50 Most Extraordinary Churches of the World
Besides eating bamboo leaves, I like all kinds of oddities.
Being bored of usual buildings, I have traveled the world (with the help of the Internet) and found 50 of the strangest and most extraordinary churches in the world, and I’m kind enough to share it with you.
It was a tedious job for a lazy bored panda such as myself to compile such a big list, but I did it!
Oh, and I’m more Buddhist than Christian, so churches are no more than buildings for me.
But I have to admit that the most wonderful buildings on earth are probably churches, monasteries, and other religious structures. You can do much more with a lot of faith and a lack of money than with a lot of money but without any faith.
There are a few famous cathedrals and churches that you might recognize but also some you may not have seen before. Enjoy scrolling down this collection of architecture photography while I eat another bamboo leaf.
1. The Church of Hallgrímur (Reykjavík, Iceland)
The Church of Hallgrímur is a Lutheran parish church which is also a very tall one, reaching 74.5 meters (244 ft) in height. It is the fourth tallest architectural structure in Iceland and one of its most famous monuments.
It took incredibly long to build it (38 years!) Construction work began on this Icelandic church in 1945 and ended in 1986.
Architect: Guðjón Samúelsson
More info: Hallgrímur
2. Las Lajas Cathedral (Colombia, South America)
Las Lajas Cathedral was built in 1916 inside the canyon of the Guaitara river where, according to local legend, the Virgin Mary appeared.
You can find it in the southern Colombian state of Nariño, in the municipality of Ipiales, near the border with Ecuador.
3. Device to Root Out Evil (Calgary, AB, Canada)
It was too hot for New York City; too hot for Stanford University. But a controversial, imposing sculpture by renowned international artist Dennis Oppenheim finally found a public home in laid-back Vancouver.
A country church is seen balancing on its steeple as if it had been lifted by a terrific force and brought to the site as a device or method of rooting out evil forces.
(Update: In 2008, it was moved from Vancouver to Calgary, AB, Canada)
4. Chapel of St. Gildas (Brittany, France)
Mads: “This is the chapel of St. Gildas, which sits upon the bank of the Canal du Blavet in Brittany, France. Built like a stone barn, this church built into the rocky cliff was once a holy place of the Druids. Gildas appears to have traveled widely throughout the Celtic world of Cornwall, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. He arrived in Brittany in about AD 540 and is said to have preached Christianity to the people from a rough pulpit, now contained within the chapel.” (from ‘Cruising French Waterways’ by Hugh McKnight p.150)
5. Shell Church (Huntington Beach, CA, USA)
Panda has no info on this one, only the location – Huntington Beach, CA, USA. The best thing about this church is the huge Shell logo.
6. Notre Dame du Haut (Ronchamp, France)
People say that the roof of this building looks like Elvis’ hair and Panda agrees.
Informally known as Ronchamp, the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut was completed in 1954 and is considered one of the finest examples of modern architecture by the late French/Swiss architect Le Corbusier.
Interesting fact: when it rains, water pours off the slanted roof onto a fountain, creating a dramatic waterfall.
More info: Notre Dame du Haut
7. St Joseph Ukrainian Catholic Church (Chicago, IL, USA)
I don’t want to tell what kind of thing those domes remind me of. Its massiveness and gray color make it look like Soviet brutalist architecture. I was amazed when I read that it was actually in the USA and not in the Soviet Union.
St. Joseph Ukrainian Catholic church is best known for its ultra-modern style and thirteen gold domes on its roof. It symbolizes the twelve apostles with Jesus Christ as the largest center dome.
It is celebrating its 53rd anniversary this year, so it was built in 1956 (if my calculations are right).
More info: St Joseph Ukrainian Church
8. Jubilee Church (Rome, Italy)
Jubilee Church has very distinctive curved walls which look like sails and serve the engineering purpose of minimizing thermal peak loads in the interior space.
The walls are made from a special cement which contains titanium dioxide, so it destroys air pollution.
According to Borgarello: “When the titanium dioxide absorbs ultraviolet light, it becomes powerfully reactive, breaking down pollutants that come in contact with the concrete.”
Architect: Richard Meier
9. Grace Fellowship Baptist Church (Baltimore Road in Detroit, Michigan, USA)
This weird building is actually a church. Once it was famous for being Detroit’s most beautiful Chinese-American restaurant. Later, it closed down and became the Omega Baptist Church and then the Grace Fellowship Baptist Church. Located at 265 Baltimore, MD, USA.
