Old and historic churches rank among the most impressive historical places in the world. From famous churches such as Britain’s Westminster Abbey and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to more obscure examples, such as the fortified church at Prejmer, historical churches have given us stunning examples of art and architecture to rival anything in ancient or modern times.
While traditional Christian churches are often built in the shape of a cross, the wide variety of design and architecture thrown up by historic churches means there is no standard type of old church. Indeed, with historical churches from all over the world, the often enthralling buildings on offer can be truly magnificent to explore.
So if you like to potter around famous churches or historic churches on your travels, then the below list of historical churches should get you on your way. This list of old churches and historic churches generally covers those churches built after the end of the ancient era running through to the early twentieth century. For churches built before 500 AD, you can explore our guide to ancient churches.
Click on each historic church for more information or explore our historical church map above.
One of the largest and best known historic churches in the world, Saint Mark’s Basilica is a famous Byzantine cathedral in Venice in Italy, built on a grand scale with ornate decorations throughout.
Saint Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco a Venezia) is a world famous Byzantine cathedral in Venice’s St. Mark’s Square, sometimes known as Chiesa d’Oro or "Church of gold".
St. Mark’s Basilica was originally founded in 828 AD, after the relics of the patron saint Mark the evangelist were brought, or reportedly stolen, from Alexandria. At this time it was a temporary building forming part of the palace of the Doge Giustiniano Particiaco.
Saint Mark’s Basilica has since undergone a series of transformations, first being built as a permanent church in 832 only to be burnt down in 976 as part of a rebellion. Although the church was rebuilt in 978, it was actually a construction project commenced in 1063 under the auspices of Domenico Contarini which formed the basis of the current form of Saint Mark’s Basilica.
The Basilica was consecrated by Vitale Falier on 8 October 1094, when It was dedicated to Saint Mark. Since that time, Saint Mark’s Basilica has undergone a series of changes, both in terms of its architecture and social stature. Numerous people have added to and enhanced St Mark’s Basilica over the years, bringing pieces from around the world which have contributed to its grandeur.
From a religious perspective, St Mark’s Basilica was a state church until 1807, when it became the seat of the Patriarch of Venice and, on the subsequent orders of Napoleon, the city cathedral.
Every aspect of the historic St Mark’s Basilica is on a grand scale, from its three-part façade with ornate theological carvings to its Greek cross-shaped interior with its ceilings covered in golden mosaics.
In fact, the basilica is so elaborate that its entrance or "narthex" is intended to prepare visitors for what they are about to see. Guided tours are available or an independent walk around St Mark’s Basilica only takes approximately ten minutes to half an hour. There is also a museum and access to the bell tower. This impressive site ranks as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Italy.
Lalibela in Ethiopia is famous for its eleven UNESCO-listed medieval rock cut churches, an attempt to create a “New Jerusalem”.
Lalibela, named after a 12th century king of Ethiopia, is famous for its amazing rock cut churches. Carved out of the rock rather than built with stone (see also Petra in Jordan), each of these eleven churches has been excavated from the rock, cutting down up to 40 feet then cutting out the intricate interior with great care.
King Lalibela was a member of the Zagwe dynasty, who had ousted the previous dynasty in the 11th century AD. He was a Christian and his creation of these churches was part of his wish to create a ‘New Jerusalem’ for those who could not make the pilgrimage to the holy sites of that city.
One of Lalibela’s churches, Beta Maryam, has a pillar on which the secrets of the building of the churches is written. This is now covered by cloths, and only the priests are allowed to read it.
The Lalibela churches are full of religious symbols, including crosses, swastikas and stars of David, the latter echoing the claim of previous dynasties to descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Some of the Lalibela churches even sport wall paintings. For example, Beta Golgotha has life size carvings of the saints on its walls and is said to be the home of the burial site of King Lalibela, who abdicated his throne and became a religious hermit, eating only vegetables. He is considered to be a Saint in Ethiopia.
Access to the buildings is down a rocky staircase. Once down, the Lalibela churches are linked by a series of tunnels and walkways.
The Lalibela rock churches are a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Among the most famous historic churches in the world, Westminster Abbey is an iconic medieval structure and the site of many British royal events, from coronations and weddings to burials.
Westminster Abbey is an iconic medieval structure and the site of many historic royal and national events, from coronations and weddings to burials and even deaths. Centrally located in London, Westminster Abbey was first constructed in the eleventh century by King Edward the Confessor, a Saxon king who dedicated this new church to St Peter.
Before the Abbey
In fact, the site on which Westminster Abbey was built was already of religious importance prior to its construction. The earliest record of the site of Westminster Abbey being used for religious purposes dates to the mid 10th century, when St Dunstan arrived at what was then known as Thorny Island to establish a religious house for the Benedictine order. The king built his church near to the existing monastic buildings.
The First Burial, the First Coronation
Westminster Abbey was consecrated in December 1065, a few days before Edward died. Fittingly, the king was the first of a long line of monarchs to be buried there. In 1066, William the Conqueror added to the growing prestige of Westminster Abbey by choosing to be crowned there, becoming King William I on 25th December 1066. From that point onwards, Westminster Abbey would be the site of almost every royal coronation.
By the middle of the 12th century, Edward the Confessor had been canonised and his remains were moved to a magnificent shrine within the Abbey’s sanctuary, where pilgrims would flock to ask for his intercession. They also gave donations to the shrine, making Westminster Abbey rather wealthy. In the 13th century, King Henry III resolved to rebuild Westminster Abbey to make it rival the French Gothic cathedrals of the era. This construction project would eventually form the current incarnation of the Abbey. He also moved the remains of St Edward to an even more magnificent shrine, where he still remains.
Death of Henry IV
One of the most famous events recorded to have taken place in the Abbey was the death of Henry IV in the Jerusalem Chapel in 1413. It had been predicted that he would die in Jerusalem, so, when he collapsed in the Abbey, he knew he was dying when he was taken to the Jerusalem chamber. Shakespeare immortalised the scene with Henry V trying the crown on while his father lay dying.
The 16th century finds the Tudor monarchs influencing the history of the Abbey: Henry VII started to build the Lady Chapel, Henry VIII dissolved the monastery (but spared the Abbey) and Elizabeth I established the Abbey as the foremost cathedral in England (a position it only held briefly).
Over 3,000 people are buried at Westminster Abbey. There are 600 tombs and monuments to see, many of them Royal and open to visitors. Some of the most famous royals buried there are Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I and Henry III. The tomb of the Unknown Soldier is in the Abbey and there is a service each Remembrance Sunday. Funeral services for important figures and royalty are also held in the Abbey and over time prominent funerals at the Abbey have included those of Winston Churchill, George VI, Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth I.
Poets’ corner is one of the main attractions at the Abbey, it being the burial site of many prominent non-royal figures. The first poet to be buried here was Geoffrey Chaucer, and many others have joined him in the succeeding centuries.
The Coronation Chair
In addition to the numerous burial sites and architectural features, one of the most impressive sites at Westminster Abbey is the Coronation Chair, produced in 1300-1301 under the orders of King Edward I (Longshanks). Its purpose was to accommodate the Stone of Scone, which the king had brought from Scotland.
To have an informed visit and to see the most interesting parts of Westminster Abbey, take a tour, as just wandering around can be overwhelming.
Along with Westminster Palace and Saint Margaret's Church, Westminster Abbey is a UNESCO world heritage site.
An important Byzantine-era church in Athens, Agios Eleftherios is a small historic church which was nonetheless the most important church in the city until around the 12th century. It is sometimes known as the little cathedral.
Agios Eleftherios is a very small yet important Byzantine church in Athens set in the shadow of the city’s cathedral.
Built in the twelfth century, Agios Eleftherios was once the main church in Athens. This fact, coupled with the vision of the diminutive church next to the monolith of Athens Cathedral has led to it being known as the "little cathedral" or Mikri Mitropoli. It is also known by the name Panaghia Gorgoepiikoos.
One of Russia's most important historical churches, Alexander Nevsky Lavra was built in the eighteenth century by the famous Russian monarch Peter the Great.
Alexander Nevsky Lavra, translated as the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, is St. Petersburg's oldest monastery, built under the orders of Peter the Great in 1710.
Its namesake, Alexander Nevsky, was a military commander also known as Alexander of Novgorod. A brilliant leader, Nevsky’s successes on the battlefield led to him being viewed as a national icon.
Alexander Nevsky Lavra is located at the eastern end of one of St Petersburg's main streets, Nevsky Prospekt, a location chosen by Peter the Great as he believed this was the site of Alexander Nevsky's victory over Swedish forces in the 13th century Northern War.
An important and vibrant holy site for Russia’s Orthodox community, Alexander Nevsky’s status as a lavra, a high accolade for a religious institution in Russia and one which it achieved in 1797, makes the monastery a popular place of worship.
The Alexander Nevsky Lavra complex includes two churches, the first built in 1712 and the second in 1724, both in a baroque style. The complex also includes the famous Tikhvin Cemetery, where many of Russia’s famous artists are buried.
