If you’re of the opinion that the church is a place where creativity goes to die, then just consider this: only recently has the church become a drab shadow of its former self. For most of the time since the birth of Christ, the Church was the most powerful (and opulent) organization in the world. For more than a thousand years, the Church employed history’s most talented artists and architects and channeled their passion into some of the world’s most awe-inspiring places of worship. Christianity may not be quite the titanic force it was hundreds of years ago, but the vestiges of that power and prestige are scattered around the world in truly gorgeous fashion. For a long time, Christianity had a monopoly on the world’s coolest buildings, and here are some of the best.
1. The Dome of Florence’s Santa Maria del Fiore Defines the City’s Skyline
The unusually colorful facade of Florence Cathedral features lavish panels of pink and green, proving that the Gothic style can lend itself to a tapestry of color.
2. Notre Dame Sits on the Gently Rolling Banks of the Seine in Paris
One of the city’s most popular tourist spots, Notre Dame is singularly gorgeous cathedral in Paris that’s a satisfying place to visit even if you don’t actually go inside. (Seriously, consider getting some coffee at one of the cafes across the river and just people watch and bask in the beauty.)
3. The Lutheran Church of Hallgrímur Is the Fourth Tallest Architectural Structure in Iceland
Begun in 1945, the Church of Hallgrímur in Reykjavik, Iceland took 38 years to complete and stands more than 240 feet tall.
4. For a Glimpse into the Middle Ages, There’s No Better Destination than Chartres Cathedral in France
Little has changed at Chartres Cathedral since it was completed in 1220, making it one of the best preserved Medieval churches in the world.
5. It May Lack in Opulence, But the Chapel of St-Gildas Is Still Stunning
Built on a site once holy to ancient Druids, the chapel of St-Gildas was constructed on the shores of the Canal du Blavert in Brittany, France in honor of a traveling Christian who arrived in the area around 540 AD.
6. The Dominican Republic’s Basilica de Higuey Is One of the Most Revered Structures in the Country
The church was built by French architects visiting the island nation on the late sixties and early seventies.
7. Spain’s Seville Cathedral Is the Final Resting Place of Christopher Columbus
Completed in 1528, Seville Cathedral is not only the third largest church in the world, it’s covered in immensely ornate gold leaf scenes that depict the life and times of Jesus Christ.
8. You Don’t Have to Leave the United States to See Stunning Churches
Located in Chicago, Illinois, St. Joseph Ukrainian Catholic Church is a prime example of classic Russian architecture blended with modernism The famous thirteen domes of the cathedral represent the twelve apostles and Jesus Christ.
9. Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral Is Still One-of-a-Kind Nearly 500 Years Later
Commissioned (ironically enough) by Ivan the Terrible, the Cathedral of Saint Basil the Blessed was completed in 1561. It stands in Red Square to this day and serves as perhaps the defining structure of Russia’s inimitable architectural style.
10. Sagrada Familia Is the Great Unfinished Work of a Master Spanish Architect
Conceived by Antoni Gaudí, work on the Sagrada Familia commenced in 1882. Though Gaudí worked tirelessly on the project — even devoting the last fifteen years of his life exclusively to its completion. Unfortunately, the project was too grand and it remains unfinished to this day.
11. Stave Churches Like the One in Lærdal, Norway Are a Vanishing Breed
Most likely built during the 12th century, the Borgund Stave Church in Lærdal is one of a rare collection of immaculately preserved architectural gems.
12. Itlay’s Duomo di Milano Took More than 600 Years to Complete
Begun in 1386, the Milan Cathedral is the principle place of worship in Milan. It’s the largest church in Italy and the fifth largest church in the world.
13. The Church in Stykkishólmskirkja Was Completed in 1990
Designed by architect Jón Haraldssyni, the church in … that Icelandic town … is in stark contrast to the landscape around it. Of course, that just lends majesty to the building.
14. New Mexico’s San Francisco de Asis Church Is a Gorgeous Relic of American History
Between 1772 and 1815, Spanish missionaries worked on this Spanish mission located in the small town of Rancho de Taos in New Mexico. The resulting structure has captured the creativity of several American artists from Georgia O’Keefe to Ansel Adams.
15. Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro Is a Wonder From the Inside Out
Finished in 1979, the Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro may not look like much from the outside, but the 315-foot-tall church contains some incredible stained glass window that rise from floor to ceiling.
16. This Modern Church in Ronchamp, France Was Designed by Iconic Architect Le Corbusier
Completed in 1954, the Notre Dame du Haut is a representation of Le Corbusier’s modern architecture style. When it rains, the sloped roof guides the rainwater into a fountain that is reminiscent of a cascading waterfall.
17. The Green Church Is a Lush, Mysterious Argentinian Architectural Wonder
Formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ in the Garden of the Olives, the Green Church was consecrated in Buenos Aires in 1897. Though the architecture may not be extravagant, the ivy-covered walls are a beautiful shock of green amid the Argentinian city.
18. Rome’s Jubilee Church Is Both Functional and Gorgeous
The Roman churches specialized cement is designed to actually destroy any pollutants that come into contact with it, while the curved walls are meant to reduce the weight of the structure and maximize internal space.
19. Las Lajas Cathedral Was Built Upon the Mythical Site of the Appearance of Virgin Mary
Built in 1916, Las Lajas Cathedral supposedly commemorates an appearance of the Virgin Mary. It was built directly into the canyon of Colombia’s Guaitara River in the southern part of the country.