My name is Thomas Davies Clay.   I was born in Huntington, West Virginia in 1938 and grew up in Ashland, Kentucky - 17 miles from Huntington. I received a B.A. from Marshall University in 1960 and a M.Div. from the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Lexington, Kentucky in 1963.  I was ordained an Episcopal priest on December 1, 1963.   For the next 35 years I served parishes in Richmond, Kentucky; Washington, North Carolina; LaGrange, Georgia; Front Royal, Virginia; and California, Maryland.   I retired from active parish ministry in 1998 at age 60.  Since retirement I have been an interim rector of two parishes in Southern Maryland plus I continue to take Sunday services in area churches when needed.  I  am also Parish Associate at St. Paul's Church in Alexandria, Virginia.In 2000 we built our retirement home in Maryland, fifteen miles south of Washington, D.C. 




 Washington National Cathedral

One of my favorite memories is that of my first visit to the Washington National Cathedral in 1953.  I was fifteen, and my Great Uncle Oley took me on a C. & O. railroad Cherry Blossom  excursion to Washington from Huntington.  Great Uncle Oley, who never married, was like a grandfather to me.  Both of my grandfathers died the year before I was born.  We rode all night on the train, toured all of Washington including the Washington Cathedral and Mount Vernon and came home that night. I was awed by the Washington Cathedral which by that time had been in progress for forty-six years with thirty-seven years more before its final completion.  Very little of the nave had been completed at that time.  During my college days, I made several trips to D.C. always with a visit to the cathedral to see the progress.  The years from 1951 to 1986 saw great strides in the construction led by The Very Rev. Francis Sayre Jr, who had become the new Dean.  I remember on one of my college trips sitting in the great choir on Sunday as the Great Litany was sung in procession.  The choir left the chancel and processed around the interior of the church and back to the choir.  I recall that the nave was completed only to the second bay with a tall wooden wall at the west end.

After I was ordained, I was fortunate to attend the College of Preacher on three occasions, traveling from either Kentucky, North Carolina and Georgia.   The College of Preachers, now called the Cathedral College, is located directly behind the cathedral.  These weeklong sessions gave me ample opportunity to explore the cathedral during free times.  It was always thrilling to see the progress.  In 1978, I became Rector of Calvary Church, Front Royal, Virginia which is 65 miles from the cathedral.  Many events of the Diocese of Virginia were held at the Washington Cathedral, which again was a time to renew my enthusiasm for this great building.  It was completed in 1990, but unfortunately I was not able to attend the dedication.   In 1994 I became Rector of St. Andrew’s, near Leonardtown, Maryland.  It was the same distance to the cathedral as from Front Royal.  I was now in the Diocese of Washington.   All the events of the Diocese were held at the cathedral.   So for over fifty years, the Washington National Cathedral has been an extremely important part of my life.    SEE MY MINI MODEL



In 2002, I read an announcement in the Diocesan newsletter that the cathedral was looking for volunteers to be docents (teaching tour guides).  I thought that this would be a wonderful opportunity to really enjoy this inspiring building.  At this point, I was retired and only lived twenty-five miles away.   I took the three month course of instruction about every facet of the cathedral. There was a tremendous amount of learning – architecture, history, stained glass windows, various chapels, stone and wood carvings.  We were tested and had to give several trial tours which were critiqued by the cathedral staff.  The first time giving a tour to 50 eighth graders was even more frightening! 

 It was a fun and rewarding experience giving 30 minute, and sometimes longer, tours three or four times each Wednesday.   During the school year we would often be visited by 25 or more student groups a day from all over the United States plus many adult tour groups as well as walk-in visitors.  School groups were always a challenge!    It would take a lifetime to see, learn and understand all of the architecture and the art of the Washington Cathedral. 

Being a docent was exciting not only being able to share the wonder of the cathedral with visitors, but being able to see and learn or in the case of us senior folks relearning, something new every time we stepped into the wonderment.  I remember Malcom Miller, who has been giving tours at Chartres Cathedral since 1958, saying to us on his wonderful tour of Chartres that he learned something new about Chartres Cathedral every time he gave a tour.  All cathedrals tell wonderful stories in their architecture and art work.  That was one of the reasons for so much stained glass, paintings and sculpture in churches.  When many of the medieval cathedrals were built people couldn’t read and there were not many books, if any available, so they could “read” a stained glass window, a painting or sculpture  and learn a Bible story or about the life of some saint or historic event. The Washington Cathedral is noted for its beautiful wood carving. Because of my interest in woodworking  I was asked to give special tours on the wood carvings .