The Alexander Nevsky Lavra graveyard is burial site of writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, composer Peter Tchaikovsky, Prince Alexander Suvorov, linguist and scientist Mikhail Lomonosov and all the members of the musical ensemble, Group of Five. Alexander Nevsky’s remains are also found here.
Whilst much of Alexander Nevsky Lavra’s riches and original pieces have been looted and destroyed over the years, this remains a beautiful site and one imbued with history - indeed it is featured as one of our top ten visitor attractions in Russia. Visitors to Alexander Nevsky Lavra can also see the Holy Trinity Cathedral.
A seventeenth century church built in a Baroque style, Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamparados ranks among the most important religious building in Valencia, Spain.
Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamparados (Basilica of Our Lady of the Forsaken) is a 17th century church built in a Baroque style and dedicated to the patron saint of Valencia.
Begun in 1652 and completed in 1667, Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamparados is considered to be the most important religious building in Valencia built that century.
One of many historic churches in Buenos Aires, Basilica de Nuestra Senora Del Pilar was built in the 18th century and lies opposite the famous Recoleta Cemetery.
Basilica de Nuestra Senora Del Pilar was constructed in 1732 in a colonial style including a square tower and a dome.
Its interior includes a central nave opening up to two chapels. It sits across from the Recoleta Cemetery.
A beautiful old church in Florence, the Basilica di Santa Croce is most famous for being the burial place of many of the city's most iconic figures.
The Basilica di Santa Croce or “Basilica of the Holy Cross “ is a medieval church in Florence, Italy most well known for its beautiful decoration and its status as the burial site of many of Florence’s most famous individuals.
Constructed around 1294, the Basilica di Santa Croce has sixteen chapels, each of which was ornately decorated. Amongst those who contributed to the splendour of this church was the artist Giotto di Bondone, whose frescos can be seen throughout and include the 14th century Cappella Bardi Frescos. The architect and designer of the famous duomo of Florence Cathedral, Filippo Brunelleschi, also left his mark on this site in the form of the domed chapel, Cappella de’ Pazzi.
The Florentines whose tombs lie within the Basilica di Santa Croce are a mix of prominent artists and philosophers such as the Michelangelo, who was known as a painter and sculptor and also as an engineer and architect. Philosopher and writer Niccolò Machiavelli, whose works included ‘The Prince’ and ‘The Art of War’, is also buried here as is the astronomer and philosopher, Galileo Galilei.
The Basilica di Santa Croce is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Historic Florence. Guided tours are available as are audio guides (summer only).
The Basilica of Sant Angelo is an 11th century church partially made up of the remains of a Roman temple, making it a particularly fascinating place to visit.
The Basilica of Sant Angelo in Formis is an eleventh century Benedictine church constructed on the former site of a Roman temple dedicated to Diana Tifatina. In fact, the remains of this Roman temple are incorporated into the Basilica of Sant Angelo in Formis, including its Doric columns and floor, both of which were once part of the temple.
The current form of Sant Angelo in Formis dates back to 1053 when it was built by the Abbot of Montecassino Desiderius, who was later Pope Victor III. Visitors to Sant Angelo in Formis can view its colourfully frescoed interior.
One of the more famous churches in France, the Basilica of St Denis was the site where French monarchs were buried until the French Revolution, when many of the tombs were opened and the remains removed.
The Basilica of St Denis (Basilique Saint-Denis) in Paris, France is a cathedral basilica named after France’s patron saint. In fact, the place where Basilica of St Denis stands is believed to the site where Saint Denis, also known as Saint Dionysius, was buried after his death in around 275 AD, making the then abbey church a place of pilgrimage.
Whilst originally founded in the 7th century, the current Basilica of St Denis was built in a gothic style in the 12th century by the Regent of France, Abbot Suger.
From the 7th century onwards, and officially from the 10th century, the Basilica of St Denis acquired a new and important role as the burial place of the kings and queens of France. It retained this role for hundreds of years and all but three of France’s monarchs were buried there. However, during the French Revolution, many of the tombs were opened and the remains removed.
In 1966 the Basilica of St Denis became a cathedral.
Today, the Basilica of St Denis is open to the public, allowing views beyond its stunning façade into its vaulted interior. Inside, visitors can view its incredible necropolis.
Guided tours and audio guides are available in English, French, Spanish and Italian, lasting between an hour and a quarter and an hour and a half.
The Basilica of St Sernin in Toulouse is a UNESCO-listed eleventh century medieval church which formed part of a famous pilgrimage route.
The Basilica of St Sernin (Basilique St-Sernin) in Toulouse is an eleventh-twelfth century basilica said to be the largest one of Romanesque style in Europe. It is named after Saint Saturninus, the first bishop of Toulouse, who was martyred in the third century AD during the Roman persecution of Christians.
A vast, beautifully decorated building, the Basilica of St Sernin needed to be large enough to hold the masses of pilgrims drawn there during medieval times on their way to Santiago de Compostela. The Basilica of St Sernin was one of the stops along the route to this Spanish cathedral, an accolade which has earned is a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
Visually stunning, the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fouviere in Lyon, France, is an iconic nineteenth century church inspired by Byzantine design.
Basilique Notre-Dame de Fouviere in Lyon is a flamboyant nineteenth century church designed to look like a Byzantine creation. Built from 1872 to 1896, Basilique Notre-Dame de Fouviere is now considered to be one of the city’s most iconic buildings.
Bath Abbey in the UK was originally built in the late fifteenth century. It was destroyed by Henry VIII and restored under Elizabeth I in a glorious manner, leaving the striking historic church we see today.
Bath Abbey is an imposing medieval church built from 1499 on the site of a once vast but ruined Norman cathedral. In fact, the first church to be built on the site of Bath Abbey was an eighth century Anglo-Saxon church torn down by the Normans after 1066 and replaced by the Norman cathedral in 1090.
When the upkeep of the Norman cathedral became too onerous, it fell into disrepair, finally being replaced by Bath Abbey. However, that was not the end of the story.
In 1539, Bath Abbey was ruined under King Henry VIII during the monarch’s dissolution of the monasteries. Restoration of Bath Abbey took place under Queen Elizabeth I, with further works undertaken in the 1860s.
Today, visitors can climb the 212 steps of Bath Abbey’s tower, stand behind its clock face and enjoy fantastic views of the city. Tours are available, lasting approximately 45-50 minutes.
One of the most impressive buildings in the city, Berliner Dom was the royal church of the Prussian monarchy in Germany.
Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) is an early twentieth century cathedral built during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Constructed between 1894 and 1905, ornate and crowned with an imposing dome, Berliner Dom contains the Hohenzollern royal crypt which is the final resting place of, amongst around a hundred others, Frederick William I, Elector of Brandenburg.
Berliner Dom is open to the public for tours and audio guides are included in the admission price. This impressive cathedral is featured as one of our Top Ten Visitor Attractions in Germany.
An important historical church in the US, Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, played a crucial role in the US Civil Rights movement. It was attacked on three separate occasions by extremists.
The site of Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama played a crucial role in the fledgling American Civil Rights movement.
From 1956 until 1961 Bethel Baptist Church was the headquarters of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights which strove to ensure equal rights through non-violent means and fought against policies of segregation.
As well as serving as the headquarters for this group, the Bethel Baptist Church was a key site during the 1961 Freedom Ride. The church building was also attacked three times by extremists, in 1956, 1958 and 1962.
Today the Bethel Baptist Church holds a small museum to the Civil Rights movement.
The Boyana Church houses some of the most impressive medieval frescoes in Europe and is a UNESCO world heritage historic site.
The Boyana Church in Sofia is famous for housing some of the most impressive medieval frescoes in Europe.
The church complex was built over three distinct periods. The initial construction was built during the late 10th century as a private chapel which stood within the Boyana fortress. Later, during the 12th century Second Bulgarian Empire period, the Boyana Church complex was expanded and the famous frescoes were added in 1259. Finally, in the mid-19th century, further work was undertaken, leaving us with the Boyana Church as it is known today.
The 13th century frescoes themselves are considered to be an historical treasure and an excellent example of the artwork of the period.
Today, the Boyana Church is a UNESCO world heritage historical site and is open to the public. However, in order to protect the paintings, access is limited and by guided tour only. However, the nearby Boyana Church Museum contains further information on the history of the complex and visitors can buy a combined ticket to both sites.
The Boyana Church also features as one of our top visitor attractions in Bulgaria.
Castle Acre Priory was an eleventh century monastery dissolved by King Henry VIII, now only the picturesque ruins of this once famous church survive.
Castle Acre Priory was a monastery founded in 1090 AD by William de Warenne, the Second Earl of Surrey. Inspired by the French monastery of Cluny, de Warenne built Castle Acre Priory in its image. The result was an impressive and ornately decorated medieval monastic structure later accompanied by a twelfth century church.
Castle Acre Priory survived until 1537, when it became one of many monasteries to be dissolved by Henry VIII. Today, the ruins and remains of Castle Acre Priory form one England’s largest monastic sites and, managed by English Heritage, it offers visitors an insight into the history of the order of the Cluniacs.
