Exploring the West Façade
The west façade consists of two towers, a gallery of windows about halfway down, a rose window and three huge portals featuring a large sculptural tympanum above each, intricate bronze gates and a standing figural statue between the pairs of gates.
Creation and Rebirth
The theme for the West Façade is the Creation. In most medieval, Gothic cathedrals the west façade illustrates stories of judgment, punishment and death. By contrast, the Cathedral's west portals emphasize a narrative of rebirth through faith.
West-Elevation North Portal (2022) by Washington National CathedralWashington National Cathedral
North Portal of West Façade
Highlighted in purple, at the bottom left, is the North Portal of the West Façade.
North Portal of the West Façade: the Creation of Day
The triangular tympanum above the north portal depicts the Creation of Day, showing the Sun emerging from a swirling void.
North Portal of the West Facade: Saint Peter
In the trumeau between the gates stands one of the Cathedral’s patron saints, Peter, with his fishing net over his shoulder. The sculptor portrays Peter when he was called by Jesus to be his disciple. The bronze gates feature scenes from the life of Peter amid wildflowers.
West-Elevation Center Portal (2022) by Washington National CathedralWashington National Cathedral
Center Portal of the West Façade
Highlighted in purple, centrally at the bottom, is the Center Portal of the West Façade.
Center Portal of the West Façade: Ex Nihilo
The tympanum carving shows Ex Nihilo (out of nothing), the creation of humankind from the abyss. Partially formed figures of men and women seem to dramatically emerge from the swirling background.
Trumeau sculpture of Adam
The sculptor Frederick Hart shows Adam at the moment of his awakening, in a trumeau figural rendering as part of the center portal of the West Façade.
West-Elevation South Portal (2022) by Washington National CathedralWashington National Cathedral
South Portal of the West Façade
Highlighted in purple, at the bottom right, is the South Portal of the West Façade.
South Portal of the West Façade: the Creation of Night
In the triangular tympanum above the south portal is carved the Creation of Night, with the pitted surface of the moon hanging in a night sky.
South Portal of the West Façade: the Conversion of Paul
The trumeau statue between the pairs of gates depicts Paul, one of the Cathedral’s patron saints, shown at the moment of his conversion, temporarily blinded by the power of God. The bronze doors by Ulrich Henn show scenes from the life of Paul set in roundels amid wildflowers.
West-Elevation Rose Window (2022) by Washington National CathedralWashington National Cathedral
The Creation West Rose Window
Highlighted in purple, above, is the Creation West Rose Window.
West Rose Window: Indoor View (1976) by Rowan LeCompteWashington National Cathedral
At the Center of the Façade: the Creation West Rose Window
At the center of the façade is the magnificent Creation West Rose Window. The window is best seen from the inside with light streaming through more than 10,500 pieces of sparkling glass.
Stained Glass: The Theme of Creation in Light and Color
Designed by Rowan LeCompte and fabricated by Dieter Goldkuhle, the 26-ft. window celebrates the majesty and mystery of creation. It includes myriad colors, but key parts refer to the four Greek elements: red for fire; gray for air; green for water; and brown for earth.
West Rose Window and Light Reflection (1976) by Rowan LeCompteWashington National Cathedral
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West-Elevation West Towers (2022) by Washington National CathedralWashington National Cathedral
The West Towers
Highlighted in purple, above, are the two towers that crown the Cathedral's West Façade.
The west facade is dominated by two towers rising 232 feet: the Tower of St. Peter on the north/left and the Tower of St. Paul on the south/ right. The towers are named for the Cathedral's patron saints.
The Final Finial
The last stone set on the Cathedral was the “final finial," a large, cross-shaped stone on the southwest corner of the south tower. The stone was placed on Sept. 29, 1990, at a ceremony attended by President George. H. W. Bush.
The West Towers: Cross Point (2021) by Washington National CathedralWashington National Cathedral
Atop the Nave Roof
Between the West towers, the nave roof terminates in a point, atop which a stone cross acts as a reminder of the Christian faith practiced within the Cathedral.
West-Elevation Pilgrim Observation Gallery (2022) by Washington National CathedralWashington National Cathedral
The Pilgrim Observation Gallery
Highlighted in purple, above, is the Pilgrim Observation Gallery, at the base of the West Towers.
The Pilgrim Observation Gallery
At the base of the West towers is a row of 70 windows that mark the Pilgrim Observation Gallery. This level offers a breathtaking view of the city of Washington and the surrounding areas. This area is sometimes also used for receptions, exhibits and other special events.
Gargoyles and Grotesques
The carvings that extend from the walls are gargoyles or grotesques that deflect rainwater away from the building. Gargoyles expel water through a pipe that usually runs through their mouths; grotesques simply shed the water from noses, lips, or other features.
West End of Washington National Cathedral (2019) by Washington National CathedralWashington National Cathedral
Read more about the Cathedral's West Façade...
... and other unique features of art and architecture at Washington National Cathedral by visiting: https://cathedral.org/architecture/special-features/