Almost 200 years of dreams and labor came to a close yesterday before thousands of people, including President and Mrs. Bush, as the long arm of a crane lowered a 1,000-pound carved stone onto the southwest corner tower of the Washington Cathedral.

"Bull's-eye!" yelled Joe Alonso, the cathedral's longtime mason foreman and one of three men who guided the stone while balanced on a scaffold 232 feet high.

Over the applause, Richard T. Feller, the project's construction supervisor since 1957, pronounced his own version of a benediction over a loudspeaker: "With God's help and the help of thousands of friends, the fabric of this cathedral is completed."

Envisioned by city planner Pierre L'Enfant in 1791, the Washington Cathedral, the showcase of the Episcopal Church, was conceived by the aristocracy.

Bankers and philanthropists began funding it in the late 1800s, and its cornerstone was laid in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt. Its first architects, Briton George Frederick Bodley and American Henry Vaughan, were among the last architects trained in Gothic design.

But artisans, ordinary laborers, small donors and thousands of volunteers worked to build the cathedral. Long before the introduction of bulldozers, construction workers dug trenches by hand for its foundation, using horses to haul away the dirt.

A father and son, members of an Italian family that had been carving stone for five generations, spent most of their lives helping chisel the 100 gargoyles, 320 stone angels and other carvings that adorn the cathedral facade. Artist N.C. Wyeth painted panels for a cathedral chapel in 1936.

German artist Ulrich Henn, who learned to sculpt while an American prisoner of war during World War II, made a pair of bronze gates. Stained-glass artists Dieter Goldkuhle and Ben Hayes have made many of the cathedral's 200 windows, assisted by local artists such as Linda Neam Foreman, of Virginia.

The cathedral is officially estimated to have cost $65 million in current dollars, but the actual cost is much higher -- although no one knows how much. Many of those who turned out for yesterday's celebration came because they had paid some portion of its cost.

Maggie Trotter Worsley came from her home in Southeast Washington. Worsley, a retired public health nurse, sent her daughter, Francel, through all 12 grades at schools affiliated with the cathedral, at considerable cost to herself and her husband, a pharmacist. Her daughter graduated from National Cathedral School for girls 21 years ago, she said, when work was just beginning on the west front of the cathedral.

"I'm glad to be back," said Worsley, a Baptist. "Because I've made my contributions, I feel I'm a part of the building of this place."

Yesterday's ceremony was part worship, part patriotic pageantry. The cover of the program portrayed the American flag and the Marine Band played patriotic tunes. Barbara Bush wore a red and white dress with a navy blue jacket.

The president -- who, like his wife, is Episcopalian -- praised the cathedral as "a symbol of our nation's spiritual life, overlooking the center of our nation's secular life."

"From where we now stand, the rose window high above seems black and formless," Bush told the crowd assembled in the sunshine outside the cathedral's main entrance. "But when we enter, and see it backlit by the sun, it dazzles in astonishing splendor. And it reminds us that without faith, we too are but stained-glass windows in the dark."

Bush did not mention the crisis in the Persian Gulf, but other participants hinted at it.

A prayer read by cathedral canon Carole Crumley asked God to "defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries." Another prayer asked for God's care "of all men and women in our armed forces at home and abroad . . . "

The combining of civil and religious themes in the ceremony left some visitors, including Tina Vokos, unsettled. The prayer for the military and the prominence of the Marine Band "make me a little uneasy," said Vokos, a banker from Silver Spring who got up at about 6 a.m. to make sure she got a good view of the ceremony.

Nonetheless, Vokos was delighted to be a part of what was clearly a historic event. So were Powell and Joanne Hutton, from Northern Virginia, who were accompanied by their daughters, Charlotte, 9, and Cecily, 7.

"We want them 50 years from now to be able to come back and say, 'We were there,' " said Powell Hutton, a former speechwriter.

With the last stone in place, the signs of construction at the cathedral site will now disappear for the first time in 83 years. Within a week, the last of the cranes will be dismantled and packed off to a new, more secular task: a building site in Texas.