Hidden Gems: The Christmas Angel

Knowing where to be and when to be there is often the key to a special image.  Most of the time the “when” is hard to know in advance.  But one opportunity that occurs like clockwork every year is the phenomenon known as “The Christmas Angel” at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

At the back of the Cathedral (opposite end from the entrance, known as the apse), high on a wall, there is a row of statues of angels spaced at regular intervals.  The statues are not particularly remarkable because they are in the shadows and one would not normally notice them.  But there is one statue that becomes a major attraction for a few minutes each day in the months of November and December.  A stained glass window high on the opposite wall is perfectly located to allow a shaft of light strike the back wall of the nave at midmorning.

Natl Cathedral D-15-11-20-0047

Photographed at 10:41 AM

The image above shows the light striking the wall to the (photographer’s) left of the statue, which is hardly visible.

Natl Cathedral D-15-11-20-085 ver 01

Photographed at 11:21 AM

Thirty minutes later, the light has moved to the right and begins to illuminate the statue.  By 11:20 AM the statue is fully illuminated and will remain that way for about five minutes.

Natl CathedralD-11-15-20-086

Close-up photographed at 11:22 AM

After a few minutes the light begins to disappear as the sun moves out of position.  See the image below.

Natl Cathedral D-15-11-20-097

Photographed at 11:43 AM

By 11:40 AM, the light was essentially gone.

Keep shooting….

24 thoughts on “Hidden Gems: The Christmas Angel

    • Thanks, Joan. A fellow photographer suggested we go down today and I knew it was time for the Christmas Angel so I thought it could be good. It also gave me a chance to check on the repairs from the 2011 earthquake. They seem to be making good progress; the netting in the sanctuary has been removed so there are no problems shooting inside. Still some scaffolding on the tower, however.

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    • Thanks, Helen. As you know, I have been roaming around the city of Washington for a number of years looking for photographic opportunities. I found early on that the National Cathedral is far more tolerant of photographers with tripods than most places. During one of my visits several years ago, a docent who leads tours mentioned to me the story of the Christmas Angel and I returned as soon as possible to photograph it. Since then, I have photographed it several times, but today the clear skies looked really good for another go at it.

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    • Thanks, Stacy. You are very kind. Although I already knew about the CHristmas Angel, today’s session was suggested by another photographer colleague. She has an idea for an evening shoot that sounds really good. If we figure out how to pull it off, I’ll touch base with you.

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      • Well, we made a run at that idea I mentioned above which was to photograph the White House Christmas Tree from the top of the Washington Monument. My colleague (Michele, who was on the Iceland trip) had the idea and it would have worked had the guards let us stay another 15 minutes. Still a bit too bright to get the night twilight. Curses, foiled again by the tripod police (and we didn’t even have tripods).

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  1. What a great lesson. Last month we were traveling home when golden hour was fast approaching. We pulled off at the next exit and started exploring. We cam away with some of the best photos of my brief life. Timing is, indeed, everything!

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