Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Tuesday 27 July |
Saint of the Day: St. Simeon Sylites
home iconTravel
line break icon

12 Churches you need to see before you die

Antoine Mekary/ALETEIA

Marie Fournier - published on 10/27/16

A short tour of the world's inspiring sacred buildings

Peruse Aleteia’s selection of 12 religious buildings, dating from the 5th century to present day, that are not to be missed. Take an aesthetic and spiritual journey through the centuries and over the 5 continents to discover or rediscover these magnificent buildings.

Bernard Gagnon CC
Bernard Gagnon CC
Bernard Gagnon CC

1. Church of Saint Simeon Stylites in Syria

In northern Syria, the ruins of this Byzantine church still display a very beautiful architectural ensemble dating back to the 5th century. The church was built on the spot where St. Simeon had retired atop a pillar to pray. This is the origin of the name “Stylite,” the Greek term stylos referring to a column.

Public Domain via Wikipedia
Public Domain via Wikipedia

Public Domain via Wikipedia

2. The Mont-Saint-Michel

Wonder of French architecture, Mont-Saint-Michel has been a major place of pilgrimage since the 9th century.  Its origin dates back to the early 8th century, when Saint Aubert, bishop of Avranches, claimed that in an apparition the Archangel Michael himself ordered him to build a chapel on the island and dedicate it to him.

Jiuguang Wang
Jiuguang Wang

3. Cologne Cathedral

A masterpiece of Gothic architecture, the cathedral dates from the middle of the 13th century and was inspired by the cathedrals of Amiens and Beauvais. The towers were completed according to the old plans only in the 19th century. Rising 157 meters high, it is the second highest church in the country and the most visited monument in Germany: perhaps you caught a glimpse of it during the 2005 WYD?

Edward Wexler CC
Edward Wexler CC

Edward Wexler CC

4. The SlovenianChurch of St. Mary of theAssumption

This small church is built in the middle of Lake Bled in Slovenia. Ninety-nine steps lead to the shrine at the top of the island. The building was built in the 15th century — frescoes of that era remain — then remodeled in the 17th and 18th centuries. A real curiosity!

Schlurcher CC
Schlurcher CC
Schlurcher CC

5. The Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome

Built on the site of St. Peter’s tomb, the basilica is an inescapable pilgrimage destination. If you are not lucky enough to see the pope, you can always admire the spectacular architecture of the building. Artists who participated in its construction — the architect Bramante, sculptors Michelangelo and Bernini — are nothing less than absolute geniuses.

Petar Milošević CC
Petar Milošević CC
Petar Milošević CC

6. The Cathedral St. Basil the Blessed in Moscow

The Orthodox cathedral known as St. Basil’s Cathedral, or the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin, dates from the 16th century. According to Tsar Ivan IV’s request, a church was built on the Red Square to commemorate the capture of Kazan by Russian troops. A few years later, in 1680, the wooden church was painted and covered with iron decorations and tiles.

Ángel M. Felicísimo CC
Ángel M. Felicísimo CC
Ángel M. Felicísimo CC

7. Cathedral of Quito

On the Plaza de la Independencia in the Ecuadorian capital, this cathedral has been welcoming worshipers for five centuries. Stocky and low due to the earthquakes that plague the country, it is beautifully decorated inside. The ceiling is in the Mudejar (Moorish) style while the paintings are by artists of the quitena (or Quito) School of Art.

Steve Cadman CC
Steve Cadman CC
St Paul's Cathedral (1674-1711)

8. Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London

After the Great Fire of London of 1666, this famous monument was built in the heart of London on the site of the old cathedral. The architect Sir Christopher Wren adopted a Greek cross design surmounted by an impressive dome inspired by that of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Blithely mixing Classical and Baroque styles, he built a monumental cathedral whose summit is over 110 meters high!

Wikipedia Commons

9. The Church of San Agustinin the Philippines

This parish church was built in the early 18th century in the town of Paoay in the Philippines. A beautiful example of Baroque architecture, it illustrates the Chinese and Philippine craftsmen’s interpretation of this particular European style. At the time, the church played a supporting role to the Spanish colonists and reflects the political influence of the Catholic Church in the archipelago.

Donaldytong CC
Donaldytong CC
Donaldytong CC

10. The Cathedral St. Patrick of Melbourne

Built in a neo-Gothic style between 1858 and 1939, it is the largest church in Australia, more than 100 meters long. The Cathedral was granted the title of minor basilica in 1974 by Pope Paul VI, and Pope John Paul II visited it in 1986.

11. LaSagradaFamiliain Barcelona

This atypical structure by the architect Gaudi was initiated in 1882 and should be completed … in 2026! Funded solely by donations from visitors, the basilica has a complex iconography developed by the architect who designed his work like a “mystical poem.” The style is organic Art Nouveau, teeming with irregular lines, organic and plant motifs as well as other highly stylized forms.

Someone35 CC
Someone35 CC
Someone35 CC

12. The Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík

This impressive Lutheran church stands in the middle of Iceland. Its architecture is a strong reference to Icelandic nature, particularly the basalt columns. Built in concrete between 1945 and 1986, it is named after the poet and pastor Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614-1674), one of the most influential pastors during the Age of Orthodoxy.

More to read: WATCH: Flying in the heart of a French Neo-Byzantine church

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Philip Kosloski
This morning prayer is easy to memorize
Daniel Esparza
5 Curious things you might not know about Catholicism
Joachim and Anne
Philip Kosloski
Did Jesus know his grandparents?
J-P Mauro
Reconstructing a 12th-century pipe organ discovered in the Holy L...
Philip Kosloski
This prayer to St. Anthony is said to have “never been know...
Cerith Gardiner
5 Ways grandparents impact our lives for the better
Cecilia Pigg
Simplify your life and honor your body with these 5 natural perso...
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.