There are several exhibitions at Castle Acre Priory, including a recreation of the monks’ herb garden and displays of original artefacts. Audio guides are available, making the site easy to navigate and understand. A visit usually last around a couple of hours.
Notable for its ornate artistic decorations, particularly its ceiling frescoes, the Chiesa del Gesu is an historic church in Rome and centre of the Catholic Jesuit Order.
The Chiesa del Gesu is an historic church in Rome notable for both its artistic wonders and its place as the centre of the Catholic Jesuit Order.
The brainchild of the founder of the Jesuits, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Ignatius himself did not live to see his vision realised. However, the project was driven forward by Ignatius’ successors and, with funding from the powerful Farnese family the majority of the church was complete by 1589, at which point worked stopped after the death of the major benefactor, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese.
It took almost one hundred years for major work on the Chiesa del Gesu to resume, with the addition of the ceiling decorations for which the church is so well known today. However, with the suppression of the order in the late 18th century, many of the church’s original possessions were lost. It was not until the restoration and further investment in the church in the mid-19th century that the church regained its former glory.
Among the artwork to be found within the Chiesa del Gesu today are a number of stunning frescoes, the famous ceiling paintings – which are said to give the impression that angels are descending from the heavens through the roof – as well as the tomb of Ignatius Loyola.
A baroque 17th century church in Cagliari, Italy, the Chiesa di San Lucifero is built on the remains of a sixth century ancient Christian necropolis.
Chiesa di San Lucifero is a baroque seventeenth century church in Cagliari built on the remains of a sixth century Christian necropolis.
The Church of Agios Lazaros in Cyprus was built in the 10th century AD to house the believed tomb of Saint Lazarus.
The Church of Agios Lazaros, also known as Church of Ayios Lazaros, is a Byzantine creation built in the tenth century AD over the believed tomb of Saint Lazarus. Saint Lazarus is said to have been resurrected by Jesus and then to have fled to Cyprus, where he was ordained as a Bishop.
Visitors can enter the crypt of the Church of Agios Lazaros to see his reputed tomb as well as those of other buried there.
Used as a mosque during the Ottoman occupation of Cyprus, the Church of Agios Lazaros was then reverted to a church. It has suffered damage over the years, including a devastating fire, but has been restored on different occasions.
The Church of Our Lady in Bruges is an impressive medieval church, built from the 13th-15th centuries and containing Michelangelo’s sculpture of the Madonna and Child.
The Church of Our Lady in Bruges, Belgium, is a magnificent medieval church which was constructed over a period of at least two hundred years, starting in the 13th century.
At a height of 122.3m (just over 400 feet) it includes the second tallest brickwork tower in the world and is the tallest spire in Belgium.
Today, visitors to the Church of Our Lady can walk up the tight circular staircase for a remarkable view of the city center square. Among the other attractions to be found within the church are the impressive 16th century tombs of Charles the Bold and his daughter, Mary of Burgundy, who ruled the Low Countries until her death in 1482, at the age of just 25, after a fall from her horse.
Perhaps the most famous element of the Church of Our Lady in Bruges is the white marble sculpture of the Madonna and Child created by Michelangelo in approximately 1504. It is one of just a handful of Michelangelo’s sculptures to be found outside Italy.
The streets around the Church of Our Lady are welcoming, and some of the best chocolate shops in the world can be visited nearby!
The Church of St Anne is a beautiful gothic-style church in Vilnius’ UNESCO-listed old town. The distinctive red hue of this historic church can be attributed to the thirty-three types of clay brick used to build it.
The Church of St Anne in Vilnius is a strikingly beautiful gothic church in the city’s old centre, it being part of this area’s listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Built on the former site of an early fifteenth century wooden church, it took around five years to construct the Church of St Anne, which was completed at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Most of the structure remains true to its original architecture, although some changes were made in the mid-late sixteenth century and renovations have been carried out over the years, including in 2009.
The distinctive red hue of the Church of St Anne can be attributed to the thirty-three types of clay brick used to construct it.
Today, The Church of St Anne is grouped with the neighbouring Saints Francis and Bernardine Church, with tourist routes going through both. Tours are available in English, Lithuanian and Russian.
The Church of the Ascension in Kolomenskoye, Russia, was built to celebrate the birth of Tsar Ivan IV and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Church of the Ascension is a sixteenth century church in Kolomenskoye built by Prince Vasili III to celebrate the long anticipated birth of the heir to the Russian throne, Ivan IV Vasilyevich. Ivan, who was born on 25 August 1530, would become known as Ivan the Terrible.
Now dominating Kolomenskoye, a former royal estate in Moscow's suburbs, the Church of the Ascension is a white stone structure characterized by its tent roofs and Renaissance details on a cross-shaped base.
The Church of the Ascension was consecrated on 3 September 1532. In 1994, it joined UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites due to its contribution to Russian ecclesiastical architecture and it also features as one of our top 10 Russian tourist sights.
The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood is a stunningly colourful and ornate nineteenth century church in St Petersburg, Russia.
The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood is one of St Petersburg’s most impressive churches. With multicolored onion domes reminiscent of St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood is a breathtaking sight both outside and within its ornately decorated walls.
Whilst this church is also known as the Church on Spilt Blood, its official name is the Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact the construction of the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood originally began in 1883 by Emperor Alexander III to commemorate his father, Alexander II. Alexander II was actually assassinated on the site where the church was built in 1881, thus lending the Russian Orthodox cathedral its alternative name referring to spilled blood.
Completed in 1907 during the reign of Nicholas II, The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood is an incredible mixture of colours and design. Unlike most of the buildings in St Petersburg, it is not built in a Baroque or neoclassical style, but rather a more medieval Russian one. Inside, the Church Of The Saviour On Spilled Blood is densely adorned with 7000 square metres of vivid mosaics created by world famous Russian artists such as Mikhail Vrubel and Viktor Vasnetsov.
The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood has had a varied history, from its original consecration and veneration to being looted and damaged in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and being used as a storage facility for the deceased during the Second World War and as a potato storage facility afterwards. It was only in the 1970s that the church was reopened and in 1997, after 27 years of renovation, that it was returned to its former glory. The Church also features as one of our top 10 tourist sights of Russia.
What could be seen as Ireland's first true city, the ruins of the sixth century monastic settlement of Clonmacnoise can be found in County Offaly and contain the remains of seven historic churches.
The Lost City of Clonmacnoise could be described as Ireland's first true city.
St Ciaran established Clonmacnoise in the 6th century, at the ancient crossroads of Ireland at the junction of the River Shannon and the Eiscir Riada.
This ancient monastic settlement quickly grew in to a thriving university city and centre of trade with people from all over Europe coming to learn during Europe’s Dark Ages. The settlement reached its height between the 9th and 12th centuries but unfortunately its success drew the attention of invading Vikings, Normans and English, and in doing so, eventually led to its demise in the 16th century.
What remains today are two 12th century round towers, and the remains of seven churches, and 3 ornate high crosses. The visitor centre includes displays and exhibitions detailing the history of Clonmacnoise, and includes an interesting twenty-minute audio-visual show.
One of the most picturesque historic churches of the world, Dunfermline Abbey and Palace was originally built in the 11th century and used as a royal residence. It is the final resting place of many a Scottish monarch.
Dunfermline Abbey and Palace have a royal connection dating back to the eleventh century, when a priory was established there under Queen Margaret (now known as St Margaret). This was elevated to being an abbey in around 1150 by her son, David I.
The picturesque remains of Dunfermline Abbey - now just its impressive Romanesque nave - can still be seen there today.
Over time, Dunfermline Abbey would host many important events. In particular, the cloister of Dunfermline Abbey would later become a royal palace and the birthplace of King Charles I.
Another fascinating aspect of Dunfermline Abbey is its church, which is the burial site of many famous Scottish monarchs, notably Queen Margaret and David I as well as King Robert Bruce.
The site of an historic set of 18th century ironworks, Fagervik Manor is also home to an historic 18th century church, which includes Finland’s oldest operational church-organ.
Fagervik Manor (Fagervik Gard) is the site of an historic set of 18th century ironworks and an historical estate in Finland. In fact, the ironworks were first established in 1646 by a Swedish man called Carl Billsten, but nothing remains of these. Instead, what can be seen at Fagervik Manor is mostly from the following century.
Bought by brothers Michael Hising and Johan Wilhelm in 1723, the ironworks at Fagervik Manor would go on to thrive. Already in full working flow by the mid-1720’s, they operated very much as a family business, passing from generation to generation, something which is still the case today.
In particular, Fagervik Manor passed down Michael's line to his son Johan, his son after that and his after and so on, each generation adding something. For example, Johan Hisinger obtained production exclusivity of tin-plated iron, which would become a speciality of Fagervik.
In its heyday, Fagervik Manor was visited by many a prominent figure, including Gustavus III and Alexander I. The estate also has the accolade of being the first place in Finland to grow the potato after it was introduced there by iron workers from Germany.
The ironworks closed in 1903, but Fagervik Manor would continue in its agricultural activities. Today, visitors can see much of the iron works and the results of the wealth they brought including its 18th century church (home of Finland’s oldest operational church-organ), its cottages and its pretty gardens. In the summer, there is also a museum of the site’s history.
