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This underground church in the Australian Outback was built as an escape from the heat

Coober Pedy Catholic Church

Phil Whitehouse | CC BY 2.0

Zelda Caldwell - published on 10/11/19

The Catholic St. Peter and Paul Church was hand-dug in the mining town of Coober Pedy.

Sometimes stepping out of church can feel like setting foot into the fires of hell. That’s certainly the case with the Catholic St. Peter and Paul Church in the town of Coober Pedy in the Australian Outback.

In Coober Pedy, a small outback mining town in the middle of the desert in South Australia, temperatures can soar as high as 117 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ever since the town was settled in 1915, after opals were first discovered there, its inhabitants have sought relief from the heat in the same place they seek their quarry — underground. The name of the town, in fact, comes from the local Aboriginal words kupa (white man) and piti (hole).

Many of the town’s 1,700 residents live in subterranean houses, and even worship underground. The Catholic St. Peter and Paul Church, built in 1967, is one of five underground churches in the town.

The small hand-dug church is sometimes filled with more tourists than residents, as the town has become something of a tourist mecca, according to Lonely Planet, which describes the typical visitor as coming in search of a unique experience:

“With swarms of flies, no trees, 50°C summer days, cave-dwelling locals and rusty car wrecks, you might think you’ve arrived in a post-apocalyptic wasteland − but it sure is interesting!”

After a visit to St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, visitors to Coober Pedy can also try their luck at “noodling” or prospecting for opals in one of the town’s public noodling areas.

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