What’s Darth Vader doing on the National Cathedral?


Late today, I stumbled on this story, about a tour of the damaged cathedral — and noticed an unusual detail:

The Washington National Cathedral will be offering tours of its unique stone carvings for the first time since the building was damaged by an earthquake last year.

Tours exploring more than 100 gargoyles perched on the cathedral’s facade will begin again Sunday at 2 p.m. The gargoyles include monsters, dogs and horses, as well as “Star Wars” villain Darth Vader.

The cathedral had to suspend the tour, as well as other regular events, following a 5.8-magnitude earthquake on Aug. 23. The quake caused stonework to fall from the building’s towers and other damage. The cathedral reopened to the public in November.

Darth Vader?  The cathedral’s website explains:

In the 1980s, while the west towers were under construction, Washington National Cathedral held a decorative sculpture competition for children. Word of the competition was spread nationwide through National Geographic World Magazine. The third-place winner was Christopher Rader, with his drawing of that fearful villain, Darth Vader. The fierce head was sculpted by Jay Hall Carpenter, carved by Patrick J. Plunkett, and placed high upon the northwest tower.

Who knew?


  1. Why wouldn’t you put one of the main American “bad guys” as a gargoyle on a cathedral meant to be “a spiritual resource for our nation: a great and beautiful edifice in the city of Washington, an indispensable ministry for people of all faiths and perspectives, and a sacred place for our country in times of celebration, crisis, and sorrow” (~from the National Cathedral’s webpage)

    Since Catholic cathedrals put demons as gargoyles – Darth Vader certainly fits the bill.

  2. Not appropriate.
    Darth Vader is a fictitious character, saints and demons are real.

  3. Gail Finke says:

    I think it’s completely appropriate. Demons are real, but no one knows what they look like. People have always depicted them as looking like what they find frightening. Seems to me that the child who submitted it “got” the whole idea of conveying what a demon is by showing the most frightening and horrible thing he could think of. I don’t think that demons actually look like what Victorian or medieval sculptors depicted, but when I see one I know it was the Victorian or medieval idea of the embodiment of evil. That’s what this is.

  4. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Great insight, James — thank you :-)

    Dcn. G.

  5. deaconnecessary says:


  6. pagansister says:

    Why not? He wasn’t exactly a nice guy, in the movies. As for being fictitious? Sure, but are demons really real?

  7. We have our own story of redemption — one which has the added advantage of being true.

  8. Well you know…there were 12 disciples on the Jedi High Council and a savior born in a backwater desert province (one skilled with his hands), a John the Baptist figure killed for his trouble, redemption through self-sacrifice, tests and temptations in the wilderness. Good mythology is powerful stuff regardless of what pantheon you set it in. And let’s face it, the Romans would have loved pod racing!

  9. I like the humor here but I do believe it is too overt and therefore inappropriate.

  10. deaconnecessary says:

    I use Star Wars, Superman, and other pop culture icons as parabolic references when I teach my high school kids theology. It’s been my experience that students relate to it well and come out with a greater understanding and appreciation of their faith.

  11. pagansister says:

    Too overt, Tyler? It is as appropriate as any other gargoyle etc. on the church. Have you seen a Shelia on a church? Some would find that very overt. :o)

  12. midwestlady says:

    I’m not so sure gargoyles are supposed to be demons, as that they’re supposed to scare off demons. And all kinds of things have been used. Gargoyles are also usually decorative waterspouts and that may, in fact, be their real purpose.

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