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Original design for the National Cathedral

Original design for the National Cathedral

The iconic National Cathedral in Washington DC is such a striking structure when you see it on the skyline that it’s hard to imagine that anyone could have conceived of a different form for the building that was financed by the Episcopal Church. But in an article on the Smithsonian website on DC monuments that were designed but never built, you can see that original plan was very different than what we have now.

““Many people assume it was a foregone conclusion that it was Gothic,” says Moeller. But the original design for the National Cathedral was in a Renaissance style. Architect Ernest Flagg, of New York, supplied the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation with drawings. The cathedral had a 208-foot-tall rotunda, a dome with cutouts of simple Greek crosses and, notes Moeller, a particularly interesting entryway. “It is a real niche, pulling people in,” he says. “There was a certain sculptural sense to that. I can imagine that being a very memorable experience.””

Follow the link to see the picture here.


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Ronald Caldwell

Gasp! The original design was a monstrosity! Wrong on so many levels. First, the dome would compete with the magnificent Capitol dome and lose on every point. Washington DC is often called the new Rome.This edifice would have made it too obvious, and not in a good way. An English Gothic design, while not original or very American, reminds us of our English roots which I think are more important to us than the Roman ones. Does not everyone agree that the lovely, elegant, lofty, restrained Gothic national cathedral has become a much beloved national treasure largely by its own architectural genius.

C. Wingate

One should keep in mind that (a) Satterlee really wanted a Gothic building; (b) as you can puzzle out from this picture, they hadn’t acquired any land yet; and (c) the third and fourth alternatives would have been St. Martin’s in the Fields blown up huge or a Romanesque pile.

Paul Woodrum

19th century eclecticism at its height and worst. Shades of St.Paul’s, St. Peter’s, St. Suplice and the Capital, all over wrought. Glad we didn’t go in that direction though not sure faux, cookie-cutter Gothic, even with some contemporary ornament,is a great improvement though, on the skyline at least, it contrasts with the Capital.


The niche entrance is interesting, but overall, it looks like a St Peter’s wannabe! (and in my eyes—speaking strictly architecturally here—that’s NOT a good thing to want to be)

JC Fisher

David Allen

Personally, I am glad that thing was not what was built. To me that style is not the timeless design that some think it is.

Bro. David

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