The church is a place of worship for Christians that preserves the history and culture of the religion. It is enclosed by its aesthetic walls that have heard more than a million prayers. Featuring vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows, pointed arches and flying buttresses, churches are designed to not only take you on a spiritual awakening but also open a whole new world where art and architecture converge. The most beautiful churches in the world have been carved beyond perfection and have journeyed from an idea to iconic monuments where architecture climbs a ladder from being grand to the divine. By Priyanshi Agrawal
Churches are built in various architectural styles, including Tudor, Victorian, Modern, Art nouveau, Romanesque, Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic. These types have strong connections with history and thus, many churches are constructed with a blend of such aspects, documenting the era in which they were built or refurbished. Such is their magnificence and heritage that these churches have even been inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which surely amplifies their importance and becoming famous among tourists.
While discovering the history on a walk-through, offering prayers is one of the aspects of visiting a cathedral; soaking in the divine vibe and admiring the beauty of art and architecture is another.
St. Basil's Cathedral Moscow, Russia
St. Basil’s Cathedral is a colourful onion-shaped, nine-domed tower cathedral. It was built in memory of the Russian victory over the khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan. While each cathedral is built with red bricks, the foundations of the building are constructed of white stone. St. Basil’s was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990 for being one of the biggest buildings in Russia, featuring a wide range of architectural styles such as Tudor, Victorian, Modern, Russian Orthodox, Art nouveau, Byzantine and Gothic. It features various artistic creations like oil paintings, frescoes, portraits and landscapes as well. The cathedral is situated close to the State Historical Museum, Museum of Patriotic War of 1812 and Chambers of the Romanov Boyars where you can explore the history of Russia and St. Basil’s.
Location: Red Square, Moscow
Timings: Wednesday to Monday, 11:00 am to 5:00 pm; closed on Tuesdays.
(Image credit: Дмитрий Трепольский/Pexels)
The stunning white Duomo Cathedral features Gothic architecture with large stained glass windows, pointed arches, rib vaults, flying buttresses and ornate decoration that narrate the story of faith and art spanning six centuries. Also known as the Milan Cathedral, it is a revered place of prayer that is closely connected to both the history of the millions of worshipers who annually congregate here to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries, the legacy and beliefs of the Bishops who succeeded St. Ambrose. With 135 spires, this humongous church consists of The Duomo Museum, The Cathedral, Archaeological Area and Rooftops.
Location: P.za del Duomo, 20122 Milano MI, Italy
Timing: Every day from 9 am to 7 pm.
(Image credit: Ouael Ben Salah/Unsplash)
Cathedral of Brasília, Brazil
Standing at the centre of the Monumental Axis — the city’s central avenue — this modernist-style Roman Catholic Cathedral is an iconic structure in the country. Designed by the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, its renowned crown-like façade is created by sixteen boomerang-shaped columns that rise from the ground below. Niemeyer viewed this structure as a form of profound religious expression and purity from every angle — the true concept of the Brasilia Cathedral’s hyperbolic construction is to create the illusion of both hands pointing upward. Some consider it to be the crown of the Lord Jesus.
Location: Esplanada dos Ministérios lote 12 – Brasília
Timing: Tuesday to Saturday, 8:00 am to 4:45 pm; Sundays, 7:00 am to 6:00 pm; closed on Mondays.
(Image Credit: Dasfour2022/ CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons)
Borgund Stave Church, Norway
The brown wooden church, designed in Stave architectural style, is one of the few wooden churches that have survived the test of time. The stave churches are the most significant contribution to Norway’s architectural history. There are carvings inside the archways and four dragon heads on the roof’s gables, which make the church look undeniably stunning. The modern visitor centres adjacent to the church are inspired by everyday medieval life in Norway, which tourists can witness up close.
Location: Vindhellavegen 606, 6888 Borgund
Timing: Every day; 9:00 am to 5:30 pm.
