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World’s 30 distinctive churches

Works of art as well as places of worship.

One can’t help but be awed by the unique beauty of these chapels and churches from around the world; think unusual architecture, rare locale and striking design.

These can be found below the ground, on the edges of cliffs or even straddling two different countries. These have been pilgrimage sites for travellers – not only for religious reasons, but also for their incredible architecture and unusual locations.

  1. Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, US

A mysterious carpenter built a miraculous 22-feet staircase with no central pole, no newel and no discernible means of support, at this church. Many say it was St Joseph – the patron saint of carpenters. He took no payment, left behind no name and never returned. Even today, many step into the chapel to honour the carpenter’s wizardry.

  1. National Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Las Lajas, Colombia

The Las Lajas Shrine bridges a gorge that borders Colombia and Ecuador and is nestled against a cliff. An apparition of the Virgin Mary instigated pilgrimages to the site and occasional reports of cases of miraculous healing. The image on the stone is still visible today. It is perhaps the only church in the world where you have to bring your passport for the border crossing.

  1. St Samaan El Kharaz ( Simon the Tanner Monastery) Moqattam, Egypt

An enormous cave that’s big enough to house more than 10,000 people. St Samaan El Kharaz cave church is hidden in perhaps the least touristy part of Egypt – in an area where the families make their living by collecting rubbish. Saint Simon the Shoemaker is the Coptic Orthodox saint associated with the story of the moving the Mokattam Mountain in Cairo, Egypt

  1. St Michel d’Aiguilhe, Le Puy-en-Velay, France

St Michel d’Aiguilhe, which dates back to the 10th century, is only accessible via 268 stone steps that wrap around the rock the building is perched on. Many visit the church as it’s one of the key stops on the route to Santiago de Compostela. Bishop Godescalc of Le Puy-en-Velay had the chapel built to celebrate his return from the pilgrimage of Saint James in 951. The chapel is dedicated to the Archangel Michael.

  1. The Chapel on the Rock, Colorado, USA

In 1916, Monsignor Joseph Bosetti and two friends observed a falling meteor during the night and the next morning, came across a large rock. The beauty of the land reminded the priest of Jesus’ words to Peter: “Upon this rock, I will build my Church.”(Matt 16:18) Vowing one day to build a chapel here, Msgr. Bosetti prayed for nearly 20 years to acquire the funds. In 1993, Pope John Paul II visited the chapel during his trip to Denver for the World Youth Day and bestowed his personal blessing on the chapel.

  1. The Green Church, Buenos Aires, Argentina

This church is often called the “Green Church”, although officially it has a completely different name – the Church of Jesus in the Olive Garden (Iglesia Jesús en el Huerto de los Olivos) This is a Catholic parish church, which was consecrated in 1897. From the base to the very top, it is completely entwined with ivy, which gives it a peaceful and unique look.

  1. Church of Arbore, Suceava County, RomaniaThe church of Arbore is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. Its painted church was the first Moldavian painted church to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The erection of the church was completed in about 5 months. Painting the church took about 40 years.
  2. Iglesia El Rosario San Salvador, El Salvador

The best time to visit Iglesia el Rosario, or the Church of the Rosary, in central San Salvador, is on a sunny day. At the right angle, the light hits the fan-like roof and its multicoloured glass, creating a brilliant rainbow effect. Designed by sculptor Ruben Martinez and completed in 1971, Iglesia El Rosario is radically beautiful, arguably the finest church in Central America. The father of Central American independence, Padre Delgado, is buried here.

  1. Temppeliaukio Church, Helsinki, Finland

Temppeliaukio Church looks nothing like a church from the outside. It’s known as the rock church as it’s a cavern carved from solid rock. Inside the rugged ‘building’ is a space with such incredible acoustics that it’s even used for music concerts; it is the only church in the world that could be easily mistaken for a planetarium. It’s a mix of ancient and modern, with walls hewn from natural on-site stone formations and a roof made of copper.

  1. Chapel of the Holy Cross, Arizona, USA

Nestled at a position that’s about 250ft high, looking out over the plain below, among the red rock of Sedona, the Chapel of the Holy Cross blends into its background save for its prominent cross. Its inspiration is said to have come from the then newly constructed Empire State Building, which reveals a cross when you look at it from certain angles.

  1. Church of St George, Lalibela, Ethiopia

The Church of St George is one of 11 different churches carved out of rocks in the heart of Ethiopia. An enormous cross was cut from a single block of rock, which formed the frame of the church and then the interior was created by hollowing out the rock. There are windows and doors as well as an elaborate network of walkways to connect it to the other churches. Construction of the churches was begun by Ethiopian Emperor Gebre Mesqel Lalibela, who sought to create an alternative pilgrimage site after the Muslim occupation of Jerusalem. Lalibela was the capital of Ethiopia until the 13th century. The church has been inscribed into UNESCO’s list of heritage sites since 1978.

