It’s not just a likeness of Darth Vader that adorns the outside of the National Cathedral in Washington D.C., it’s indeed a replica of the real thing. The bust of the Star Wars villain (and later Luke’s father) sits perched on the building with other interesting characters as a grotesque, which is similar to a gargoyle. A gargoyle is a form on buildings that is used as a drain spout while a grotesque does not. But why is there a sculpture of Darth Vader there?
It started in the 1980s when National Geographic World magazine sponsored a decorative sculpture competition specifically for children. Christopher Rader of Nebraska placed 3rd in the competition with his drawing of Darth Vader. The drawing was turned into a sculpture by Jay Hall Carpenter and carved by Patrick J. Plunkett. Other winners of the competition joined Vader on the cathedral’s northwest tower. One piece was a girl with braces and pigtails, another was a man with an umbrella and big teeth, and the third was a racoon. Darth Vader and the others sit rather high and can only be seen clearly with binoculars.
The grotesque and gargoyle (the one with a spout) served an important function in Gothic architecture because they were a way to get rain away from the side of a building. This helped to prevent water from flowing down the sides of the building, which could erode the structure.The Darth Vader grotesque is just one of many things hiding in plain sight in the National Cathedral. There are many other interesting things.
There is a stained glass window called the “Space Window” that contains seven grams of the moon. It’s contained in an airtight, nitrogen-filled capsule. It was brought back on the Apollo 11 mission.
The National Cathedral is the 6th largest cathedral in the world and 2nd largest in the United States.
Construction started on September 29, 1907 and was completely finished 83 years later in 1990.
There are stones from many different places that are part of the cathedral. There are stones from Westminster Abbey, the Appian Way outside Rome, and a stone from Mount Sinai in the Holy Land. The foundation stone came from a field near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Another stone is labelled GITMO, and was donated in 1965 by men of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.
Helen Keller and Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States, are buried in the cathedral’s columbarium.
NASA, Washington Post, Washington National Cathedral, Atlas Obscura