If you fly into Washington DC, you’re likely to see the neo-gothic Episcopal cathedral, officially named the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, towering over the corner of Massachusetts and Wisconsin streets, in the northwest quadrant of the nation’s capitol. The cathedral is the sixth largest cathedral in the world, and the second largest in the United States. The Washington National Cathedral is frequently used for official government functions—as it is this week, for the presidential inaugural prayer service.
I was fascinated, though, by a much smaller feature on the cathedral’s edifice: the carving of Darth Vader which graces the northwest tower.
According to the cathedral’s webpage, the cathedral sponsored a children’s competition in the 1980s which received widespread attention through National Geographic World Magazine. The goal of the contest was to create a decorative sculpture for the gargoyles which would top the cathedral’s west towers. The third-place winner was Christopher Rader, whose drawing of the fearful villain Darth Vader was sculpted by Jay Hall Carpenter, carved by artist Patrick J. Plunkett, and proudly displayed atop the northwest tower of the cathedral.
The website for the cathedral offers some helpful suggestions for finding the Darth Vader Grotesque on the expansive roof:
How to find Darth Vader
First, bring binoculars! Darth Vader is very difficult to see by the naked eye. Leave the building through the ramp entrance which is through the wooden doors near the standing statue of Abraham Lincoln. Go down the ramp, and step onto the grass on your right. Then, turn around and look back up at the tower closest to you. Start at the top of the tower. There are two large pinnacles, or points, on the corners of the tower and a much smaller one in the center. Follow the center pinnacle down and find the first gablet, or tiny peaked roof. Darth Vader is the grotesque on the right on the north, or right-hand, side.
Visit the website to take a tour of the cathedral’s gargoyles.
On Inauguration Day: May the Force be with you, Mr. President.