintain and beautify the 59 acres of the Cathedral Close. The Guild, working closely with the Cathedral’s horticultural staff, preserves and beautifies this historic landscape.

The Cathedral Grounds

All Hallows Guild was founded in 1916 by Florence Brown Bratenahl, wife of the Dean of the Cathedral, to raise support and funds for the planting of the Bishop’s Garden and the Close. The 59 acres surrounding the Washington National Cathedral are a rich landscape tapestry. The grounds consist of cultivated gardens, 5 acres of oak and beech forest (the Olmsted Woods), athletic fields and the landscaped grounds of the institutions and schools.

The Design Plan

The original plan of the Cathedral Close was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., in 1907-1927 at the time of the building of the Cathedral apse and the excavation of the nave of the Cathedral. He, in conjunction with the Cathedral architects, designed the roads, sited the buildings, designed the Bishop’s Garden, and solved most of the design problems of the site.

Olmsted’s design has endured because its main design features continue to meet the aspirations and needs of the Cathedral. Major design elements of the Close are a park-like setting, open spaces, native woodland, and gardens to provide a setting for the Gothic cathedral with plants of historic interest, plants of the Bible and Christian heritage, and native American plants.

Later landscape designers (such as Florence Brown Bratenahl) made important contributions to the landscape of the Close in the form of additions and refinements to the Olmsted plan. These include the Pilgrim Steps, entrances to the Bishop’s Garden, the George Washington statue and plaza at the foot of the Pilgrim Steps, the North Cloister Garth, and the West Front court and oak groves.

The Bishop’s Garden

“As one sees the [Bishop’s Garden] from the higher level of the entrance walk, [it] suggests the charm of its lights and shadows and density of leafage though no photographs can give a hint of its color and fragrance or do justice to the beauty of its quiet atmosphere: ‘a space of peace’ set apart forever from the rush of the every day world.” —Florence Bratenahl

Following the vision of Bishop Henry Yates Satterlee, the first Bishop of Washington (1896-1908), and Olmsted’s design, Mrs. Bratenahl helped realize a “Garden for the Ages.”

042015_flowers__8She located and moved mature plant material —boxwood from George Washington’s Hayfield Manor for the Hortulus, and from Ellerslee Plantation in Virginia for the Bishop’s Garden. She secured medieval sculpture from George Gray Barnard, whose collection formed the basis of the Cloisters in New York—a 9th century baptismal font and 15th and 16th century bas-reliefs are incorporated into the Garden. Terraced into the south side of Mt. St. Alban, the walled Garden is visited by thousands every year. It is the most intensely cultivated of the 59-acre Cathedral Close, land that once was the home and garden of George Washington’s registrar of the United States Treasury.

The Olmsted-Bratenahl vision planned gardens suitable for a 14th century Gothic cathedral, with plants of historical interest, plants of the Bible and Christian legends, and native plants. Among the earliest gifts to the Nourse family of Mount Alban was boxwood from Dolly Madison and Thomas Jefferson. A century later, two of the plants whose origins trace back to the Holy Land are the cedars and the fig trees.

Mr. Olmsted’s designs for the Bishop’s garden represented a private garden ‘out back’ of the Bishop’s house, accessible from the Bishop’s house. Under Mrs. Bratenahl’s leadership it became a more public garden and had a more public and larger entrance through the Norman Court. The deadline for getting the Bishop’s garden completed was the General Convention of the Episcopal church, held in Washington in October 1928. By carefully looking over old photos of the General Convention, AHG annual meetings in the Bishop’s garden and other photos taken on the Close during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s one could establish when each of the elements of the garden were actually in place.

Olmsted Woods

The Olmsted Woods are the last vestige of an extensive oak and beech forest on Mount St. Alban. All Hallows Guild restored the five-acre Olmsted Woods over a 10-year period, completed in 2008 at a cost of nearly $3 million. Now the Woods include a stone footpath, the Pilgrim Way, a contemplative circle, native wildflowers and shrubs, and a host of migratory birds.

All Hallows Amphitheater

The amphitheater has long figured in the Cathedral’s history, serving as a place for outdoor services in earlier days. A functioning outdoor amphitheater was another part of Olmsted’s plan, and now, thanks to restoration, this beautiful outdoor space of curved stone walls and grass walkways is once again a perfect setting for worship, contemplation and performance.