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'Vader Has a Purpose': How the 'Force' May Help Repair Washington National Cathedral

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Darth Vader on Washington's National Cathedral
Darth Vader on Washington's National Cathedral

WASHINGTON – It's officially known as the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, but most Americans know it as the National Cathedral.

The stately structure offers spectacular views, vaulted ceiling and more than 200 stained glass windows. One of the windows depicts space with seven grams of lunar rock donated by the crew of Apollo 11 led by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

"It's the only place in Washington where you can see a piece of the moon," said Kevin Eckstrom.

Among the Gargoyles: Darth Vader

The cathedral features stone gargoyles and grotesques that overlook the highest point in Washington D.C. But one stone sculpture draws visitors to the "dark side."

"This is the north side of the cathedral, the dark side of the cathedral, which is why he is where he is," said Eckstrom.

He's none other than Darth Vader.

"People come and they just want to see Vader, they stand on the ground and they just want to see him," said Eckstrom.

A design competition during the 1980's Star Wars craze sparked a submission, which ended up earning the well-known villain his spot.

Evangelist Darth Vader?

"It's actually been great because it's one form of engagement that people have with the cathedral, which sometimes is all they need and want to come back and see what's inside and maybe they want to come back and go to church. So whatever it takes to lure people through the door, Vader has a purpose," said Eckstrom.

His purpose could be the force behind helping the cathedral recover from the millions in damages cause by the 2011 earthquake that rattled the nation's capital. Repairing and replacing stone works costs big bucks which is where visitors and donors can make the difference.

"A lot of people do visit the National Cathedral," said Eckstrom. "All told worshipers and visitors 750,000 a year."

The Famous and the Ordinary All Keep National Cathedral Running

During those services, priests and special guests have shared God's message from the Canterbury pulpit for decades. 

"A lot of people have preached from here Billy Graham, Dali Lama and Martin Luther King," said Eckstrom.

Influencers, tourists and a faithful following keep the Washington National Cathedral running. Plus having "The Force" on the grounds doesn't hurt, especially with new Star Wars movies bringing in new generations.

"You can come back to it time and time again and no matter where you are in your life you can find something new and enriching," said  The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, the cathedral's current dean. "It's something to move your faith to the next place."

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