Washington National Cathedral is one of my favorite places to take visitors. Styling itself as a House of Prayer for All People, it is a masterpiece of gothic architecture, stained glass, music, hand carved wood, and wrought iron.
Regrettably it’s closed right now but one of its lessor known spots, the Bishop’s Garden, is open for all to enjoy.
Originally the bishop’s garden was just that: A private garden accessible to only the bishop of Washington, who lived in a house adjoining the garden that is now the dioceses’ office. It became a public garden in 1928 when a Norman arch became the new entrance.
The Norman Court designed by Florence Bratenahl
Frederick Law Olmstead Jr, son of the famed landscape architect and a talent in his own right, designed the cathedral grounds. But much of work of the garden can be credited to Florence Bratenahl, wife of the cathedral’s first dean. And from just spending time in the garden, I believe Florence’s contribution to the life of the cathedral may have been greater than her husband’s.
One of the cool things about the garden is the incorporation of antiquities. A bas relief of Jesus’ death is from the 15th century and an arch is from the 12th. Another example is in the center is a small herb garden that has an 8th century font thought to be from a former abbey in France.
While the cathedral is not yet open for tours you can still come, whatever your faith tradition is or isn’t, to the Bishops Garden. It’s a wonderful place to relax and appreciate the beauty of creation. And when the cathedral reopens, I can’t wait to take you inside!