Fonte Avellana is a charming medieval hermitage in Italy’s Marche region which dates back as far as 1000AD and is still a working monastery today.
Fonte Avellana is a medieval hermitage nestled amongst the mountains of Serra Sant'Abbondio in Italy's Le Marche region.
Also known as the Venerable Hermitage of the Holy Cross, Fonte Avellana has a rich history, including being described in Dante's Divine Comedy.
Founded in around 1000AD, Fonte Avellana was originally home to an order of monks by the same name as well as to Saint Peter Damianus, who is said to have greatly contributed to its growth. One other figure who had a significant influence on the practices Fonte Avellana was St. Romuald, the founder of the Camaldolese Monks of the Order of Saint Benedict. Eventually, Fonte Avellana even became part of this congregation.
In 1325, Fonte Avellana was consecrated as an abbey, a unique honour for a Camaldolese house and one which allowed it to thrive. Soon after it was also provided with grants in commendam, a practice whereby the monks would host outsiders. It is said that this had a great role in the decline of the Fonte Avellana community, which was finalised in 1810 by Napoleonic forces who dissolved it.
Today, Fonte Avellana is once again a working monastery and its beautifully austere structure has been fully restored. Amongst the most notable aspects of the site are its crypt, its church, it library and also the old pharmacy, which still prepares traditional cures.
One of the most famous medieval churches in Switzerland, Fraumunster is renowned for its stained glass windows, many of which are by famous artist Marc Chagall.
Fraumunster (Church of Our Lady) is one of the most famous churches in Zurich. First built by King Louis the German in 853AD, most of the current site dates from the mid-13th century, when the Abbess Judenta Hagenbuch undertook renovations of Fraumunster.
Fraumunster is now famous for several aspects, both historical and architectural. Firstly, its convent had the right to mint coins until sometime in the 13th century.
Visitors who attend Fraumunster today go to see its Romanesque features such as its choir, its organ, which is the largest in the canton of Zurich, its frescos and, of course, its stained glass windows, many by Chagall.
The historical quarter of Sweden’s capital city, Stockholm, Gamla Stan includes the beautiful medieval church of Riddarholmen, one of Stockholms oldest buildings.
Gamla Stan, literally meaning “Old Town” is the historical quarter of Sweden’s capital city, Stockholm.
Dating back to the 13th century, Gamla Stan was originally called “själva staden” which means “the city itself” and is mostly located on the island of Stadsholmen.
Gamla Stan is made up of a network of cobbled streets, North-Germanic architecture and beautiful open plazas, most notable of which is Stortorget. Stortorget was the site of the Stockholm Bloodbath, a massacre of noblemen in 1520 and the square is now home to the Stockholm Stock Exchange Building.
The old town is the site of centuries of history and contains numerous significant attractions, not least of which is Stockholm’s Saint Eric’s cathedral.
Another stunning religious site in Gamla Stan is the beautiful medieval church of Riddarholmen, one of Stockholms oldest buildings and the burial place of Swedish monarchs. Riddarholmen is near Stockholm’s famous 18th century Royal Palace.
The best way to enjoy Gamla Stan is just by walking around and exploring.
Glastonbury Abbey is one of the most important historic abbeys in Britain and the legendary burial place of King Arthur.
Glastonbury Abbey is one of the most important historic abbeys in Britain and the focal point of myth, legend and important historical events.
Although the original stone church of Glastonbury Abbey was constructed by Saxon King Ine of Wessex in around 712AD, the site has a history said to trace back to the 1st century. It is believed that the traditional building of the old church took place in 63AD and that Jesus was brought here by his great uncle, Joseph of Arimathea.
The 8th century stone church underwent significant enlargement in the 10th century under the remit of the Abbot of Glastonbury and future Archbishop of Canterbury, St. Dunstan. It was added to further under the Normans. So much so in fact that the 1086 Doomsday Book listed Glastonbury Abbey as the nation’s wealthiest monastery.
Sadly, much of Glastonbury Abbey was destroyed in a great fire in 1184, eventually being restored and its Great Church being consecrated in 1213. Glastonbury Abbey would continue to thrive for a few more centuries, only to finally be dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1539.
Today, the picturesque ruins of Glastonbury Abbey are a popular tourist site. Many people come to see it for its stunning ruins, others to see the place where legend has it that King Arthur and Guinevere were once buried.
Grossmunster is a famous medieval church in Zurich with a history dating to Charlemagne which boasts striking towers as well as a Romanesque crypt.
Grossmunster (Great Minster) is a famous medieval church in Zurich with a history dating to Charlemagne. Indeed, it is said that this Frankish king built the first incarnation of Grossmunster on the site where he found the graves of the city’s patrons, Felix and Regula.
However, the Romanesque style version of Grossmunster we see today, with its two iconic towers, was built later, from around 1100 until 1220. It was here in Grossmunster in the 16th century that Huldrych Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger started the Swiss-German Reformation.
Today, visitors to Zurich flock to see Grossmunster’s Romanesque crypt, its museum dedicated to the Reformation and its pretty windows.
The Hagia Sophia is a world famous sixth century church turned mosque in Istanbul, built under the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian.
The Hagia Sophia, or ‘Ayasofya’ in Turkish, is a world famous sixth century church turned mosque in Istanbul, which now operates as a museum.
Whilst the original Hagia Sofia was built in the fourth century AD by Constantine the Great, very little remains of this structure nor the one built after it in the fifth century. The current building dates back to between 532 and 537 AD, during which time it was constructed under the order of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian.
The architects Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles designed the Hagia Sophia in the Byzantine style, with typical features such as its impressive dome, and Hagia Sophia served as a central religious home for the Eastern Orthodox Church. The building was converted to a mosque in 1453 under the orders of Sultan Mehmed II when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and thus it remained until 1935, when it became a museum.
However, it was during its time as a mosque that several dominant architectural features were added, such as the minarets at each of its four corners and the mihrab. Visitors to Hagia Sophia can view remnants of the first two Hagias Sophias as well as touring the current building with its stunning mosaics and ornate Muslim altars and chapels.
Outside, cannonballs used by Mehmet the Conqueror during his invasion of the city line the paths and there is an eighteenth century fountain for ritual ablutions. Hagia Sophia is a beautiful mixture of Muslim and Christian influences and architecture, including the Byzantine mosaics, which can only really be seen in the higher galleries for a further fee. This site also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Turkey.
A 13th century historic church, a 15th century mosque and a 20th century museum, the Trabzon Hagia Sophia has a fascinating history and boasts a wealth of historical art and frescoes.
The historic Hagia Sophia in Trabzon, Turkey, is an impressive 13th century Byzantine church which now operates as a museum boasting a range of fascinating ancient frescoes.
Originally constructed under the direction of Trebizond Emperor Manuel I between 1238 and 1263 AD, the Hagia Sophia was originally built to serve as a Church and its design reflects late-Byzantine architecture. It acted as such until 1461 when it was converted into a Mosque under the authority of Sultan Mehmed II after the Ottoman conquest of Trabzon, but during the next 400 years or so the building deteriorated rapidly.
By the mid-nineteenth century the Mosque was in desperate need of repair and restoration work began in 1864. However, with the advent of the First World War the once-grand Mosque was subject to a more utilitarian purpose; it was used both as a storehouse and hospital by Russian forces. In 1964, thanks to international co-operation and restoration efforts, the Hagia Sophia was finally opened to the public.
Today the Trabzon Hagia Sophia operates as a museum and visitors can explore the unique art and architecture found withing.
The building itself stands as an example of outstanding Byzantine architecture, containing three naves and three porticoes as well as numerous frescoes depicting Biblical scenes such as the birth, crucifixion and ascension of Jesus Christ, the twelve apostles and the frieze of angels. These frescoes had been covered after the Ottoman conquest and were only revealed during the 20th century restoration. Perhaps the most outstanding piece of decorative art within this group is the bas-relief frieze of Adam and Eve, located to the south.
In addition to the Christian decorative art that can be found throughout the Trabzon Hagia Sophia, there is also an abundance of Islamic art and architecture, including a domed and tiled roof and geometrically designed interlocking medallions, indicative of the Seljuk period. There are also tiles containing the crescent moon and stars as well as other motifs.
The tower was a later addition, when the Church was being converted into a Mosque. Little of the decorative art that was once installed into the Tower remains, although effort has recently been made to restore the paintings on the walls.
[Update Aug 2013: The museum has now closed and the site is now operating as a mosque]
Contributed by Ros Gammie
Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion is an 18th century historical church with a history dating back to the 16th century.
Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion (Church of the Immaculate Conception) in La Orotava in Tenerife was built in the 18th century but its history dates back to the 16th century, when a chapel was founded there.
Boasting an eclectic range of art and architecture, Iglesia de Santo Domingo de Guzman is a historical church dating mostly to the 17th century.
Iglesia de Santo Domingo de Guzman is a church dating mostly to the seventeenth century, but with an eclectic range of art and architecture including a sixteenth century doorway and twentieth century murals.
