Spring break for me this year was the last week of March. I generally don’t travel far for spring break because it’s nice to have a week of nothing to do but not be working. This year, though, we decided to visit Washington, DC, for most of the break. I had never been before and had always felt in the back of my mind that every responsible citizen should pay a visit to the capital of his or her country. I have a friend who works at the Smithsonian, too. He said he would be in town for the week and could give us a special tour of the National Museum of Natural History, so we went. More on that tour in another post.
Washington National Cathedral
We arrived on Saturday, the day before Passion Sunday. Flying across the country from west to east consumes an entire day, so even though we left San Francisco on an 08:00 flight by the time we got to our apartment and settled in all we had time to do was walk down the street and grab some dinner from a food truck. The March for Our Lives had finished an hour or two before our arrival; on the train into the city from the airport we passed many train cars going the other way that were jam packed with people leaving DC after the march. There was a fair amount of post-march detritus littering the streets, but not nearly as much as I had expected. And the trash, as well, as the enormous bank of portable toilets around the Navy Memorial, cleaned up the following day. Well done, Washington! I guess they’re used to cleaning up after big events like this.
Knowing that we’d be in DC for the right date, we decided to attend the Passion Sunday service at the National Cathedral. The day was cold and clear, with a bright sun that made outdoor photography of the church difficult, at least from the angles that I was interested in capturing. Parts of the building are being restored/rebuilt after major damage sustained in the 2011 earthquake.
I have always found gothic architecture to be extremely beautiful, especially for churches. The well-thought use of line and proportion draw the eye upward, and the use of flying buttresses to support the towers creates the impression of height without weight, making them appear even taller. It really is amazing how the medieval builders figured out ways to make such tall buildings that make the viewer think of light rather than heaviness.
The gothic style is also evident inside the cathedral. The rib vaulting is both graceful and strong, transferring the weight of the roof to the supporting columns. Rib vaulting, pointed arches, and flying buttresses are–to my inexpert eye–the hallmarks of gothic architecture.
Immediately after the service the church staff asked everyone to leave so they could start setting up for a concert later in the afternoon, so we didn’t have much time to look around. We did, however, sneak down to the crypt, where there are several small chapels as well as the tomb of notable persons such as Helen Keller.
Joseph of Arimathea Chapel (also called the St. Joseph Chapel):
And the much showier mosaic in the Resurrection Chapel:
Given my love for simplicity in art, it is probably not surprising that one of my favorite items in the entire cathedral was this statue of Jesus as Good Shepherd, tucked into an alcove in the crypt. There was no sign or plaque indicating who the artist is, or when the statue was carved. There were other carvings in similar alcoves throughout the crypt, but none caught my eye like this one did.
We did not stay for the afternoon concert. Instead, we went to a play that evening: a fabulous performance of The Winter’s Tale in the iconic Folger Library. That is one fantastic venue for Shakespeare’s plays. We hadn’t planned on visiting the Folger Library, and it was only by chance that we happened upon a listing for the play. I studied Winter’s Tale in college but had never seen it staged, so it was doubly enjoyable. The Library currently has an exhibition on illustration in the time of Shakespeare, and there were many very cool artifacts on display. The play in the evening made for a long day, but everything was worth it.
Next installment: All memorials, all day