10. Basilica de Higuey (Dominican Republic)
Basilica de Higuey, inaugurated on January 21, 1971, is one of the most respected monuments of the Dominican Republic. It was built by French architects and is located in the city of Higuey, Dominican Republic.
Panda thinks it is actually a huge basket and not a church.
11. Church in Stykkishólmskirkja (Iceland)
No, this is not an alien structure – it is another weird Icelandic church.
I’ve found two different versions about this church:
Version #1: “It was built in 1990 and the architect is Jón Haraldssyni”
Version #2: “The church in Stykkishólmskirkja was built in 1879. The new church was then built in 1980. The church has drawn much attention for its look from the sea and from land. In 1939, Fransiskusystur (nuns) built a monastery, school, and church. They also built a hospital which is still in use.”
12. St. Basil’s Cathedral (Moscow, Russia)
Another iconic and famous cathedral on our list, the Cathedral of Saint Basil the Blessed was built in 1555 -1561 by Ivan IV (a.k.a Ivan the Terrible) to celebrate the capture of the Khanate of Kazan. The multi-tented church stands at the very heart of Moscow in the Red Square at it is one of Russia’s most famous monuments.
A legend says that Ivan had the architect, Postnik Yakovlev, blinded to prevent him from building a more magnificent building for anyone else. In fact, Postnik Yakovlev built a number of churches after Saint Basil’s.
Panda thinks that it may be huge lollypops and wants to taste it.
More info: Saint Basil’s Cathedral
13. Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
The Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro was built between 1964 and 1979. Conical in form, it has an internal diameter of 96 meters (315 ft) and an overall height of 75 meters (246 ft).
The church has a standing-room capacity of 20,000 people.
Four rectilinear stained glass windows soar 64 meters (210 ft) from floor to ceiling.
Looks like a Pyramid of Egypt or Aztecs, doesn’t it?
14. Sagrada Família (Barcelona, Spain)
Sagrada Família is a massive Roman Catholic basilica under construction in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. Construction on this famous monument began in 1882 and continues to this day. A very famous architect Antoni Gaudí worked on the project for over 40 years, devoting the last 15 years of his life entirely to this endeavor.
In the center there is going to be a tower of Jesus Christ, surmounted by a giant cross; the tower’s total height will be 170 m (557,7ft).
I have never seen anything as fabulous as this church!
More info: Wikipedia.
15. Paraportiani Church (Mykonos, Greece)
According to the author of the photo: “Paraportiani Church is one of the most famous architectural structures in Greece. Its name means secondary gate because it was built on the site of one of the gates of the Medieval stone walls. Some parts of this beautiful church date from 1425 and the rest was built during the 16th and 17th centuries.”
16. Borgund Stave Church (Lærdal, Norway)
Stave churches may have been very common all over medieval northwestern Europe but now you can only find them in Norway (that’s what Wikipedia says, but this is wrong)
Borgund stave church located in Borgund, Lærdal, Norway is the best preserved of Norway’s 28 extant stave churches. This old church, probably built at the end of the 12th century, has not changed structure or had a major reconstruction since the date it was built.
Interesting fact: the church is also featured as a Wonder for the Viking civilization in the video game Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings.
17. The Green church (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
Bamboo leaves!?! I want to climb into this beautiful church and sit here all day.
The only info I managed to find: “a parish church in Buenos Aires, Argentina known as the “Huerto de Olivos” or “Garden of Olives” – Michael
18. Church Ruins (Goreme, Turkey)
The ruins of another old church built into rock by persecuted Christians. Not sure when it was built, but it definitely looks very ancient. How did those guys carve the inside of these rocks?
The Cappadocia valley, where this church stands, is very popular for its rocks that the people of the villages at the heart of the Cappadocia Region carved out to form houses, churches, and monasteries.
There are an estimated 150 churches and several monasteries in the canyon between the villages of Ihlara and Selime.
Those rocks are volcanic deposits, so that means they are soft rocks, making it possible to carve such structures.
19. Duomo, Milan Cathedral (Milan, Italy)
One of the most famous cathedrals in the world. Mark Twain once said the following of the Duomo in Milan in his work, Innocents Abroad:
“They say that the Cathedral of Milan is second only to St. Peter’s at Rome. I cannot understand how it can be second to anything made by human hands.”