One of many historic churches in Germany, the fourteenth century Jakobikirche represents one of Lubeck’s best preserved medieval churches.
Jakobikirche (St. Jacob's Church) was built in 1334 and now represents one of Lubeck’s best preserved medieval churches, having managed to emerge relatively unscathed from the air raids of World War II.
The Jesuit ruins at Jésus and Trinidad are amongst the best-preserved of their kind. Visitors can explore ornately decorated churches, colleges and cloisters and belfries - all within a beautiful tropical setting.
The remarkably well-preserved ruins of the Jesuit missions of Jesús de Tavarangue and La Santísima Trinidad del Paraná lie in the Itapúa Department of Paraguay, some 400km from the country’s capital, Asunción.
Founded by zealous Jesuit missionaries in the early 18th century, these large, ornately-decorated establishments were two amongst a series of reducciónes (settlements) built for the education, protection and evangelisation of native Guaraní people.
Begun in 1706, La Santísima Trinidad del Paraná was the work of a prominent Jesuit architect who used both Christian and native artistic elements in the decoration of facades, making many of the buildings unique in their appearance. Meanwhile, the church at Jesús de Tavarangue, begun in 1740, retains a commanding grandeur unrivalled in South America, despite being left unfinished when the Jesuits were expelled from the region in 1767.
At their height, both settlements would have accommodated around 2000-3000 native inhabitants, many of whom were taught to read and write. Some were trained in the arts, others were instructed in the principles of governing an ordered society, but all were introduced to the ways of Christian life.
While the complex of Jesús de Tavarangue never came to completion, that of Santísima Trinidad del Paraná went on to become one of the largest of its kind in South America.
Today, visitors can explore the college and cloister, cemeteries, belfry, native houses and workshops, as well as the lofty Plaza Mayor (main church), which dominates a tranquil setting of neatly trimmed lawns and swaying palms.
The missions were listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites in 1993.
Contributed by Adam Woods
A popular tourist destination and one of the best known historic churches of the world, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is a famous Berlin landmark, boasting stunning frescos and a poignant memorial hall.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is a Romanesque style church which was originally built in the 1890’s and dedicated to Kaiser William I by his grandson Kaiser William II.
Although the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was severely damaged in a bombing raid in 1943, during World War II, remnants of its original architecture clearly emerge, despite the fact that it was rebuilt between 1959 and 1963.
In its current incarnation, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, with its attached belfry, chapel and foyer is a popular tourist destination, with visitors coming from around the world to view its stunning frescos and its poignant memorial hall.
Free guided tours are available every day except Sunday at 1:15pm, 2:30pm and 3pm.
Sitting right in the middle of bustling modern streets, Kapnikarea is a beautiful 11th century Byzantine church in Athens.
Sitting right in the middle of bustling modern streets, Kapnikarea is a beautiful 11th century Byzantine church in Athens.
Built around 1050 AD, the church was constructed atop the remains of an earlier ancient Greek temple, probably dedicated to either Athena or Demeter.
Kapnikarea looks oddly out of place in the middle of a busy thoroughfare however its beauty is in its size. Small but perfectly formed, the Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea is an excellent example of a well preserved Byzantine building. Inside, visitors can also discover the excellent decorative art, particularly the Mosaic of the Madonna and Child.
Kells Priory is a ruin of a fourteenth to fifteenth century historic monastery in County Kilkenny, the Republic of Ireland.
Originally founded by Geoffrey FitzRobert de Marisco in 1193, Kells Priory was mostly destroyed in attacks in both 1252 and 1327. It was later rebuilt, but then became one of the monasteries dissolved by King Henry VIII in the mid-sixteenth century.
Kells Priory continued to operate for another century or so, but eventually fell into disrepair. As a structure, Kells Priory seems more a fort than a monastery, its grand turrets and thick stone walls casting an imposing shadow. It is also quite vast, its land stretching over four acres and including, amongst other things, a church, domestic dwellings and a chapel.
Among the most famous churches in the world, La Sagrada Família is an iconic church in Barcelona with UNESCO status. It is the final resting place of Antoni Gaudi.
La Sagrada Familia (Church of the Holy Family) is an iconic yet incomplete church in Barcelona.
Works on La Sagrada Familia were begun in 1882 under the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar, then continued under Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi did not live to see the church completed and, since his death in 1926, and with the exception of the period of the Spanish Civil War, La Sagrada Familia has been under construction.
Nevertheless, despite its incomplete state, La Sagrada Familia’s incredible architecture draws in hordes of tourists each year. From its beautiful facades to its looming towers and inherent symbolism, La Sagrada Familia is an iconic part of Barcelona.
There is entry into the church to see Gaudi’s crypt as well as to go to the top of the stunning Nativity and Passion Facades (access to the lifts costs extra). Guided tours are available for a fee.
Together with seven other pieces of Gaudi’s work, La Sagrada Familia is a UNESCO World Heritage site and also features as one of our Top Ten Tourist Attractions in Spain.
Liebfrauen is a thirteenth century UNESCO-listed gothic church in Trier, built atop the ruins of a vast Roman church built by Constantine the Great.
Liebfrauen in Trier, translated as the Church of Our Lady, is a medieval cross-shaped church built upon the southern ruins of a vast Roman church built in 326 AD by Constantine the Great. It is near Trier Cathedral, which was also built over these remains.
Completed in approximately 1260, Liebfrauen is now a pretty gothic style church and part of Trier’s UNESCO World Heritage site list.
The Lisbon National Pantheon is a pretty domed church and the burial site of many of Portugal’s most prominent figures.
The Lisbon National Pantheon (Panteao Nacional) is a pretty domed church and the burial site of many of Portugal’s most prominent figures, ranging from Presidents of the Republic to artists.
Whilst a sixteenth century church was previously located on this site, the current building of the Lisbon National Pantheon was begun in the seventeenth century, and only completed in the twentieth century.
Germany’s third largest church, Marienkirche in Lubeck was consecrated in 1350AD and is renowned for its gothic architecture.
Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church) in Lubeck is Germany’s third largest church and part of this city’s illustrious history as a former member of the Hanseatic League.
Taking some 100 years to complete and consecrated in 1350, Marienkirche may not be Lubeck’s oldest church (that’s probably the cathedral), but it is its biggest. It is also renowned for its gothic architecture, upon which many other churches in the region have been modeled. Like much of Lubeck’s medieval centre, Marienkirche suffered great damage during World War II, but was later restored.
Matthias Church in Budapest, Hungary, is an ornate medieval church which has been the site of royal weddings and coronations for hundreds of years.
Matthias Church (Matyas Templom) is an ornate medieval structure which has been the site of royal weddings and coronations.
Despite being founded in the thirteenth century by King Bela IV (some posit that the first church here was built in the eleventh century), the name Matthias Church is actually a reference to the monarch Matthias Corvinus who was twice married there. Its official name is the Church of Our Lady.
The diverse and often turbulent history of Buda is reflected in the eclectic style of Matthias Church, which includes a mostly gothic dramatic exterior and a vibrant interior with allusions to the various rulers of the city, including the Ottomans.
Upstairs in Matthias Church is an ecclesiastical museum and, in the basement visitors can view its crypt. It is part of Budapest’s UNESCO World Heritage listing.
The Munich Frauenkirche is one of the city’s most iconic sites and is famous for it of onion-dome topped towers.
The Munich Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) is one of the city’s most iconic sites.
Begun in 1468 over the site of an earlier church, the Munich Frauenkirche was consecrated in 1494. However, it was not until the sixteenth century that Frauenkirche got its most famous additions, a pair of onion-dome topped towers.
Inside Frauenkirche, visitors can see artworks spanning several centuries.
Mystras is an archaeological site in Greece housing the remains of a series of Byzantine churches and a medieval monastery.
Mystras or “Morea” sits atop a hill overlooking the city of Sparta. In approximately 1248-1249, William II of Villehardouin, a prince of Achaea who had taken part in the Fourth Crusade, decided to build a stronghold there as a defence from the Byzantines.
Soon after the castle was completed, William was taken prisoner following his defeat at the hands of Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus. From 1262, the citizens of Sparta used the castle at Mystras as a place of shelter, but soon settled there and began building a city around it.
In 1438, Mystras reached its peak, becoming the capital of the Byzantine province of the Despotate of the Morea, a position it held until 1460 when it was captured by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mohammed II. The Ottomans held on to Mystras for centuries, except for a couple of brief periods when it was captured by the Venetians.
Probably abandoned in 1832, Mystras is today an important archaeological site listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. During its time as an active city, many churches, palaces, houses and other structures, including its famous fortress were considered to be some of the best architectural gems of their times, known as the so-called “wonders of Morea'.
What remains at Mystras today is a series of Byzantine churches and a monastery as well as several ruins including the castle, some roads and the fortress walls, all set amidst an incredible landscape. The entrance to the site is particularly well preserved. There is a nearby Mystras Museum housing finds from the site. This site also features as one of our Top 10 tourist attractions to visit in Greece.
