The dream of a national cathedral dates to the earliest days of the United States, when President George Washington and architect Pierre L’Enfant imagined a “great church for national purposes.”


  • 1791

    President Washington commissioned Major 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.”

  • 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. The charter was signed by President Benjamin Harrison and is preserved in the National Archives.

  • 1896

    The Right Rev. Henry Yates Satterlee, the first Episcopal bishop of Washington, identified land atop Mount Saint Alban for the Cathedral—the most commanding spot in the entire Washington area.

  • 1898

    President William McKinley attends the dedication of the Peace Cross on the Cathedral Close to mark the end of the Spanish-American War.

  • 1907

    Workmen laid the foundation stone on Washington’s longest-running construction project on September 29 as President Theodore Roosevelt and the Bishop of London spoke to a crowd of 10,000. 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

    Bethlehem Chapel opens for services.

  • 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.

  • 1937

    President Franklin D. Roosevelt attends a National Prayer Service for his second inauguration.

  • 1956

    President Woodrow Wilson’s tomb in the Cathedral is dedicated.

  • 1957

    War Memorial Chapel is dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth II.

  • 1964

    The Cathedral’s 300-foot Gloria in Excelsis central tower 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.

  • 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.

  • 1985

    The Cathedral hosted the national prayer service for President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration.

  • 1989

    The Cathedral hosted the national prayer service for President George H.W. Bush’s inauguration.

  • 1990

    The completion of the west towers marked the end of 83 years of construction, as President George H.W. Bush wishes “God speed the work completed this noon and the new work yet to begin.”

  • 2001

    The Cathedral hosts a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance Service three days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

  • 2004

    The Cathedral hosted the state funeral of President Ronald Reagan.

  • 2007

    The Cathedral hosted the state funeral of President Gerald Ford.

  • 2009

    The Cathedral hosted the national prayer service for President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.

  • 2011

    A rare 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck the east coast and caused an estimated $32 million in damage to the Cathedral.

  • 2013

    The Cathedral hosted a national prayer service for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.

  • 2017

    The Cathedral hosted a national prayer service for President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

  • 2018

    The Cathedral hosted an official funeral for Senator John McCain.

  • 2018

    The ashes of Matthew Shepard were interred in the Cathedral crypt, 20 years after his murder in an anti-gay hate crime that electrified the gay rights movement.

  • 2018

    The Cathedral hosted a State Funeral for President George H.W. Bush.

  • 2020

    The COVID-19 pandemic upended life at the Cathedral, forcing its doors to close on March 12 (for an indefinite period of time) and leading to staff cutbacks and budget reductions.

  • 2021

    The Cathedral hosted a virtual Inaugural Prayer Service for Joe Biden's inauguration; President Biden and Vice President Harris watched from the White House.

  • 2021

    A carved figure of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel is added to the Cathedral's Human Rights Porch, joining humanitarian Mother Teresa, civil rights icon Rosa Parks and others who devoted their lives in service of others.