  1. Serbian Orthodox Church, Coober Pedy, Australia

The Serbian Orthodox Church in Coober Pedy, Australia, looks rather unremarkable from the outside. Inside, however, is an incredible subterranean space that was carved out by miners who had moved into the area to take up jobs in the opal mines This subterranean church is situated in a desert environment where temperatures can reach upwards of 40 degrees Celsius. Inside, there’s a church hall, a parish house and even a school.  The scalloped ceiling leads to a series of carvings of saints while the stained glass windows are lit up using lights.

  1. Living Water Wayside Chapel, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada

The Living Water Wayside Chapel in Niagara-on-the-Lake bills itself as the smallest chapel in the world. With room for just six people, it’s not difficult to see why. But despite its minuscule size, it’s a popular spot for weddings. For tourists, it’s a picturesque place to stop on the way from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the waterfalls.

  1. Church of Hallgrimur, Reykjavik, Iceland

The Church of Hallgrimur stands prominently over the city of Reykjavik. Tourists flock to the site to take advantage of the view as well as to see the unusual architecture. Like a Taylor Swift song, this church — the sixth tallest structure in the entire country — is all about the drama. Designed to resemble the basalt lava that flows in Iceland, the church looks like a strong upside-down V made of tall, thin white beams.

  1. Basilica of Bom Jesus, Goa, India

This church is best known for containing the body of St. Francis Xavier, a devoted Spanish missionary who spread Christianity in Goa during the colonial rule. Foundation stones for the church were laid on November 24, 1594. The church is dedicated to “Bom Jesus” or infant Jesus. When St. Francis Xavier died his body was brought to this church and kept in a casket. Christian devotees from around the world come to the church to witness the once in a decade exposition of the relics of St. Francis Xavier. It is one of the Seven Wonders of Portuguese Origin in the World.

  1. Francisco de Assisi Mission Church, Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, US

Although it’s officially called the San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church, many locals know this church simply as the Taos Pueblo church. It is made of adobe, like many of the traditional buildings of the surrounding area. It was eventually fortified with a layer of plaster to keep the building from falling apart, but the church is still re-mudded every year by the Native American community. The church has been photographed by Ansel Adams and painted by Georgia O’Keeffe; it’s also designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

  1. Harajuku Church, Tokyo, Japan

The hyper-trendy Harajuku district of Tokyo is better known for its street style scene than for its religious structures. But you can take a break from a busy day of shopping and visit this sleek, modernist Protestant church that opened in 2006. The design concept is based on the number seven, so there are seven gently curving arches in the nave. The church also doubles as a concert hall, so the acoustics are impeccable.

  1. Cathedral of Brasilia, Brasilia, Brazil

The Cathedral of Brasilia is perhaps one of the most impressive buildings in the country. The ceiling is adorned with stained glass, which allows light to fill the church. Its unusual roof, the only part of the building that’s visible from the street-level, is supposed to represent a pair of hands moving up towards heaven. Underneath the roof is an enormous auditorium space that’s filled with light from the stained glass ceiling. And with some one million visitors each year, it’s one of the biggest attractions in the Brazilian capital.

  1. Borgund Stave Church, Lærdal, Norway

The Borgund Stave Church is one of a number of stave churches in Norway. Unlike your average wooden buildings, the church is built by inserting staves of wood into a stone foundation, which was designed to help reduce wood rot. The Borgund Stave Church, built in 1180, remains standing today after almost a millennia. But if you want to visit, it’s only open during the summer months.

  1. Pilgrimage Church, Neviges, Germany

Sunken pilgrimage church designed by Gottfried Böhm and constructed during 1963-1972. Standing like a concrete mountain amid a wood, the jagged concrete volume of the Neviges Mariendom (Cathedral of Saint Mary of Neviges) towers over its surroundings. Pilgrims have been making their way to Neviges since the late 18th Century, when the church of the time first played host to an Imacculata (a venerated copper engraving depicting the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary).

  1. Catholic Church in Colonia, Uruguay, South America

The national competition, launched by the Catholic Church in Uruguay and the Society of Architects of Uruguay, was to design a small church on the River Plate coast, near Colonia, Uruguay. This was won by Lambrechts-Bertinat Architects. The project was completed in December 2006. This small Catholic Church is situated on the shores of the River Plate on the isolated Parant Beach. The stretches of white sand contrast sharply with the blood red waters of the River Plate making an ethereal quality in the light which is reflected in the colours of the church.

