As one of the world’s oldest faiths, Christianity has impacted countries around the globe. The steadfast faith has left its mark—in places of worship so stunning that they become defining elements of the places they’re in. Milan’s Duomo can be recognised from anywhere, while St. Patrick’s Cathedral is iconic to Manhattan. This list of 15 churches will be added to your list of must-visit places, for after this is over, we’ll all need something to hold on to.
The largest church in the world, this is a behemoth of Renaissance architecture, and perhaps the most revered shrines in Catholicism. The interior is lined with luxuriant marble and the church houses precious mosaics like Raphael’s Transfiguration and Giotto’s Navicella, and sculptures like Bernini’s Statue of Constantine the Great. Designed in part by Michelangelo himself, the basilica is said to be the resting place of St. Peter, an apostle of Jesus who is widely considered to be the first Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.
First commissioned by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in fourth century AD, the Church of Nativity is built on the spot where Jesus Christ is supposed to have been born in Bethlehem. The original structure has gone through multiple renovations since, but is still widely regarded as one of the holiest sites in Christianity. Though partly damaged by natural elements and conflict, the walls showcase stunning mosaics and paintings dating back to the crusades of the 12th century.
One of Colombia’s largest tourist draws, this fully functional church is constructed below ground level, in the tunnels of a defunct salt mine. Located in Zipaquira, near capital Bogota, this church is especially popular for its Easter masses that depict the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Commissioned in the latter half of the 20th century, the church in its present form was opened to the public in 1995. Keep an eye out for exquisite sculptures and a 16-tonne altar, all made from the salt abundant in the mine.
A fine specimen of medieval European architecture, this cathedral commemorates the Nativity of Mother Mary and was 600 years in the making—while construction began in the 14th century, it was completed in the 19th century during Napoleon’s reign. As a result, its architecture borrows from multiple styles over the centuries, and leans heavily towards the Gothic style. The cathedral stands out in Milan’s cityscape, easily recognisable by its immaculately-detailed towers and spires.
The church that has overseen the coronation and investiture of many of Britain’s monarchy since the 11th century, Westminster Abbey holds a special place in British cultural history. It’s a landmark in London—a classically Gothic building with pointed arches, flying buttresses and pointed spires. The abbey houses a wide range of art, from stained glass windows, to oil paintings and mosaic-tiled floors. This Easter, take a virtual tour here.
Swatting away all Gothic notions like arches, buttresses and spires, the Cathedrale of Brasilia rises towards the heavens in a spectacular hyperboloid form built using sixteen bent concrete columns. Designed by renowned Brazilian architect Oscar Neimeyer and completed in 1970, the interior is adorned with sculptures of angels and panels of stained glass stitch the concrete frame of the cathedral together, bathing the church in colourful glow, lending an otherworldly feel to the space.
In the middle of bustling Manhattan, NYC, across the iconic Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral infuses a Neo-Gothic flavour to streets lined with Art Deco mammoths. Built in the 19th century, its 100-metre tall spires were the tallest in New York at the time. A massive structure, it can seat 3,000 people and is adorned with stained glass windows, ornately carved bronze doors and grand sculptures. The cathedral will be live streaming its Easter Mass here.
The construction of this basilica in Barcelona began in 1882, and is still not complete. Though it started out as a Gothic building in its initial phases of construction under Francisco de Paula del Villar, famed architect Antoni Gaudi later took over the reins, devising a plan that featured many departures from the Gothic style. As a result, the church is an experiment of sorts in different modern architectural styles. While the many towers and spires greet onlookers from the outside, an interesting feature inside is that the pillars are designed like tree trunks, while the ceiling is detailed to look like a canopy of tree tops.
This Gothic cathedral is Germany’s most visited tourist attraction, its 150-metre tall twin towers dominating Cologne’s skyline since it was completed in the late 19th century. The cathedral has a significant place in Christianity as it is said to house the mortal remains of the Three Kings behind the grand bronze altar. Though it underwent damages during World War II, it has since gone through multiple restorations and renovations. As one moves past the paintings, pillar sculptures and stained glass windows, the Cathedral Treasury reveals invaluable works of art dating all the way back to the 4th century AD, serving as a comprehensive guide to Christianity in Europe through the ages.
In Istanbul lies this landmark sixth-century basilica, one of the largest buildings in the world, and known for its sprawling dome. Widely recognised as the pinnacle of Byzantine architecture, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque when the Ottomans took over Istanbul—then known as Constantinople—before it was made into a museum in 1935. Visitors can see symbols, paintings and icons depicting both Islam and Christianity, making it one of the most unique religious structures worldwide.
In capital Reykjavík, this futuristic church is architect Guðjón Samúelsson’s tribute to the glaciers, rock formations and unending hills of Iceland. Its outline resembles a bell curve, with the steeple forming a rather sharp peak in the middle, flanked on both sides by vertical columns that taper off as we move away from the steeple. Inspired by natural elements, the largest church of Iceland is also described as a fine example of Expressionist architecture, a style which isn’t widely seen in church buildings.
In a small town called Lalibela in northern Ethiopia lies the rock-hewn Church of St. George. The church is cut from a single block of stone, and rises upwards from below ground level such that the roof of the church is about the same level as the walking ground. The church is built in the shape of a cross, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Going back eight centuries, this church is one of a group of eleven rock-hewn churches, believed by locals to be built by angels. Lalibela remains an important place of pilgrimage for members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
A favourite of photographers and day trippers alike, the Shettihalli Rosary Church near Hassan in Karnataka is a ruined 19th century church. It was abandoned after the construction of the Hemavathi Reservoir in the late 20th century. Though the dilapidated ruins of the once-glorious Gothic church do not serve any religious function anymore, it has gained popularity as The Floating Church, as the structure is partially submerged under the waters of the reservoir every monsoon.
Mont St. Michel is a tiny tidal island in Lower Normandy, home to one of the most beautiful abbeys in the world. Construction of this abbey began in the tenth century, and continued into the 18th century, when it underwent restorations. Built using different architectural styles, it became an important site of pilgrimage in Europe. The abbey housed a library of manuscripts concerning local history, geography, music and literature. From afar, the abbey cuts a dream-like figure, that of a multi-storeyed medieval structure—formidable, yet welcoming—perched on the rocky isle of Mont St. Michel.
A cathedral that screams life with its swirls of colour, St. Basil’s stands out in stark contrast with the stately buildings of the Kremlin in Moscow’s Red Square. Dating back to the 16th century, the walls and the domes of the cathedral got a makeover in the late 17th and 18th centuries, when the white-and-gold of the building and domes were replaced with stripes and geometric patterns painted in vibrant hues. Though the cathedral was secularised and converted into a museum in the 20th century, the building remains to this day one of the most recognisable icons of Russia.