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A virtual tour of Catholic churches built on bridges

Sanctuary of Las Lajas

Jolyn Chua | Shutterstock

V. M. Traverso - published on 07/14/21

Bridges stand as powerful symbols of the connection between heaven and earth.

Bridges have long been more than just structures built to allow passage over a body of water or obstacle. They stand as powerful symbols of the connection between the spiritual and the material world. In fact, the pope is also known as the Roman pontiff, derived from pontifex, the Latin word for bridge. He is the bridge-maker or path-maker for souls.

Here is a list of some of the most interesting churches built on bridges around the world. 

1. Chapel of St. Nicholas, Avignon, France

Built in the 12th century on a pier of the Pont Saint-Bénézet in Avignon, the French city that served as the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century, the Chapel of Saint Nicholas is a powerful symbol of the unifying message of Christianity. Because it was located on a bridge that stood between Papal territories and land belonging to the King of France, the chapel served both royal citizens and residents of the Papal lands. Today, the bridge over which St. Nicholas chapel stands, together with the former Papal palace and the Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms, is a UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Chapel of Saint Nicholas, Avignon, France

2. Madonna del Ponte, Lanciano, Abruzzo, Italy 

Constructed in the 14th century over a three-arched bridge built by Roman Emperor Docletian stands the Church of Madonna del Ponte, literally Madonna of the Bridge. The church owes its name to a statue of the Madonna that was retrieved from the bridge, probably because it had been hidden in one of the pillars to protect from Byzantine iconoclasm of the 8th century, when Byzantine believers refused the use of images or icons of God and destroyed existing ones.

Today, Madonna del Ponte serves as Cathedral of Lanciano, a town in central Italy known as the place where the first recorded Catholic Eucharistic miracle took place. An 8th-century monk who had doubts about real presence of Christ in the Eucharist experienced the transformation of bread and wine in flesh and blood during Mass.

3. Las Lajas Cathedral, Ipiales, Colombia

Built in Gothic style between 1916 and 1949, the basilica church of Ipiales, commonly called Las Lajas Shrine after the word “lajas” which refers to a local sedimentary rock, is probably the most impressive church that has been built on a bridge. It was built on the location of a famous Marian apparition. According to a local tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared before two local women that were seeking refuge from a brutal storm in 1754. Standing at a whopping 330 feet from the bottom of the canyon, the Las Lajas Shrine is probably one of the most spectacular churches in the world. It is also a popular tourism and pilgrimage destination attracting thousands of people every year.

Sanctuary of Las Lajas

4. Madonna del Ponte, Ascoli Piceno, Italy

Built in 1689 over what then served as the main gateway to the city of Ascoli Piceno, central Italy, is the Chiesa della Madonna del Ponte, literally Church of the Madonna of the Bridge. It is one of the most iconic reminders of the ancient tradition of building shrines or little statues of saints at the entrance of cities to send good omens to visitors. Because of its unusual rounded shapes it is often referred to as “La Rotonda,” the rounded one.

Tags:
Catholic historyEuropeMiracles
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