  1. Saint Augustine Church, Paoay, Philippines

The Saint Augustine Church, more commonly known as the Paoay Church, is one of a number of churches listed by Unesco under the Baroque Churches of the Philippines. Although the church is built in the Spanish Baroque style, the construction is Javanese as the plaster used on the structure is said to be a mix of sand, lime, sugar cane juice, mango leaves, leather and rice straw. The church is unusual in that it uses 24 buttresses to protect the building against earthquakes. Its construction started in 1704 and was completed in 1894 by the Augustinian friars. The church was damaged by earthquakes in 1706 and 1927.

  1. Agioi Saranta Cave Church, Protaras, Cyprus

The Agioi Saranta Cave Church could be the same today as it was a thousand years ago. Little is known about this cave church in Protaras, but that some intrepid travellers have managed to locate it. Behind a white wall and blue door is a natural cave where almost everything has been left untouched. In crevices in the stone, icons have been installed for worshippers. But its simplicity is perhaps its biggest attraction to visitors.

  1. Cadet Chapel, US Air Force Academy, Colorado

It seems logical that the chapel at the United States Air Force Academy would be inspired by airplanes. But architect Walter Netsch took that basic idea and created something truly incredible, pointing the plane shape upward to create something inspired by classic cathedrals and yet wholly its own. The 17-spire building was completed in 1992 and named a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 2004.

  1. Augustine Church, Brookland, Kent, UK

The St. Augustine Church was built in 1250; because of the likelihood of flooding it was built on an artificial mound. And yes, the late 12th century wooden bell tower is separate from the rest of the church! Apparently it is the only one of its size and shape in the country. Originally it was open to the elements the cladding being added in the 15th century. In the south chapel is the surviving part of a painting depicting the martyrdom of Thomas Becket in 1170.

  1. Chapel of St. Gildas, Brittany, France

This is the chapel of St-Gildas, which sits upon the bank of the Canal du Blavet in Brittany, France. Built like a stone barn into the base of a bare rocky cliff, this was once a holy place of the Druids. Gildas appears to have travelled widely throughout the Celtic world of Corwall, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. He arrived in Brittany in about AD 540 and is said to have preached Christianity to the people from a rough pulpit, now contained within the chapel.

  1. Church of Paraportiani Mykonos, Greece

The Church of Panagia Paraportiani is one of the most beautiful and remarkable on the island, its snow-white walls can often be seen on tourist booklets inviting travellers to visit this local landmark. Its construction began in 1425, and it was completed only in the 17th century. It is made in a strict Byzantine style, special attention was paid to the inner halls, which accommodate a huge number of people and gathers believers on holidays.

  1. Chapel Oak, France

A chapel with no stone or cement. Not even proper walls. Chene Chapelle (Chapel Oak), an ancient chapel located in Allouville-Bellefosse, northern France, is built inside perhaps the oldest known tree in France. The entire place of worship is housed inside an 800-year-old tree hemmed with a spiral staircase. According to local legend, William the Conqueror prayed under its branches before he left for England. A fierce lightning in the 17th century ignited the tree from inside leaving a huge hollow in the living oak. Interpreting it as a divine sign, the local abbot and priest had the shell of the tree converted into a chapel. Many gather here on an annual pilgrimage on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin.

  1. St Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, Kyiv, Ukraine

Looking from St Sophia’s past the Bohdan Khmelnytsky statue, it’s impossible to ignore the gold-domed blue church at the other end of proyizd Volodymyrsky. This is St Michael’s, named after Kyiv’s patron saint. As the impossibly shiny cupolas imply, this is a fresh 2001 copy of the original (1108), which was torn down by the Soviets in 1937. The church’s fascinating history is explained in great detail in Ukrainian and English placards in a museum in the monastery’s bell tower.

  1. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow, Russia 

The Cathedral of Saint Basil the Blessed was built in 1555 -1561 by Ivan IV to celebrate the capture of the Khanate of Kazan. The multi-tented church stands at the very heart of Moscow, the Red Square and is one of the most popular cultural symbols of Russia. The cathedral has ten domes (each one corresponding to a different church) and is shaped like the flame of a bonfire rising into the sky, a design that has no parallel in Russian architecture. As part of the program of state atheism, the church was confiscated from the Russian Orthodox community as part of the Soviet Union’s anti-religious campaigns and has operated as a division of the State Historical Museum since 1928.

Video and text by Kenneth John George

Kenneth is a 12th grader, who loves JESUS first and then his family, friends and football – in that order. He aims to serve God with his talents and teach English to children. He has written 12 small books and hopes to publish them all one day. His other interests are creating inspirational Youtube videos and drawing portraits of people he is fond of. He has a passion for cars and knows the make and models of most of them. You may follow his works here: https://bit.ly/38XY99v

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