I'm continuing to knock things off my list of places I want to go before leaving DC. Last week I headed to Catholic University to see the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and though there were high school students milling about, waiting to graduate inside, I was able to still walk around the grounds and inside the shrine. Though I've been to lots of churches in Europe (including Westminster Abbey in London and St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican) I'm not sure I've ever been so blown away by the art and architecture — especially since the Shrine has been just three Metro stops from my house for the last three years. The photos I took inside didn't come out especially well, but nearly every inch is covered with shiny mosaics, stained glass, and gold, gold, gold.
After that I took the train to Tenleytown, and walked down Wisconsin Avenue to the National Cathedral, which for some reason I thought you couldn't just visit. You can —the Cathedral is absolutely enormous, and is really new. The foundation stone wasn't laid until 1907, and construction was interrupted during the wars. But while the Shrine is stunningly beautiful, the Cathedral comes off as more imposing. There's some beautiful design to be sure, but the hand-stitched seat cushions are more kitschy Americana than anything else. That said, the outside is impressive, the view from the top lovely (click to enlarge the photo and you'll see the Washington Monument and Capitol Building, and the little Bishop's Garden in back (designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.) was pretty.