Being a docent at the beautiful Gothic Washington Cathedral whetted my appetite to see the great cathedrals of Europe. my wife, before we were married, had traveled often in Europe for pleasure and business. She had encouraged me for several years to travel abroad, but I was insecure about flying over the ocean. One day after spending the day at Washington Cathedral, I came home and announced that I would like to go to England and visit cathedrals. I think she had plane reservations several hours after that announcement.

 Thus in the spring of 2003 we began our “CATHEDRAL QUEST”.  So far my wife and I have, in the past 14 years, have spent 192 days in Europe and visited 274 Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Moorish cathedrals, abbeys, churches plus a number of castles and museums in 119 cities in 11 countries.

For each "CATHEDRAL QUEST" trip we spent many months planning before departure, deciding on the churches we wish to visit, booking hotels and restaurants, and travel routes.  We read architecture and history books about the churches we want to explore as well as other places of interest in each city.  My wife is the expert on hotels, restaurants, art museums, and  shopping, and makes many advanced reservations.

  On all of our CATHEDRAL QUESTS, we have kept a very detailed daily journal.  for the past five years, I have carried a small laptop on which I record the daily activities and email them each day, along with several photos, to our families. For the last several years I have taken advantage of Dragon software which allows me to dictate these journals.I have taken thousands of photographs which we identified by file number each day in our journal.  except for filling in a few details and some history the daily information on my computer is ready for this website. I am afraid that Cathedralquest.com not yet up to date. The software that I use for a number of years was phased out two years ago,and I have had to learn a whole new system, which at my age has been most difficult. I hope to have this webpage up to date in the near future. You are invited to come back from time to time to see my latest additions.


Several years ago, I discovered cathedral model kits and began making models of the cathedrals we wanted to explore.  Please look at these model pages.  I have made over 50 models of cathedrals, abbeys, castles and other historic buildings. I have kits to build 65 more (if I live that long :-)) The models that I have made, are very detailed and take hours upon hours to make.  Many parts are so small, I had to use tweezers. Spending so much time with these models increased my anticipation of seeing them in person and examining details that the casual observer might miss.  Please visit all my cathedral models. This model is Reims Cathedral in France.


For example, we visited Notre Dame in Paris before I made the model.  When I assembled the  clocks on both sides of the transept roofs,  I did not remember seeing these little clocks when we were there.  When we made a return trip to Paris in 2006, I had to check them out and sure enough they were really there. I had taken pictures of the model with me.  I then took a number of pictures of the real clocks – just for proof.   



After returning from France in 2005, I was leading the Wood Carving tour at the Washington Cathedral for a Lifetime Learning Class at Northern Virginia Community College.  Several members of the class asked if I would come to the college and tell them about my trips.  This has lead to teaching an eight week class at Lifetime Learning Institutes at George Mason University, Northern Virginia Community College and the College of Southern Maryland.     I entitled my class From Solomon to Gaudi: A History of European Church Architecture”.

The use of the cathedral models, mentioned above, in teaching these classes has been received with great enthusiasm.  When presenting the slides of the cathedrals on the screen,  I can lift up and point out the exact locations on the models.  Since the models are to scale,  it is enlightening to compare one or more cathedral models during a lecture. 

 A second visual aid that I have found extremely helpful is the use of models of elevations and buttresses.  I photocopied the elevations and buttresses of nine cathedrals which were created by Alberto Berengo Gardin and  are included in Gunther Binding's book - High Gothic.  I enlarge these drawings until they reached the size of 1 inch to 10 foot scale.  Then I glued them to 3/4 inch plywood and cut them out on my scroll saw.  I printed, on acetate, the actual windows from each of these cathedrals and  then mounted them in the window opening on the elevations.  I was able to photograph the elevation and buttress drawings of the Washington Cathedral and mounted them to use as a comparison since most of those taking my lectures have been in the Washington Cathedral.  I use these comparisons so my students get a sense of the various heights and side elevations.    Here is an example of comparing the Washington Cathedral - on the left- with Beauvais in France- on the right.  The interior height of Washington Cathedral is 100 ft ( the model is 10 inches). The height of Beauvais, which is the tallest cathedral in the world, is 157 ft (the model is 15 1/2 inches).  


