Darth Vader, evil space wizard, is also a proud member of the Episcopal Church. His threatening visage looms far above congregants at Washington D.C.’s National Cathedral, appearing as a stone gargoyle (well, technically a “grotesque”) in order to scare the faithful with a fate far worse than eternal damnation: Getting Force-choked by a bipedal air purifier.
In order to answer the obvious question of why, exactly, a Star Wars character ended up as part of a cathedral’s decorations, Mental Floss traced the story of the Vader grotesque back to its origins. (No, not these ones.)
As it turns out, back in the ‘80s the National Cathedral sponsored a National Geographic World contest that asked kids to draw their own grotesque. Though a 12-year-old from Minnesota won for dreaming up “a toothy man with an umbrella” called “Sagacious Grotesque,” three runner-ups were chosen, too. A 13-year-old named Christopher Rader drew Darth Vader as part of this group and his picture was turned into stone (which isn’t as as good as carbonite) along with “Sagacious Grotesque” and the other runner-ups: A “pigtailed girl with braces” and a raccoon.
Decades later, Vader’s head remains where it was installed in 1986. It is now an important part of an American cathedral’s history, an icon of commercial media embedded neatly into the very capitol of a nation.
Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe worshippers are bored of the traditional images of demons and monsters that inspire gargoyles and now need to have the fear of god put into them by a character who provides immediate, throat-crushing consequences when he finds someone’s “lack of faith disturbing.”
Read the rest of the story (and check out photos of a few other National Cathedral grotesques) over at Mental Floss.
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