Even if you’re not a religious person, there’s something humbling and awe-inspiring about the masterful architecture of beautiful churches. You can’t help but appreciate the design and effort that went into building these structures. And, you just might be surprised to find that there are eye-catching cathedrals around the world, not just in Europe.
St. Peter’s Basilica – Vatican City
Of course, we start with Europe because this is really where grandiose churches and cathedrals began. While most people might focus on France, probably one of the most iconic religious structures is also the home of the Roman Catholic Church. Next time you head to Rome, be sure to take a trip to the Vatican to visit St. Peter’s Basilica, which is technically located in Vatican City, a papal state within Italy.
The structure took roughly 120 years to build between 1520 and 1626. It is considered one of the best examples of Italian Renaissance design and was a collaborative effort from some of the era’s top creatives: Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Even though St. Peter’s Basilica is the oldest church in the world and carries significant symbolism for Catholics worldwide, it is not the mother church of the Catholic Church or even the primary cathedral for the Diocese of Rome.
Las Laras Sanctuary – Ipiales, Colombia
South America contains one of the largest demographics of practicing Catholics in the world. For a nation steeped in magical realism, the story behind Las Laras Sanctuary makes perfect sense. In 1754, an indigenous woman and her daughter claimed that they experienced a religious vision when the Mother Mary appeared to them after lightning hit a stone while they sought refuge during a storm.
Their location, Las Laras, became a religious pilgrimage site as countless followers visited it to marvel at the image of the Virgin Mary in stone—which you can still see today. A shrine was initially built in the mid-18th century, and in 1802, the shrine was converted into an actual cathedral. Today, the current Las Laras Sanctuary is a reimagination from the older sitem, built in the early 20th century. However, it’s an architectural feat because it rises 330 feet above the canyon bottom and includes a bridge that spans 160 feet to the other end of the canyon.
Notre-Dame Basilica – Montreal, Canada
It’s understandable that a country with close ties to Europe would follow in its architectural traditions. Montreal is located in Quebec, one of the two provinces in Canada that speak French. The Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal is the first Gothic Revival style cathedral in the country. The sanctuary is best known for its colorful interior and accents. Colorful touches aren’t just limited to stained glass windows. In fact, various portions of the cathedral are painted bold blues, purples, reds and greens.
Also interesting is the fact that the stained glass windows don’t depict common scenes from the Bible. Instead, the windows show the history of Montreal. The church was initially built in 1672 and began various refurbishing and renovation projects in 1785. In 1824, a congregation boom served as the catalyst for a completely new build, giving way to the current iteration of the Notre-Dame Basilica. Construction on Notre-Dame ended completely in 1891.
Church of St. George – Lalibela, Ethiopia
Depending on how plugged in you are to religious trivia, you may or may not be surprised to find out that the largest population of Christians is actually in Africa. The Church of St. George, located in Lalibela, Ethiopia, is the oldest structure on this list and is the only one that is not a place of worship for Catholics. Built from volcanic tuff—the only material used in creating the church—construction occurred between the 12th and 13th centuries.
The Church of St. George is one of the most recognizable symbols for members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, a division of the Episcopal faith. The church was commissioned by King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela, who wanted to recreate Jerusalem. Because it is a rock-hewn church, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
St. Andrew’s Cathedral – Singapore
Last but not least, Asia also makes this list. There are a number of beautiful cathedrals and churches across the continent, many of which are popular destination wedding sites. But Singapore often tops the list when you look at Asia because of the variety of classically built structures. And, if you have even a passing knowledge of Singapore’s colonial history, this shouldn’t be surprising.
St. Andrew’s Cathedral traces its roots to Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, who personally selected the land where the church stands today. The first version of the church was completed in 1837, but multiple lightning strikes caused the cathedral to be condemned in 1852. Undeterred, parishioners set to work planning the church’s replacement and opted to design it in the Early English Gothic style. Construction on the second version was completed in 1862.
Which churches do you think are the most stunning? Have you had the chance to visit any of these beautiful places yet? If not, be sure to add them to your next vacation itinerary.