This weekend the National Cathedral reopened their central tower for the first time since the August earthquake, and Brian and I were there to climb it. Saturday’s dreary weather meant you could see clouds passing through the windows at the top; still, it’s the highest point in DC, the bells can ring in any weather, and even in the fog the views are exquisite.
First things first: This is not the tour for you if you’re claustrophobic or afraid of heights. The first half of the climb takes you up narrow winding passages, and because of people stopping in front, you might end up stranded in tight places for a bit. The last third of the climb takes you up an open spiral staircase that wobbles as you walk. In other words, don’t test your fears this way. That’s what trapeze school is for.
That said, if you get the opportunity to climb the central tower you won’t be disappointed.
The tour meanders for 300 steps through attics and dark passageways until it opens up onto balconies and peal bells. You pass statues stored in crannies and ladders leading down to shadowy crevices. Tour guides throughout answer questions about each room’s history and architecture.
On Saturday, the Washington Ringing Society gave us a bell demonstration while we enjoyed panoramic views of the city through the fog.
Along with the peal bells, we heard from carillonneur Edward M. Nassor about his experiences in the bell tower and love for the instrument. Nassor plays the Cathedral’s Kibbey Carillon – the third heaviest carillon in the world. He treated us to some Handel and Luther before we started back down.
Throughout the tour, we could still see serious signs of the earthquake’s damage: netting across the nave to catch stray mortar or stone dust, scaffolding outside, dislodged pinnacles, etc. The Cathedral expects stabilization efforts to take years, and the costs have already exceeded $1 million. The visit was a great reminder of how much work needs to be done and why the Cathedral is a building worth protecting.