When you come to a church service, you should expect to hear a sermon. And the site of sermons given at Washington National Cathedral is imposing.
Sermons are delivered from a pulpit. Pulpit comes from the Latin word pulpitum, meaning a platform or stage. And the Canterbury pulpit has been the stage for some great preachers.
The Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader the Dali Lama preached here. As did the Rev Billy Graham, a leading American evangelist of his time. So did Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu, a leader of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement. But the greatest preacher ever to set foot in the Canterbury pulpit was the Rev Dr Martin Luther King in 1968.
This was to be King’s last Sunday sermon. Days after delivering it, he was assassinated.
Bishop Henry Satterlee was responsible for building the cathedral, which is an Episcopal church. Satterlee wanted something in his new cathedral to connect it to his denomination’s old roots in the Church of England. So, he asked the archbishop of Canterbury if perhaps there was some stone left over from recent repairs to the Bell Harry Tower at Canterbury Cathedral in England. Canterbury is sort of the mother church of the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is a part. The archbishop said yes, he had some stone lying around and that Satterlee was welcome to it.
The stone was used to make the intricately carved pulpit.
On the front is a depiction of an unhappy King John being forced to sign Magna Carta, a document that for the first time took power from a king and moved it to the people. This was a precursor to our own Constitution. (By the way, if you want to see a copy of the Magna Carta, stop by the National Archives downtown and see this copy from 1297.)
Other carved figures include the historian the Venerable Bede dictating on his deathbed a translation of John’s gospel into Anglo-Saxon.
and Bishop William Tyndale shown here being burned at the stake after getting sideways with King Henry the 8th for translating and printing the bible in English.
Weather you come to hear a sermon or to take in the beauty of this place, Washington National Cathedral is a must-see site when you visit Washington. And as a certified cathedral guide, I’m happy to give you a tour.