In the spring of 2009, I took a class on travel writing at the Smithsonian Institution.  The lecturer, Michael Luongo, who has written a number of travel books, encouraged me to write a book about our cathedral adventures and to include the material that I use in my cathedral lectures.  He further suggested that I might start by creating it on a website. having created my website for my woodworking – creations – by – Thomas.com, I had some knowledge of how to create webpages so I decided to take Michael's advice and thus  CATHEDRALQUEST. COM was born. 

Unfortunately,  almost 3years ago the software that I had been using for the past 11 years was phased out. The replacement software has been very difficult to master. I have had to relearn the process which has consumed a tremendous amount of time and energy for my old brain.  The reformatted and partially updated website was reposted on June 12, 2015. I still have several years to add to this webpage.

I have been extremely pleased with the response to this webpage. it receives between 700 and 800 a day. I have made friends all over the world. I have had the privilege of visiting some of them in the past several years plus others correspond often.

The goals of this website are:


ENGLAND 2003 – We planned this trip on our own and traveled from city to city by train. We visited 6 English churches.

ITALY 2004 – Not sure we could get along on our own, since we didn’t speak Italian, we took a Globus tour from Rome to Milan and then went off on our own to Lake Como for a few days. We visited 11 Italian churches

FRANCE 2005 – Having survived Lake Como on our own, we decided to tour France on our own.  My wife could speak some French.  We rented a car when we were outside of Paris, and did extremely well driving in France with only Mapquest maps.  A GPS would come later.  We visited 24 French churches.

PARIS 2006 -  We rented an apartment in Paris for a week and concentrated on revisiting churches we had seen (really wanted to find those clocks on the roof of Notre Dame) and seeing those churches that we had missed. We visited 10 Paris churches, six of them we had visited in 2005.

GERMANY  and SWITZERLAND 2007 – We were really getting brave so we rented a car and brought along our newly purchased GPS with our itinerary pre programmed. We visited 23 churches and 3 castles.

ITALY 2008 – Again we did the trip on our own – now confident that we could understand some Italian.    We had several days in Padua and Ravenna, a week with friends at a villa in Monteloro, above Florence, and a week in an apartment in Venice. We visited 47 Italian churches.

SPAIN 2009 - We found a Globus tour that made a large circle around Spain and assured us that we would see all the cathedral that we wanted to see (they missed several!). At the end of the trip in Madrid, we went back to Barcelona for four days by ourselves. We visited 21 Spanish Churches.

We have several family related vacations to take this year -2010- so we decided to skip Europe this year. 

CENTRAL EUROPE 2011 - Having been disappointed in the last organized trip, we decided to plan another trip on our own.  We began in Berlin, then Dresden, Prague with a side trip to Kutna Hora, one night stop in Brno, Budapest, Vienna with a side trip to Melk Abbey and finally Salzburg.  This trip lasted 23 days and we visited 37 churches. 

SOUTHERN FRANCE 2012 - We flew to Paris, took a train to Sens where we picked up our rental car. We drove south, visiting the towns of  Beaune, Cluny, Paray- le Monial, Clermont Ferrand,  LePuy-en-Velay, Avignon, Marseille, Camargue, Carcassone, Toulouse, and Albi.

SCOTLAND and ENGLAND 2013 - We have been very brave driving and other countries, but we felt that we could not drive in UK so we took the train from town to town.  After spending several days in Edinburgh, we headed south with extended visits in Durham, York,Lincoln, Peterborough, Ely,Cambridge, Worchester, Herford, Gloucester, Tewkesbury, and London. We enjoyed seeing the great English cathedrals.