More info: Wikipedia.
20. Paoay Church a.k.a St. Augustine Parish (Philippines)
Paoay Church in the Philippines reminds me of Aztec architecture — it looks very massive and strong. The walls of the church are 1.67 meters thick and are supported by 24 carved buttresses.
Its construction started in 1704 and was completed in 1894 by the Augustinian friars led by Fr. Antonio Estavillo. It is said that its construction primarily was intended to withstand earthquakes. And it could test the strength of the walls very soon because the church was damaged by an earthquake in 1706 and 1927.
The design of the church is a mixture of Gothic, Oriental, and Baroque influences.
21. Cathedral of Brasilia (Brasilia, Brazil)
The famous Cathedral of Brasília was designed by Oscar Niemeyer. Panda finds it modern but somehow childish. These columns, having hyperbolic sections and weighing 90 t, represent two hands moving upwards to heaven.
Construction was finished in 1970.
More info: Cathedral of Brasília
22. St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery (Kiev, Ukraine)
St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery is a functioning monastery in Kiev, Ukraine. The monastery is located on the Western side of the Dnieper River on the edge of a bluff northeast of the St. Sophia Cathedral. The site is located in the historic and administrative Uppertown and overlooks the city’s historical commercial and merchant quarter, the Podil neighborhood.
Originally built in the Middle Ages by Sviatopolk II Iziaslavych, the monastery comprises the Cathedral itself (Mykhaylivs’kyi zolotoverkhyi sobor), the refectory of St. John the Divine, built in 1713, the Economic Gates (Ekonomichna vrata), constructed in 1760 and the monastery’s bell tower, which was added circa 1716-1719. The exterior of the structure was rebuilt in the Ukrainian Baroque style in the 18th century while the interior remained in its original Byzantine style. The cathedral was demolished by the Soviet authorities in the 1930s but was recently reconstructed after Ukraine gained its independence.
23. Church in a Hill (Luxembourg)
Another example of a church built into rock, this one blends also into the hillside. One of the reasons the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg has survived as an independent state for a thousand years against such powerful neighbors as Germany and France is because the area is eminently fortifiable.
24. San Francisco de Asis Church (Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico)
San Francisco de Asis Church is a small mission in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico. Construction on the church began around 1772 and was completed in 1815 by Franciscan Fathers and its patron is Saint Francis of Assisi. It is made of adobe as are many of the Spanish missions in New Mexico. It is a few miles south of Taos Pueblo and has inspired among the greatest number of depictions of any building in the United States. It was the subject of four paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, and photographs by Ansel Adams and Paul Strand. Georgia O’Keeffe described it as “one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards”.
25. Pilgrimage Church (Neviges, Germany)
The Pilgrimage church was designed by Gottfried Böhm and constructed during the period of 1963-1972. Böhm used the terrain to lessen the impact of the enormous church on its small scale context. You can see the sunken cathedral next to autumnal colors.
26. Church with an A (Madrid, Spain)
A Parish Church at the beginning of Alcalde Sainz de Baranda Street (Madrid, Spain).
27. Mr. Eko’s Church (The Island, near the beach camp)
Architects: Eko and Charlie. Built in the 3rd season of the TV series Lost.
28. Grundtvig’s Church, (Copenhagen, Denmark)
Grundtvig’s Church (Danish: Grundtvigs Kirke) is located in the Bispebjerg district of Copenhagen, Denmark. It is a rare example of expressionist church architecture. Due to its unusual appearance, it is one of the best-known churches in the city.
29. Colonia Catholic Church (Uruguay, South America)
(Bamboo leaf for Pablo Lambrechts)
This small but beautiful church can only house a handful of people at a time. It is said that the cross can be seen floating above a line of trees from the nearby beach.
30. The Felsenkirche a.k.a. Church of the Rock, (Idar-Oberstein, Germany).
The Felsenkirche (“Church of the Rock”), a church built into a natural niche in the rocks, rises high above the houses of Oberstein. It blends nicely into the mountain making all this place magical.
