Superlative churches: Big, beautiful and unusual cathedrals

Lifestyle

This is likely going to be an Easter weekend unlike any we’ve seen before, with churchgoers staying home and attending services virtually while social distancing. In honor of this holiday, we’re taking a look at some of the world’s biggest, most impressive and most unusual churches and cathedrals.

No matter where you travel around the world, faith seems to inspire beauty. Churches and other religious structures are often among the most architecturally impressive features in their cities, and many of the most famous have become tourist destinations in their own right. These are a few of the most impressive.

Seville Cathedral, Spain

This UNESCO World Heritage site in Southern Spain is the largest Gothic religious building in the world. Construction took over a century (1401 to 1506), and the cathedral is famous as the final resting place of Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus.

Ulm Minster, Germany

At 530 feet, this Lutheran church is the tallest cathedral on Earth. The tower is accessible via a 768-step stone spiral staircase, and views from the top extend all the way to the Alps.

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

St. Peter's Baldachin, or bronze canopySt. Peter’s Baldachin, or bronze canopy — Photo courtesy of iStock / piotrwzk

The most important church in Roman Catholicism (it’s the seat of the Pope) is also its largest. The four-poster bronze canopy over the main altar measures 96 feet tall – approaching 10 stories.

Milan Cathedral, Italy

The Duomo di Milano, the second largest cathedral in the world, features an impressive 135 spires. Armchair travelers can explore the impressive building via a 360-degree virtual tour from the comfort of home.

Albi Cathedral, France

Looking for the largest brick cathedral? Find it in Albi, France at Saint Cecilia’s Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Southern Gothic building is also the largest painted cathedral in Europe, with a series of frescoes and decorations that took three years to complete.

Sainte-Chapelle, France

Stained glass of Sainte-Chapelle — Photo courtesy of iStock / Sompote SaeLee

This Parisian chapel boasts the most impressive stained glass windows of just about any religious building the world over. The Rayonnant Gothic royal chapel features 1,113 stained glass windows in total, including an impressive rose window.

Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, Colombia

This subterranean Catholic church is built into a former salt mine just outside Bogotá. The active cathedral sits some 600 feet underground, and the main altar is made from 16 tons of rock salt.

Cologne Cathedral, Germany

Two towering spires give this building the largest church façade in the world. The impressive building was badly damaged but ultimately spared during World War II, perhaps due to its usefulness as a navigation landmark for pilots.

Sagrada Familia, Spain

Gaudí’s masterpiece in Barcelona will be the world’s tallest church upon its completion, supposedly by 2026. A virtual tour gives you 360-degree views from some of the cathedrals most impressive vantage points.

Compañía de Jesús, Ecuador

Gold-leaf dominates the interior of Compañía de JesúsGold-leaf dominates the interior of Compañía de Jesús — Photo courtesy of iStock / Patrick_Gijsbers

This church in Quito might just have more gold leaf than any other church out there. The ornate interior features elements of Moorish design, as well as Incan symbolism – most notably imagery of the sun.

Las Lajas Sanctuary, Colombia

This cathedral is among the few churches to have been built on a bridge. This sanctuary-bridge crosses a wooded gorge on the border between Colombia and Ecuador, some 150 feet above the river below.

Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Russia

This church-turned-museum (officially Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat) ranks among the world’s most colorful. The cathedral was originally white with gold domes; the current paint job wasn’t added until 1860.

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