Built in 1853 in a Neo-Byzantine style, Marseille’s Notre-Dame de la Garde overlooks the city and the harbour, its high position making it a favoured lookout point.
Notre-Dame de la Garde is a nineteenth century basilica in Marseille.
Built in 1853 in a Neo-Byzantine style, Notre-Dame de la Garde replaced the original thirteenth century church in this location, which had been fortified in the sixteenth century only to be destroyed in the French Revolution.
Notre-Dame de la Garde overlooks the city and the harbour, its high position making it a favoured lookout point. Inside, visitors can enjoy its multicoloured decorations, crypt and pretty mosaics.
One of several historical churches in Argentina, Nuestra Señora de Loreto was a Jesuit mission, now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Nuestra Senora de Loreto was an important Argentinean Jesuit mission founded in 1610.
Unlike many of its counterparts which had to move several times due to ongoing attacks from slave traders, Nuestra Senora de Loreto only moved once. This resettlement occurred in 1631, when the mission transferred to its present location near Posadas.
While some vegetation has been cleared from the ruins, which include the church, the site is not as well preserved as nearby San Ignacio Mini.
Among the most historically significant historic churches in the world, Old North Church in Boston played a vital role in igniting the American Revolution and is part of the Freedom Trail.
Old North Church is Boston’s oldest church, having been built in 1723 in the Georgian style. Originally called Christ’s Church, Old North Church was also the tallest building in Boston at the time and thus came to serve an important role in the American Revolution.
In the eighteenth century, the British began confiscating American weapons in fear that increasing tension relating to their rule would lead to revolution. On 18 April 1775, British soldiers planned to travel via the Charles River to surprise suspected arms hoarders and confiscate more weapons. However, discovering the plan, silversmith Paul Revere was tasked with alerting his fellow Bostonians, which he did on his famous Midnight Ride.
Before Revere left however, the caretaker of Old North Church, Robert Newman, agreed to hold lanterns up from the church steeple as a sign just in case Revere was captured before he could deliver the message. Newman held the lanterns for just a brief time, but it was enough for both the Americans and the British to see, prompting an attempt to arrest Newman.
The events of that day served as the catalyst of the American Revolution. Today Old North Church is still an operating Episcopal house of worship as well as a museum where visitors can admire its architecture and see the window from which Newman fled from the British that fateful night. One can also hear the tolling of the oldest bells in America.
Osterlars Round Church is a twelfth century church in Bornholm, built as a defensive structure in order to withstand the possible threat of pirates.
Osterlars Round Church (Østerlars Rundkirke) is a well-known circular church in Bornholm in Denmark, believed to date back to 1150 and dedicated to Saint Laurentius.
One of four such churches in Bornholm, Osterlars Round Church was staunchly built in order to withstand the possible threat of pirates.
Visitors can enter Osterlars Round Church and climb to the top for spectacular views. Staff are on hand Mondays to Saturdays, 9am-5pm from 7 May to 17 October for those who want to know more about the site.
Osterlars Church features as one of our top ten Danish tourist attractions.
Famed for having Europe’s largest clock face, Peterskirche is an impressive historic church in Zurich.
Peterskirche in Zurich (St. Peter’s Church) is a medieval church famed for having Europe’s largest clock face. Whilst a church has stood on the site of Peterskirche in Zurich since the 9th century, the church itself has undergone several transformations and mostly dates from the 13th century.
Amongst its claims to fame, Peterskirche became the burial site of the first mayor of Zurich, Rudolf Brun, in 1360. The church is also revered for its mix of architectural styles, including Baroque, Gothic and Romanesque.
Pirita Convent was an important fifteenth century nunnery of the order of St. Bridget and now stands as a scenic ruin.
Pirita Convent (Pirita klooster) was an important 15th century nunnery of the order of St. Bridget and now stands as a picturesque ruin in modern-day Estonia. At the time it was constructed, the city of Tallinn - where it was based - was already a trading hub and the idea to build Pirita Convent was first mooted by some of its merchants. Yet, it would take several years to begin building the convent.
In 1407, the people of Tallinn received advice from two monks visiting from Vadstena Abbey in Sweden. It would take another decade to get the required permits to begin construction, which began in 1417. The church of Pirita Convent was finally consecrated on 15 August 1436 and had 13 altars, each dedicated to an apostle.
Pirita Convent would continue orperating for some 150 years, eventually suffering destruction at the hands of Russian forces in 1575.
Prejmer Fortified Church in Romania was built in the 13th century by the Teutonic knights and is one of the less frequented of the world’s historical churches.
Prejmer Fortified Church is one of a series of UNESCO-listed historic churches in Romania and is known for being the largest church of its kind in south eastern Europe.
Built from 1212 and completed in 1225, Prejmer Fortified Church was a construction of the Roman Catholic Teutonic knights.
With its thick circular walls rising 40 feet, advanced weaponry and underground passageways, Prejmer Fortified Church was heavily defended, demonstrating the turbulent nature of the region at the time.
The fortress was in fact subject to fifty sieges, only one of which resulted in its capture. This occurred in 1611, when it was taken over by the Prince of Transylvania, Gabriel Báthori.
A thirteenth century historic church, Riddarholm Church has served as the burial site of most of Sweden’s monarchs for hundreds of years.
Riddarholm Church (Riddarholmskyrkan) is one of Stockholm’s oldest buildings, with parts of this imposing historic structure having been built in 1270 and completed in around 1300.
Ever since King Magnus Ladulås, who died in 1290, was buried there, Riddarholm Church has been the site in which most of Sweden’s royal family have been laid to rest.
Amongst those found at Riddarholm Church are Karl Knutsson Bonde, Gustav II Adolf, Adolf Fredrik, Gustaf III, Gustav IV Adolf and Karl XIII. Some of their tombs and burial chambers are open to the public, whilst others are closed. In fact, the only former monarch not buried at Riddarholm Church up to the mid-twentieth century was Queen Christina.
A particular highlight of the church is the Bernadotte Chapel, with its beautifully ornate decoration.
Riddarholm Church is primarily open to the public in the summer and a guided tour is included in the ticket price. Tours take place at 11am daily in English during the open months and last around 45 minutes.
The Rocamadour Shrine is a holy complex in southern France, containing a range of eleventh-thirteenth century AD churches and chapels.
The Rocamadour Shrine in southern France is a place of holy pilgrimage of the Christian faith, made so by a series of reports of miraculous events taking place in this location.
One of the main historic sites at the Rocamadour Shrine is the Chapel of Notre-Dame, in which one of these incidents took place. In 1166, it is said that the body of Saint Amadour – from which the town takes its name – was found here in an incredibly well-preserved state. Today, the chapel contains a statue of the Black Virgin.
Other sites include the thirteenth century Saint Anne’s Chapel and Chapel of Saint Blaise, the former tomb of St. Amadour, the twelfth century frescos in St. Michael’s Chapel and the Chateau.
Roldal Stave Church is an attractive wooden church dating back to around the mid-thirteenth century.
Roldal Stave Church (Roldal Stavkyrkje) is a picturesque wooden church dating back to around 1250 with 16th century interiors.
Pilgrims would travel to Roldal Stave Church in medieval times, especially to see its altar crucifix, which was believed to have healing properties. Today, visitors still flock to Roldal Stave Church, Norway’s only church of this kind to still act as a working church.
Made famous by Dan Brown and one of the most recognised entries on the list of historical churches, Rosslyn Chapel is a 15th century Catholic Church near Edinburgh in Scotland brimming with mysterious carvings.
Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh in Scotland is the beautiful fifteenth century creation of the third Prince of Orkney, William St Clair. Begun in 1446 and with its foundations completed in 1450, Rosslyn Chapel was actually named the “Collegiate Chapel of St Matthew”.
Whilst Rosslyn Chapel may seem like a finished church, it is thought to be incomplete. It is believed that William intended it to be a cross-shaped church, but work largely ceasing upon his death in 1484. He was then buried at Rosslyn Chapel and later joined by several members of his noble family.
Over the next two centuries, Rosslyn Chapel would suffer first under the Reformation, when its altar was destroyed, and in 1650, when Oliver Cromwell’s men used it as stables whilst they raided Rosslyn Castle. Nevertheless, Rosslyn Chapel has survived in good condition, with renovations having restored this stunning church – revered by artists and poets alike – to its former glory.
Part of what makes Rosslyn Chapel such a masterpiece is its collection of stone carvings which cover virtually every inch of its walls. From depictions of what has been interpreted by some as Indian corn to more local rural images and, of course, many of prominent religious figures, there is something to see in every nook and cranny of Rosslyn Chapel.
However, it is the carvings linked to the Knights Templar which have gained the most attention for Rosslyn Chapel, particularly following the release of the 2003 novel “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown in which the church played an important role.
Infused with mystery and legend, these carvings draw tourists, artists and even royalty to Rosslyn Chapel. Guided tours are available to explain their meanings.
Ruinas de Sao Paulo are the dramatic remains of a seventeenth century Jesuit church a built in Macau in 1602 and destroyed by fire in 1835.