31. Don Justo’s Self Built Cathedral (Mejorada del Campo near Madrid, Spain)
“Justo Gallego Martínez is building his very own Cathedral in Mejorada del Campo near Madrid, Spain
This is no “model” cathedral and he is neither a qualified architect, nor engineer, nor bricklayer — he is a farmer. ‘The plans have only ever existed in my head’ and have evolved over time in response to opportunity and inspiration. Nor does he have formal planning permission from the authorities of Mejorada del Campo — the town in which it is located (20 km from Madrid under the flight path to the Barajas airport).
He has financed his work by renting out some inherited farmland, some of which he has already sold. Donations from supporters and visitors are welcomed.
The columns are molded using old petrol drums, the window arches carry the marks of the tires they were molded in and bicycle wheels have been used as pulleys.”
More info: http://www.citynoise.org/article/732
32. Cathedral of Maringa (Parana, Brazil)
(Bamboo leaf for maria clara de melo)
This stunning piece of modern architecture is a Roman Catholic cathedral located in downtown Maringá, Paraná, Brazil, measuring 124 m high. It was completed in 1972 and is the tallest church in South America and the 16th tallest in the world.
Architect José Augusto Bellucci was inspired by the Soviet sputnik satellites when he projected the modern design with the conical shape of the cathedral, which was idealized by the archbishop Dom Jaime Luiz Coelho.
33. Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira, (Cundinamarca, Colombia)
(Bamboo leaf for -email@example.com)
Catedral de Sal (Salt Cathedral) in Zipaquirá, about 25 miles north of Bogotá, is an underground church built in a tunnel of salt mines deep inside a salt mountain. It is built into a space left by salt mining; everything you see here is salt. As you descend into the church, you pass 14 small chapels representing the stations of the suffering of Christ. The sanctuary at the bottom has three sections, representing the birth, life, and death of Jesus.
The first Salt Cathedral was consecrated in 1954, but structural problems and safety concerns led the authorities to shut down the sanctuary in 1990. The current church was built between 1991 and 1996 about 200 feet below the old sanctuary, again using caves left behind by previous mining operations.
34. Bruder Klaus Chapel (Mechernich, southern Germany)
“A concrete chapel on the edge of a field in Mechernich, southern Germany, built by local farmers in honor of their patron saint, the 15th-century hermit Bruder Klaus” according to icon.
35. Written Stone (Monastery, Romania)
Local tradition confesses that during the construction of a railway at the opening of the tunnel, an icon painted in stone representing the Holy Trinity was found. The monastery was built at the opening of the tunnel on the rock.
36. Church of St. George(Lalibela, Ethiopia)
Possibly the most famous of Lalibela’s churches, the Church of St. George is completely carved out of stone in the shape of a cross.
37. Trendsetters Church (Phoenix, AZ, USA)
Trendsetters Church in Phoenix, AZ, built in 1973 by Neil Frisby as Capstone Cathedral. I’m sure Neil Frisby visited Egypt just before designing this modern church.
38. Chapel in the Rock (Arizona, USA)
This fascinating Roman Catholic church is literally built into the rock. The views from outside are unbelievable but the serenity inside is awesome.
Some say that Chapel in the Rock can move even the non-religious.
39. The Wireman Chapel at Eckerd College (St. Petersburg, Florida, USA)
A kid on the tour to Eckerd College once said it looked like a “Jesus spider from outer space”. Inspired by the 20th-century architect (Eero Saarinen), the Chapel was designed by the highly respected Chicago architectural firm of Perkins and Will. Its key design features are its octagonal shape and in-the-round seating, the oculus at the center of the roof that directs sunlight to the center of the sanctuary, the lower glass panels which reflect light from the water outside to the interior, and the girders which recall the flying buttresses of the medieval cathedral, instilling a sense of timelessness in a contemporary structure.
40. Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe chapel (Le Puy-en-Velay, France)
Perhaps one of the most remarkable sights in France, a chapel perched on a volcanic plug. This is the Rock of Aiguilhe, on the edge of the town of Puy en Velay in the Auvergne. The Chapelle Saint-Michel has stood there for 1042 years since Bishop Gothescalk had it built in 962 on his return from a pilgrimage to Santiago del Compostella in Galicia. In 1955, workers found relics under the alter that had been there since it was built.
