In the midst of double-digit inflation and only five years after coming close to bankruptcy, the Washington Cathedral has just rounded out the best fiscal year in its recent history.

Contributions to the cathedral's annual fund drive, which helps fund the yearly operating costs, increased by 45 percent over the previous year, for a total of $754,000, said Canon Charles Perry, cathedral provost.

The number of contributors has increased nearly 32 percent over the last two years, for a total of 12,500 last year, which Perry called "even more remarkable than the money."

Gifts to the cathedral's capital fund drive, begun two years ago with a 3 1/2-year goal of $15.5 million to pay off the debt and to construct the Pilgrim Gallery on the west front, have already topped $10.8 million. That will make it possible to complete the gallery by next year, "ahead of schedule and under budget," said Perry.

The "stone campaign," in which a donor can endow his or her numbered building stone in the cathedral wall, reached its goal of $500,000 in one year, about half the scheduled time, Perry said.

Five years ago, the cathedral, which is related to the Episcopal Church but is controlled by its own board of directors, called a chapter, rushed through a number of construction projects, including the celebrated LeCompte rose window in the west wall, for the Bicentennial and a number of gala occasions, including the visit of Queen Elizabeth.

When the bicentennial year and its galas were over, the cathedral was $11 million in debt. All construction was stopped, thermostats were lowered, visiting hours for tourists reduced, and drastic personnel cuts reached from canons to choir boys.

While the cathedral staff struggled to continue a variety of ministries and services, new emphasis was put on fund-raising efforts. By last year, officials had managed to turn the situation around enough to resume some construction on the Pilgrim Gallery -- an important development in Perry's view.

"The fact that we began to resume construction, for many supporters of the cathedral, is an index of health," he said.

Cathedral officials can only speculate on the reasons for the growing financial success. "I think there is enough uncertainty, enough frustration about how money is spent today . . . that when you have institutions like churches that are willing to address issues that concern people . . . a lot of people will give," said Episcopal Bishop John T. Walker.

Walker also believes the cathedral's efforts to embody the motto of its founder, "A House of Prayer for All People," are appealing to would-be givers. Churches, he said, "need to talk more about unity and reconciliation and not so much about what makes us different from everybody else."

Virginia Glover, president of the National Cathedral Association, whose 10,000 members across the country contribute $15 to $1,000 a year to the cathedral, credits "the wonderful and wise leadership of the bishop combined with the business acumen of the provost."

Perry said that the unexpected $100,000 bonus in the annual fund drive, plus the continuing response to the capital fund campaign, will make it possible to reduce the debt, now at $8.6 million, by another $400,000 within the next 60 days.