Ruinas de Sao Paulo (St Paul’s Ruins) are the remains of a Jesuit cathedral built in Macau in 1602. The Jesuits were expelled from Macau in the eighteenth century, after which the church was used as an army barracks.
Today, all that remains of this church are the historic Ruinas de Sao Paulo, which comprise of just the beautifully ornate façade and the stairs leading up to it. This is due to a fire which razed Sao Paulo in 1835.
Behind Ruinas de Sao Paulo is now a museum about the Jesuits as well as a crypt housing relics from the church.
St George’s Basilica is a 10th century church in the Prague Castle complex and home of the tombs of the Premyslid dynasty of princes.
St George’s Basilica is a tenth century church rich with Baroque, Romanesque and Bohemian architectural elements located in the Prague Castle complex. The church has undergone a series of reconstructions so, whilst originally built in 920 AD by Prince Vratislav I, St George’s Basilica only retains the foundations from this period.
St George’s Basilica was rebuilt in 973 when a convent for Benedictine nuns was built beside it. It then suffered a fire in 1142, which devastated the building and led to its reconstruction in a Romanesque style.
The St. Ludmila chapel with the tomb of the saint was added to St George’s Basilica in the thirteenth Century followed by the Baroque chapel of St. John Nepomuk designed by architect F.M. Kanka in the eighteenth century.
However, St George’s Basilica was once again subject to destruction in the late eighteenth century when it was occupied by troops. As a result, much of what can be seen today is the work of F. Mach, who reconstructed the building between 1887 and 1908 and attempted to recreate the Basilica’s Romanesque features. St George’s Basilica now serves as a concert hall.
One of the city’s largest churches, Saint-Sulpice Church is a huge eighteenth century church in Paris, begun in the mid-seventeenth century completed a century later.
Saint-Sulpice Church in Paris is one of the city’s largest churches, being only slightly smaller than Notre Dame Cathedral.
Initial construction of Saint-Sulpice Church began in the mid-seventeenth century and took nearly a century to complete, finally consecrated in the name of Saint Sulpitius the Pious. There are various historic architectural and artistic pieces in Saint-Sulpice Church including its impressive grand organ and murals by French artist, Eugène Delacroix.
In 1743, an element of science entered into Saint-Sulpice Church with the construction of a sundial or “gnomon”, which can still be seen there today. It is manifested in the form of a line across the floor ending at an obelisk. For fans of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” novel, this gnomon, together with the obelisk, offers a particular draw as the place where the villain monk ‘Silas’ finds a false clue left by the mysterious “Priory of Sion”.
In case you are wondering how much of the Dan Brown story is true in relation to Saint-Sulpice Church, it does provide an explanation inside which generally deals with what it calls “fanciful allegations”.
Sainte Chapelle is a stunning thirteenth Century gothic church in Paris and and home to the city’s oldest wall paintings as well as some stunning stained-glass windows.
Sainte Chapelle or the “Holy Chapel” is a gothic church built by Saint Louis in Ile de la Cité in the centre of Paris.
The construction of Sainte Chapelle began in 1246 under the orders of King Louis IX, and was carried out with the specific purpose of housing the relics of the Passion of Christ, including the Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the true cross. In fact, even by the time Sainte Chapelle was consecrated on 26 April 1248, at a cost of 40,000 livres, this expense paled in comparison to the 135,000 livres which these relics cost when bought from the Byzantine emperor Baldwin II.
The relics are now housed in the Treasury at the Notre Dame Cathedral, but there are still many attractions in Sainte Chapelle. With its two impressive upper and lower chapels and imposing gothic architecture, Sainte Chapelle a top tourist attraction.
Audio tours are available guiding visitors through and explaining the significance of its colourful stained glass windows and statues. In particular, the windows at Sainte Chapelle depict over a thousand images relating to the Old Testament and the Passion of Christ.
Sainte-Foy Abbey in Conques, France, was one of the churches along the medieval pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.
Sainte-Foy Abbey, also known as Conques Abbey and Abbey de Sainte Foy, was one of the churches along the medieval pilgrimage route to the Spanish cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The main reason for this was that Sainte-Foy Abbey has held the relics of its namesake, Sainte Foye, since the ninth century.
Sainte Foye, translated as “Saint Faith” was a young girl said to have been martyred during the persecution of the Christians under the Roman Empire. Her relics were held at a monastery in Agen before being stolen by a monk and brought to Sainte-Foy Abbey, where they have been ever since. They are inside a golden statue of the saint.
Sainte-Foy Abbey is a Romanesque-style church with ornate carvings and picturesque towers. Its beautiful twelfth century tympanum is a depiction of the Last Judgement. Its treasury is brimming with a collection of works by goldsmiths from as early as the ninth century, which managed to survive the French Revolution by being hidden away.
Since 1998, Sainte-Foy Abbey has been a UNESCO World Heritage site, listed as one of the historic churches on the “Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France”.
The Saints Francis and Bernardine Church is a fifteenth century gothic church in Vilnius.
The Saints Francis and Bernardine Church, translated as Sv. Pranciskaus ir Bernardino, is a late fifteenth century church in the UNESCO-listed historic quarter of Vilnius. It is one of the country’s largest religious gothic structures.
At one point, Saints Francis and Bernardine Church formed part of the city’s fortifications, a fact evidenced by a series of archers’ holes and guard towers still visible today. It was then renovated in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, accounting for its Renaissance and Baroque elements.
Today, Saints Francis and Bernardine Church is grouped with the neighbouring Church of St Anne for tourist purposes, with long and short route guided tours offered of these historic sites.
The Temple of Saint Augustin is a sixteenth century monastery in Acolman in Mexico, constructed by Augustinian friars between 1539 and 1560.
The Temple of Saint Augustin, known as Templo y Ex-Convento de San Agustin, is a sixteenth century historic church in the village of Acolman in Mexico.
Constructed by Augustinian friars between 1539 and 1560, San Agustin is a great example of sixteenth century architecture, particularly its façade, which exhibits a plateresque-style and its beautiful atrium.
Now a museum featuring paintings and artifacts, this is a good excursion if you’re visiting the nearby site of Teotihuacan.
One of several historical churches in the world to be UNESCO listed, San Ignacio Mini in Argentina is one of the best preserved Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis.
San Ignacio Mini in Argentina is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Originally founded in approximately 1611, San Ignacio Mini formed part of a series of Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis established by the Society of Jesus or ‘Jesuits’. Many similar Jesuit missions were scattered across Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.
The San Ignacio Mini mission originated in Guayra, moving many times due to ongoing attacks by Portuguese slave hunters and finally settling in San Ignacio Mini in around 1696. In 1733, the mission had 4,500 inhabitants. However, it continued to come under attack and, in 1767, the Jesuits left San Ignacio Mini, which was destroyed a year later as part of the campaign to suppress the Society of Jesus initiated by Pope Clement XIV.
Despite this, the ruins of San Ignacio Mini are some of the most well-preserved of the Jesuit Missions in South America and a popular tourist destination. They include a magnificent entrance, a church, a cemetery, a school, a large central square and approximately thirty houses of its original residents as well as several other original buildings.
A vast ornate structure lined with chapels, San Lorenzo Church in Florence is a 15th century church commissioned by the Medici family.
San Lorenzo Church in Florence, Italy was originally consecrated in 393 AD. In 1419, the Medici family commissioned Filippo Brunelleschi to rebuild it and it became the parish church of the family.
Today, San Lorenzo Church is a vast ornate structure lined with chapels. The outside of the church however belies its riches, being seemingly bare. It was planned for a façade to be built and Michelangelo even submitted plans, but they were never implemented. Having said this, the dome of San Lorenzo Church is huge, impressive and not dissimilar to the Duomo of Florence.
Inside, San Lorenzo Church is brimming with elaborate sculptures from the likes of Donatello and architectural features by Michelangelo, such as the Biblioteca Staircase. Nevertheless, San Lorenzo Church manages to remain quite light and uncluttered.
Perhaps the most famous aspect of San Lorenzo Church is the Cappelle Medicee – the Medici Chapels. These contain the Cappella del Principi, the mausoleum of the Medici family.
The beautiful San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome is a quiet, inconspicuous ancient church containing several stunning sculptures by the famous artist Michelangelo as well as famed religious artefacts said to date back to St Peter.
The beautiful San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome is a quiet, inconspicuous ancient church containing several stunning sculptures by the famous artist Michelangelo as well as famed religious artefacts said to date back to St Peter.
Originally built in the 5th century AD by Empress Eudoxia - wife of Roman Emperor Valentinian III - the church was constructed to house the shackles of St Peter, an ancient relic believed to have been those used to imprison St Peter during his time in Jerusalem and Rome. This original church was rebuilt over the centuries, with major works in the 8th century AD and then again around 1500 AD. Today visitors can see what is said to be the chains themselves, which are located under the main altar.
However, it was with the contribution from Michelangelo that San Pietro in Vincoli really gained its iconic status - with the artist being commissioned to produce the tomb for Pope Julius II. Though this work was never fully completed, the astounding Moses sculpture remains a key draw for visitors to the site today.
One of Sardinia’s oldest churches, San Saturnino Basilica was consecrated in the 12th century but includes a Roman necropolis which dates back to the early Christian era.