(Image credit: Stephen Roth/Unsplash)
Las Lajas Sanctuary Narino, Colombia
The Lajas Sanctuary, a Gothic-style Roman Catholic church, is built inside the Guáitara River canyon by the border between Colombia and Ecuador. It is a popular pilgrimage site for Christians in both countries. It is believed that in 1754, a local miracle — when a deaf-mute girl was healed of her disability upon the Virgin Mary’s visit — led to a number of shrines to be built there. Additionally, the imposing structure stands as a contrast against the idyllic setting while its bridge, with a perilous 50-metre plunge to the canyon floor, will blow thrill-seekers’ minds.
Location: Colombia, Nariño, Ipiales, Las Lajas, Santuario De Las Lajas, Potosí
Timing: Every day, 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.
(Image credit: Diego Delso / CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons)
Chapel of the Holy Cross, US
Built on the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, this contextual-style Roman Catholic Chapel was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. The church commissioned by Marguerite Brunswig Staude has a 27.432-meter-tall iron cross of reinforced coarse-aggregate concrete on the southwestern wall which holds the altar and Corpus. It stands out because of its angular and rigid design against the untamed terrain. While the church was presented the Award of Honor by The American Institute of Architecture in 1957, the chapel was voted one of the seven man-made wonders of Arizona in 2007.
Location: 780 Chapel Rd, Sedona, AZ 86336, United States.
Timing: Every day, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
(Image credit: Chapel of the Holy Cross/Facebook)
One of the most visited sites in Reykjavík, the Parish church showcases an expressionist neo-Gothic architecture. The massive pipe organ inside the church, which has electronic action, was built by German organ builder Johannes Klais of Bonn. Hallgrímskirkja’s structure is divided into three sections: the tower with its distinctively curved side wings, which house service facilities; the nave, which has a more traditional architecture; and the sanctuary, whose cylindrical shape has been compared to Viking war helmets. While the chapel also serves as an observation tower, Reykjavík and the surrounding mountains are visible from the viewing platform, which can be reached by elevator.
Location: Hallgrímstorg 1, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Timing: Every day, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm in winter, till 9:00 pm in summer.
(Image credit: Visit Reykjavik)
Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal, Canada
This church is a Gothic, revival-style masterpiece that has some of the most dramatic interiors in the world. Decorated in blue, azure, red, purple, silver and gold accents, the sanctuary’s interiors also feature deep blue vaults and golden stars. It is adorned with several religious statues and beautiful wooden carvings. The sanctuary’s stained glass windows along the walls show scenes from Montreal’s religious history rather than biblical scenes. It is one of the most-visited landmarks in North America, with about 11 million visitors each year.
Location: 110 Notre-Dame St W, Montreal, Quebec H2Y 1T1, Canada
Timing: Tuesday to Monday, 9:00 am to 4:30 pm; Sundays, 12:30 am to 4:00 pm.
(Image credit: Diliff/CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons)
Kizhi Pogost, Russia
Made entirely from wood, this octagonal clock tower is renowned for its elegance and durability. Located on Kizhi Island, Kizhi Pogost was purportedly constructed using just one axe and no nails. Twenty-two different domes spread out across the church’s roof create a remarkably striking silhouette. With the exception of the western aisle, for which a foundation was built in 1870, the church sits on a stone base without a deep foundation. The flat roofs have spruce boards and are mostly made of pine. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990 and a Russian Cultural Heritage site in 1993.
Location: Карелия Респ.
Timing: Every day, 8:00 am to 8:00 pm.
(Image credit: Laban66/CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons)
The Pilgrimage Church of Wies, Germany
Designed by architect Dominikus Zimmermann, this is one of the most beautiful churches featuring Bavarian Rococo and is remarkably preserved in the beautiful setting of an Alpine valley. Complete with glitzy stucco work and frescoes, this church was constructed in the middle of the 18th century. Its interior is mostly either white or gold, which looks truly stunning, save for the large mural that spans the ceiling. While the synergy between the countryside and art is a distinctive quality of the church, its architecture is a combination of all art forms and skills utilised to produce a diaphanous spatial structure shaped into a flawless, harmonious whole. The church was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1983.
Location: Steingaden, Weilheim-Schongau district, Bavaria.