41. Santuario Madonna della Lacrime (Sicily, Italy)
43. The Hermitage (Island of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Spain)
The small old church (which is usually closed) dates from the 10th century and seems to have come from the Knights Templar. In the year 1053, it was donated by don Íñigo López Lord of Biscay to the monastery of San Juan de la Peña near Jaca in Huesca. Medieval burials from the 9th and 12th centuries have been found on the esplanade and in the hermitage.
In 1593, it was attacked and sacked by Francis Drake. Among other incidents, it has also caught fire several times. On November 10, 1978, it was destroyed in one such fire. Two years later, on June 24, 1980, it was reinaugurated. The hermitage belongs to the parish of San Pelayo in Bakio.
The hermitage also houses various votive offerings from sailors who survived shipwrecks.
More info: Wikipedia
44. Church of Arbore (Suceava County, Romania)
The church of Arbore is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. Its painted church was the first Moldavian painted church to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The monastery and the commune are named after the boyar Luca Arbore who built the church in 1503. The erection of the church was completed in about 5 months. Its exterior paintings date from 1541 and were made by Dragos Coman. Painting the church took about 40 years.
More info: Wikipedia
45. The Chapel on the Rock (Allenspark, Colorado, USA)
The founder of Camp St. Malo, Monsignor Joseph Bosetti, had for years entertained an idea that one day he would build a chapel on this site. In 1916, he and two friends observed a falling meteor during the night and in his search for the remnants the next morning, he came across a large rock. The beauty of the land inspired the priest and he remembered Jesus’ words to Peter: “Upon this rock, I will build my Church.” (Matt 16:18).
Vowing one day to build a chapel here, Msgr. Bosetti prayed for nearly 20 years to acquire the funds. During this time, he found himself in a constant battle with the Colorado Highway Department which had plans to dynamite the enormous piece of granite to both widen and straighten the curve in the road.
Eventually, Bosetti won the battle. Years later when the chapel became a reality, it was reported that a group of engineers who laid out the road came to the dedication and thanked him for his perseverance to making the beautiful church.
The chapel was designed by noted Denver architect Jacques Benedict.
In 1993, Pope John Paul II visited the chapel during his trip to Denver for World Youth Day and bestowed his personal blessing on the chapel.
More info: http://www.saintmalo.org/chapel.htm
46. Cadet Chapel (Air Force Academy, Colorado, USA)
The United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel, completed in 1962, is the distinguishing feature of the Cadet Area at the United States Air Force Academy. This piece of modern architecture was designed by renowned architect Walter Netsch of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill of Chicago. Originally controversial in its design, the Cadet Chapel has become a classic and highly regarded example of modernist architecture. The Cadet Chapel was awarded the American Institute of Architects’ National 25 Year Award in 1996, and as part of the Cadet Area, was named a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 2004.
More info: Wikipedia
47. St. Augustine Church (Brookland, Kent, UK)
“Yes, the late 12th century, wooden bell tower is separate from the rest of the church! Apparently, it is the only one of its size and shape in the country. Originally it was open to the elements with the cladding being added in the 15th century. You almost can’t take a picture of this lovely old church without getting that litter bin or telephone wires (or both) in the frame; the litter bin is even in all the guide books!” – kcm76
More info: here
48. Third Church of Christ, Scientist (Washington, DC, USA)
A striking piece of brutalist architecture found in the capital of the United States.
“This building is not only hideous but it is unwelcoming and, as anyone who has seen the J. Edgar Hoover Building would agree, it is extremely difficult and expensive to maintain. It does place undue monetary restrictions on how the church can serve the city because the church has to sink so much into the maintenance of the building.” (districtdiaries.blogspot.com)
49. Thorncrown Chapel (Eureka Springs, AR, USA)
A unique take on open-plan design and a wonderful piece of modern architecture.
“Just outside Eureka Springs in the Arkansas Ozarks — itself a divine place — lies this small, peaceful, non-denominational chapel. Even as I feel the distance between the organized religion I was raised with and myself grow, places like this remind me of why the underlying faith meant and continues to mean so much to me.
Designed by E. Fay Jones in 1979, completed in July 1980.” Clinton Steeds
More info: http://www.thorncrown.com/
50. Church Birdhouse (Greer, South Carolina, USA)
A colorful birdhouse, made in the shape of a church, hanging on a fence of someone’s yard in Greer, South Carolina. The bird living in this church must be a bird-priest raising donations from other birds in a form of seeds.
(source: Bored Panda.com)
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