Cathedrals are known as the custodians of cherished musical traditions – most especially the mighty pipe organs that anchor worship services and lead God’s people in praise.

Here at Washington National Cathedral, we have the traditional organs and bells, but also a diverse musical program that includes saxophone, piano and drums – and even a harpsichord loaned by the Library of Congress.

A Note from Tom Sheehan

When you think of a Cathedral, chances are you probably hear a pipe organ in your mind, which is why I’m so excited to help you experience the majesty and power of the Cathedral’s Great Organ.

After more than eight decades of near daily services, the Cathedral’s organ is poised to undergo a $14 million multi-year project of careful renovated and rebuilding. Our fully rehabilitated organ will continue to be the backbone of our worship music, and you’ll be mesmerized by the mighty booms and delicate whispers of this king of instruments. Join us for a musical experience unlike any other!

Tom Sheehan, Organist and Associate Director of Music

Cathedral's organ with colorful light projected on it from the stained-glass windows

Everything (and more) You Wanted to Know About the Cathedral Organ

cathedral connects
You may have heard that the Cathedral's Great Organ is getting ready to undergo a major four-year renovation. We asked Tom Sheehan, the Cathedral’s organist, to help explain the problems with the current 1938 Skinner organ, and what will happen as we build toward a new one. read more

Cathedral Organs

The Great Organ

The Cathedral’s “Great Organ,” located on the nave level, was built by the Ernest M. Skinner & Son Organ Company and installed in 1938. Its 10,647 pipes make it among the largest in the world. It is currently undergoing a 5-year renovation.

On the crypt level, two smaller organs in Bethlehem Chapel and Resurrection Chapel are ideal for the intimate spaces on the Cathedral’s lower level.

Bethlehem Chapel Organ

The Bethlehem Chapel organ (2 manuals, 17 ranks) was built and installed by the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company of Boston, Mass., as their Opus 1248 in 1951. A relatively small yet extremely versatile instrument, it is positioned in chambers at the rear of the chapel and  easily fills the chapel with sound. 

Resurrection Chapel Organ

The Resurrection Chapel organ (1 manual, 4 ranks) was originally built for and installed in St. Augustine’s Chapel of the College of Preachers (now the Cathedral’s Virginia Mae Center) by the Skinner Organ Company of Boston, Mass., as their Opus 801 in 1929.

Originally only 3 ranks, it was expanded by the DiGennaro-Hart Organ Company of Bethesda, Md., in 1990. It was moved to its current home in Resurrection Chapel in 2020 by Foley-Baker, Inc. A simple, gentle-toned instrument, it is ideal for this extraordinarily resonant space. 

Cathedral Bells

The Cathedral is one of two buildings in the world to feature both a carillon and peal bells. The carillon, which is played via keyboard and features melodic music, originates from Netherlands and Belgium. Peal bells, which feature change ringing of mathematical patterns, are a distinctly English tradition.