In what ways do you experience beauty? Your Implementation step is to share this post with someone and add your own favorite church to the list.
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Not all places and buildings are created equal. Some are created with special attention to the moral dimensions of man, his ability to long for the transcendent, and some better express man’s longing for the eternal more than others do.
We live in an increasingly mobile world, where travel is much easier than it was a hundred or even fifty years ago. This gives us an unprecedented opportunity to visit and physically stand in places that feature prominently in our rich Christian heritage, as well as those places that are less historically significant but simply inspire us with their beauty. If you have the opportunity to travel and pick your destination, then add these five beautiful Churches, listed in no particular order, to your travel bucket list.
#1: CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHER, JERUSALEM
Tradition holds that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem contains the tomb of Christ. As early as the fourth century, the Church was recognized as the place where Christ died, was buried, and resurrected. It is also the place where St. Helena found the True Cross. A profound place to meditate on Christ’s real presence in human history and geography, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is rightly a popular destination for pilgrims and most recently underwent major restoration in 2016.
The Catholic News Agency reports:
The shelf on which Christ’s body was laid is the central point of veneration, which has been encapsulated by a 3-by-5 foot marble structure – the Edicule – since at least 1555.
Since its construction, the church has been built and rebuilt several times, repairing destruction caused by fires, earthquakes, and religious conflicts.
#2: ST. PETER’S BASILICA, ROME
St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is an obvious choice, perhaps, but a necessary one for the Catholic pilgrim! One of the four Major Basilicas in the world, St. Peter’s is built on the site of its namesake’s burial. The work of about 120 years and the hands of incredible artists like Raphael, Michelangelo, Donato, and Bramante, St. Peter’s Basilica is a stunning place of aesthetic grandeur and Christian history.
The Vatican State website describes how a pilgrim may feel when entering St. Peter’s Basilica:
The visitor usually needs to pause for a moment before he can take in its vast size. Simply comparing the height of the holy-water fonts and their supporting puttos with that of the people around them can give an idea of the church’s proportions. The basilica is 187 metres long, 58 metres wide across the aisles and 140 metres wide at the transept: the maximum height of the vault in the nave is 46 metres (as high as a 15 story building!).
#3: MONT ST. MICHEL ABBEY, FRANCE
Located on the beautiful island of Mont St. Michael in France, the abbey is the result of years of artistic endeavor. Recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979, the abbey at Mont St. Michel was first dedicated in the 700s after St. Aubert was inspired by a vision of St. Michael.
The abbey at St. Michel is built on the tip of the island and seems to literally reach for heaven, reminding pilgrims of how life is a journey toward God. Encyclopedia Britannica describes:
The fine abbey church that towers over the island has an imposing 11th- and 12th-century Romanesque nave and an elegant choir in Flamboyant Gothic style (built 1450–1521). The tower and spire, crowned by a statue of St. Michael, were added in the 19th century. The church is built over three crypts, the oldest dating probably from Carolingian times (8th–10th century). The exterior walls of the splendid Gothic monastery La Merveille (built by 1228) combine the powerful characteristics of a military fortress and the simplicity of a religious building. The most striking sections are the refectory, with its high, narrow windows, and the magnificent cloister, with its fine sculptures. There is a panoramic view of the bay from the medieval walls (13th–15th century) on the southern and eastern sides of the mount.
#4: THE CHAPEL OF ST. KINGA, POLAND
The unique Chapel of St. Kinga is located in the depths of the Wieliczka Salt Mine of Poland and is aptly dedicated to the patron saint of salt mine workers. St. Kinga’s relics were placed under the high altar in 1994, and artists have adorned the chapel walls with scenes from Scripture, including the Slaughter of the Innocents, the Last Supper, and the Crucifixion. In 1999, a salt statute of St. John Paul II was installed.
The Catholic News Agency describes the chapel’s origins, saying:
Since miners typically worked under dangerous circumstances in the dark, away from their families, they created the chapels as places where they could pray and celebrate Mass before facing the challenges of the job. The shrines were chiseled near the miners’ workplaces and at the major and minor shafts where tragic accidents had occurred.
#5: CATHEDRAL BASILICA OF ST. LOUIS, UNITED STATES
Acknowledged as one of North America’s most beautiful churches, one could spend hours roaming the beauty of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. The main structure was completed in 1914 and gold mosaics dominate the interior. The Cathedral was designated as a Basilica on April 4, 1997 by St. John Paul II.
A shrine to the Sacred Heart is a distinctive feature of the Basilica. The Basilica’s website describes that section of the Cathedral Basilica:
An arch of white carrara marble surrounds the mosaic with an image above the crown of thorns, three nails, and cloth to allude to Christ’s suffering for humanity. The columns are like sentinels and are construrted out of diaspro marble from Sicily, a fragile and rare marble beloved by artists such as Bernini. The column capitals are composite and are inspired by the captials at the Cathedral high altar with a cross, fleur de lis and Lamb of God as part of their design.
As body-soul composites, the places we visit can have an incredible influence on our lives. What beautiful churches, large or small, have been most influential in your life? Which do you hope to visit as a pilgrim someday?