SICILY and SOUTHERN ITALY  2014(THIS PAGE IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION) We flew to Palermo, Sicily several days before a scheduled Collette tour. Half of the tour used Palermo as the base and the second half was from Catinia. We had been warned that it was not safe to drive in Sicily so we decided on a tour this year. At the conclusion of the tour, we took a ferry to the Amalfi coast, staying in Sorrento for several days. We then took the train to Assisi for three days and then to Florence for two days before flying home. Details of each day will be coming soon.

AMSTERDAM and POLAND 2017 - Having missed two years of travel due to our illness, we decided to go to Poland as we very much wanted to Gdansk because of the models that I had made.  We broke up the flight with four days in Amsterdam.  Then we flew to Warsaw to begin a Collette tour of Poland.  We had a wonderful time.  I am in the process of writing our tour, please have a look.

IRELAND 2018 - lreland  has been on our "list to visit" for a number of years.  This year an Irish Clan event brought our visit to the top of our list for this year.  My wife's family name is O'Day and their was an O'Dea (O'Day) Clan Reunion schedule for May in Ennis.  Kathleen's two sisters also wanted to attend.  Kathleen and I went a week early to explore other areas and stayed a over a week after the reunion.   We had a wonderful time.


An INDEX of the churches that we have visited by country and town are listed on this page.  Along with the name of the church, I have included dates, style of architecture and type of building. 



Taking photographs is an important and fun part of traveling.  I have been taking pictures for over 50 years and have some suggestions to offer about taking "church" pictures.  Please click this link to read about my LOVE OF PHOTOGRAPHY AND MY SUGGESTIONS. 


When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine in 326, church buildings began to be built.  Throughout the period from 1000 to 1750, four distinct styles developed - Romanesque (1000-1200), Gothic (1140-1300), Renaissance (1300-1650), and Baroque (1600-1750).  As I write  about all of the  churches that we have seen I will identify their architectural styles.  Rather than write the description of each time on each church I have provided a link to a page about that particular style:     ROMANESQUE , GOTHIC , RENAISSANCE, and BAROQUE ARCHITECTURE.     I have also added a link to a glossary of church architectural terms- CHURCH ARCHITECTURE GLOSSARY  plus a diagram showing the various parts of a GOTHIC WALL


I love to read and am rather addicted to buying books.  While I was a docent at the Washington Cathedral, I bought every book that arrived in the bookstore on cathedral architecture.  I also love medieval history because this is the time in which the great cathedrals were built.  I also have bought the "official" book of every church that we have visited when such a book was available.  I share this list with you.  If you love great pictures of churches and their histories I highly recommend all of the "coffee table" books edited by Rolf Toman.  I also love historic novels.  I have also listed those that I own that I think relate to the Medieval cathedrals.  On a lighter side, I love mysteries, particularly medieval mysteries.  I have read most of the books by the authors listed in a medieval mystery section at the end of the Bibliography.   I would recommend that you read them in the order in which they were published.  While fun and often exciting reading that give you a good look at medieval history, the church, monks, knights, kings, and queens and other assorted interesting people. I have also listed some of the Teaching Company's-Great Courses - DVDs ,that we own and have greatly enjoyed, that are related to medieval history.




A Great Honor at Catholic University of America





I hope that you will find this site interesting and will come back often to visit.  It is my intent to put the detailed descriptions on as quickly as possible.  We have had a great time in our “CATHEDRAL QUEST” and we would like to share our adventures with you.  Each of us sees different things when we look at the great cathedrals.  It has been sad to hear people on our organized trips groan when the bus pulls in front of another cathedral.  How often I have heard the comment about cathedrals – “If you have seen one you have seen them all!”   How untrue.  Of the 256 churches, 82 have been actual cathedrals – cathedral being the church that contains the cathedra or the Bishop’s chair of that Diocese.   Cathedrals are not called cathedrals because they are a large church. I have visited several churches that were larger than many cathedrals and some small churches that were cathedrals.  All of these churches, that we have visited, have left a vivid impression in my mind.   I can recall their architecture in my mind at mention of the town or cathedral.   The interiors are harder to visualize, but I have a lot of pictures.  I am sorry to report that there a number of churches that would not allow interior photographs.  


If you wish to contact me with questions or comments, please feel free to email me: thomasclay@verizon.net.