Timing : January to February, 8 am – 5 pm; March to April, 8 am – 7 pm; May to August, 8 am – 8 pm; September to October, 8 am – 7 pm; November to December, 8 am – 5 pm.
(Image Credit: HaSe/CC BY-SA 4.0 /via Wikimedia Commons)
La Sagrada Família, Spain
One of the most famous unfinished churches in the world, La Sagrada Família is a blend of Gothic Revival and Art nouveau and Modernista architectural styles. Antoni Gaudí designed the exteriors of the church with elaborate façades and soaring spires, resembling a massive sandcastle and its interiors with lovely stained glass windows, drenched in colour and light. Besides this, the church is supported by gigantic columns that resemble trees and exquisite geometric patterns that can be seen everywhere. Sagrada is also on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.
Location: C/ de Mallorca, 401, 08013 Barcelona.
Timing: Every day, 9:00 am to 7:00 pm.
(Image Credit: Basílica de la Sagrada Família/Facebook)
Church of St. George, Ethiopia
Showcasing a monolithic style, Church of ST. George is a unique structure in the shape of a Greek cross that actually descends 12 metres below ground level instead of soaring high in the sky. It was cut out of the volcanic soil of Lalibela. It is believed to have been built in the first half of the 13th century. Eleven other rock churches may be found everywhere around Lalibela. For followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Lalibela is a sacred place of pilgrimage; the church itself is a component of the Lalibela Rock-Hewn Churches UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Location: 22JR+MCQ, Lalibela, Ethiopia
(Image credit: Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia/CC BY-SA 2.0/Wikimedia Commons)
Gergeti Trinity Church, Georgia
The Gergeti Trinity, a church with a serene view of Mount Kazbek, is a combination of architecture and landscape. A strenuous 1.5-hour journey up the mountain is required to reach this magnificent place which is also a well-liked stopping point for hikers. The church has two entrances — one on the south and another on the west — and is built like a cross-in-square temple with three rectangles and one rounded arm. Stones in a deep grey colour cover the façade, adding to the magnificence of the church; although the original murals are no longer visible, except in fragments. The bell tower, which is located south of the church, is made up of a quadrilateral base and an upper belfry.
Location: MJ6C+V4J, Kazbegi, Oni.
Timing: Saturdays to Thursdays, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm; Fridays, 9:00 am to 10:00 pm.
(Image credit: Roberto Strauss from Frankfurt am Main, Deutschland/CC BY 2.0 /Wikimedia Commons)
St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Bulgaria
This gleaming church, which features a Neo-Byzantine design and striking gold-plated domes, is one of the most massive Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world. Its dazzling exterior is complemented by a powerfully opulent interior of mosaics and murals. Additionally, Italian marble in a variety of colours, Brazilian onyx, alabaster and other expensive materials are used to embellish the interior. The Lord’s Prayer is written all around the central dome in delicate gold letters. The belfry, which has three entrances and is located above the main arched entrance, rises to a dome’s end. Three columns support it, and between them are big apertures that let you see the 12 bells.
Location: pl. “Sveti Aleksandar Nevski”, 1000 Sofia Center, Sofia.
Timing: Every day, 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.
(Image credit: Plamen Agov • studiolemontree.com/CC BY-SA 4.0 /Wikimedia Commons)
St. Stephen's Cathedral, Austria
This Romanesque and Gothic-style Catholic church is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna. The 111-metres-high roof of the cathedral, which is made up of 230,000 glazed tiles and features intricate patterns and vibrant colours, is its crowning splendour. The double-headed eagle, a symbol of the empire controlled from Vienna by the Habsburg dynasty, is depicted in a mosaic above the choir on the south side of the structure. The remarkable cathedral treasury, which consists of relics adorned with gold and precious stones, monstrances, liturgical manuscripts and books, as well as vestments, can be seen in addition to spectacular altars and side chapels at the church.
Location: Stephansplatz 3, 1010 Wien.
Timing: Monday to Saturday, 9:00 am to 11:30 am and 1:00 pm to 4:30 pm; Sundays and public holidays, 1:00 pm to 4:30 pm.
(Image credit: Dimitry Anikin/Unsplash)
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