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The Gothic vision of GF Bodley

One bitterly cold winter day in Washington, DC, a friend and I climbed through the beech trees and oaks of Mount Saint Alban, where George Washington used to ride. We approached the National Cathedral through the cold fastness of the wood, but not knowing the city I was unaware that a cathedral stood on the hill I was climbing. I was looking up through the procession of leafless trees when I saw it, and stopped, in shocked silence, seeing the pale buttressed walls and pale towers, of the same pale colours as the winter day, rising above me like a vision.

Here is the cathedral if I had approached from the west. I think it resembles Westminster Abbey.


The British architect George Frederick Bodley designed the cathedral at the end of his life. Funded entirely by private sources, it was completed in 1990, eighty-three years after he had died. The National Cathedral was the site of the 9-11 memorial service and the Eisenhower and Reagan funerals.

Both the V&A and the Churches Conservation Trust have marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Bodley, who was “the most influential Gothic-revival architect of the late 19th century.”

An early collaborator of William Morris, Bodley began working around the time that Pugin died. “The spare elegance” of Bodley’s late style “profoundly shaped the appearance of Anglican churches throughout the world”. In partnership with Thomas Garner and George Gilbert Scott, Bodley “designed major collegiate buildings in Oxford and Cambridge, country houses and churches throughout the British Isles.”

He helped to create what has been called the enchanted landscape of Britain.

The photo is by Alexandra K. Scott from The Soul in Balance, The Gardens of Washington National Cathedral, one of my favorite books of photographs and quotations.