San Saturnino Basilica (Basilica di San Saturnino) is one of Sardinia’s oldest churches. San Saturnino Basilica was definitely in existence by the sixth century AD and perhaps even as early as the fourth.
In fact, the namesake of San Saturnino Basilica is said to have been executed here during the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian and may also be buried within the church.
Built in the shape of a cross, the current structure of San Saturnino Basilica was consecrated in the twelfth century and has a Roman necropolis, dating back to the early Christian era.
An impressive sixteenth century church in Rome, Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri was built by Michelangelo using the structural remains of the ancient Baths of Diocletian.
The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs) is a large and impressive 16th century church constructed within the remains of the Baths of Diocletian and masterminded by renowned renaissance artist Michelangelo.
Though centuries had passed since the fall of the Roman Empire, the massive Baths of Diocletian were still standing in the 16th century. Taking advantage of the huge structural shell, the new Christian basilica was built inside the great hall and frigidarium. It was to be the last great work of Michelangelo, who began the project in 1563 but died in 1564, before its completion by Jacopo Lo Duca, a pupil of Michelangelo’s.
One notable feature of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri is the meridian line built into its floor and gaps in the ceiling used to measure the passage of the stars.
The sheer scale of the build is not only impressive in its own right, but also gives a good indication of the size of the original baths, of which this is only one part. Those looking to find a more unaltered view of the original baths should visit the nearby Aula Ottagona.
Eglesia de Santa Maria del Mar is a fourteenth century church in Barcelona and an excellent example of Catalan-Gothic architecture.
Eglesia de Santa Maria del Mar (St Mary of the Sea Church) is a fourteenth century Catalan-Gothic church in Barcelona’s Born District.
Originally built to celebrate the Catalan conquest of Sardinia, Santa Maria del Mar is now one of Barcelona’s most famous churches and its best example of Catalan-Gothic architecture, designed by architect Berenguer de Montagut.
With the sheer size and scale of Santa Maria del Mar, it is somewhat surprising to find that its construction, begun in 1324, was completed in the relatively short time of 59 years.
Upon entering Santa Maria del Mar, one is struck by the feeling of space provided by its incredible height and supported by a central nave flanked by looming arches and octagonal pillars. This feeling is all the more potent given its empty interior, mostly due to a fire which destroyed much of its internal furnishing in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.
If visiting on Sundays at 1pm, visitors can enjoy a choir performance.
Sao Miguel das Missoes was one of five Jesuit missions of the Guaranis granted UNESCO World Heritage status.
Sao Miguel das Missoes was a reduction founded in the 18th century by the Jesuits or the ‘Society of Jesus’ and intended to convert the indigenous Guarani Indian population to Christianity.
The Jesuits often found themselves under attack from slave traders and, while the mission was originally founded in Itaiaceco in 1632, it found its way to São Miguel in 1687 after several moves, by which time it had over 4,000 inhabitants.
Very little remains of Sao Miguel das Missoes, most of this historic site having been destroyed in 1768 as part of a campaign to expel the Jesuits. The church, of which some ruins remain, had actually already been ravaged by a fire in 1760.
Skellig Michael is a dramatic and remote medieval monastic settlement off the coast of Ireland. Visits to Skellig Michael involve a particularly steep climb up 618 steps.
Skellig Michael (Sceilg Mhichil) is a dramatic and remote medieval monastic settlement off the coast of Ireland. In fact, it was one of Ireland’s earliest examples of monastic life.
First mentioned in writing in the 8th century, it is not clear as to exactly when the monastery of Skellig Michael was first constructed. Some say it was built by St. Fionan, to whom it was dedicated, in the 6th century, others that it was there from the 7th century. Whatever the truth, this magnificent remnant of early Irish Christianity is still incredibly well-preserved, having been abandoned sometime in the 12th to 13th centuries.
Visitors to Skellig Michael can still view the distinctive rock-hewn buildings of the monastery, which have been compared in shape to beehives. Among them, there are former communal areas, an oratory and even a remaining toilet building. The earliest structure there is St Michael's Church.
Part of what makes Skellig Michael such a fantastic site is its evocative nature. In particular, there is still a real sense of the simple, even sparse, lives of the monks who lived here.
It’s well worth noting that a visit to Skellig Michael involves a steep climb up 618 steps and that there are no facilities at all at the site.
Skellig Michael has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996.
St Amand de Coly is a thirteenth century fortified church in France’s Dordogne region which is heavily defended by ramparts and high towers.
St Amand de Coly in the Dordogne, France is a well-fortified yet austere church originally built in the twelfth century and completed in the thirteenth.
Located in a village by the same name, St Amand de Coly is a Romanesque style church which is heavily defended by ramparts and high towers.
During the One Hundred Years’ War, St Amand de Coly suffered significant damage and was later the subject of a dramatic sixteenth century siege. However, it was the French Revolution which ended its life as a religious centre.
Today, St Amand de Coly is open to the public.
St Matthias Abbey houses the grave of its namesake, the apostle, St Mathias. Also found at the site is a Roman cemetery housing the first bishops of Trier, probably dating back to the third century.
St Matthias Abbey (Benediktiner abtei St. Matthias) is a twelfth century church and the site of the tomb of the apostle St Matthias, who succeeded Judas.
Also located at St Matthias Abbey, which was consecrated in 1148, is a Roman cemetery housing the final resting places of the first bishops of Trier, probably dating back to the third century.
Much of the building of St Matthias Abbey was reconstructed in the nineteenth century, having been subject to several invasions and occupation as a private home.
Prague’s historic St Nicholas Church was built in the eighteenth century and is a prime example of Baroque architecture.
St Nicholas Church in Prague was a Jesuit church built between 1673 and 1752 to replace the thirteenth century Parish of St Nicholas.
Constructed in a time of significant social upheaval, including the re-establishment of Catholicism, the architecture of St Nicholas Church reflected and contributed to these changes, having been designed in the dramatic Baroque style.
The church’s striking white stucco façade is crowned by a large dome and the interior is resplendent with ornate frescos and detailed carvings, some depicting the life of St Nicholas. This is all the more remarkable when one considers that the church was once even more elaborate, In fact, many ornaments were removed in 1781, when emperor Josef II ordered the closure of many monasteries.
Today, St Nicholas Church is open to visitors, many of whom flock to see its beautiful architecture and interior. Tours are available and visitors can climb the eighty metres up the St Nicholas Tower for expansive views of Prague. St Nicholas Church also operates as a concert hall.
St Peter and St Paul Church is a 17th century church in Vilnius, built to mark the city’s liberation from Russia.
St Peter and St Paul Church in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius was built in the latter half of the seventeenth century.
Its founder, Hetman Mykolas Kazimieras Pacas, intended the church to mark the city’s liberation from Russia.
With its thousands of stucco figures and beautiful interior, St Peter and St Paul Church is considered to be a fine example of Baroque architecture.
Perhaps the most famous church in the world, St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is one of the holiest of Christian sites with a history dating back to Ancient Rome.
St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is one of the most important Christian sites in the world and is a church (rather than a cathedral) with a long and illustrious history.
Also known as the 'Papal Basilica of Saint Peter' and in Italian as 'Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano', St Peter’s Basilica sits over the site of the tomb of its namesake.
St Peter was one of the twelve apostles in Christianity and is believed to have been crucified at the Circus of Nero, on which St Peter’s Basilica was constructed. At that time, the Circus of Nero also had a cemetery.
The first basilica to be built over the Circus of Nero was constructed in 324 AD by the Roman Emperor Constantine. Visitors to St Peter’s Basilica can still see the shrine in his honour. The saint himself is thought to be buried under the Papal altar.
The current form of St Peter’s Basilica began to form in the fifteenth century and was expanded and added to by various popes and architects over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Whilst much of the building was designed by Bernini, the most celebrated architectural aspect of St Peter’s Basilica is probably its vast dome. Designed by Michelangelo in the mid-sixteenth century, but not finished until after his demise, the dome of St Peter’s rises a magnificent 448 feet in height.
Inside St Peter’s Basilica, visitors can view a wealth of historical art, mostly Renaissance, and the tombs of popes such as Pope Pius XI (d.1939), Pope John XXIII (d. 1963) and Pope John Paul II (d. 2005). Many of their tombs are located in the basilica’s Grottoes.
Some of the highlights in respect of the artistic masterpieces at St Peter’s Basilica include Michelangelo’s statue Pieta, Arnolfo di Cambio’s Statue of St. Peter Enthroned, the foot of which pilgrims traditionally touch and Bernini’s golden Monument to Pope Alexander VII.
St Peter’s Basilica is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Historic Centre of Rome. This site also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Italy.
St Savior in Chora is an 11th century church turned mosque and, more recently, a museum known as Kariye Muzesi.
St Savior in Chora (Kariye Camii) is an eleventh century church turned mosque and, more recently, a museum known as Kariye Muzesi (Chora Museum).
Originally built within a Christian complex outside the boundary of Constantinople’s walls, St Savior in Chora derived its name from its countryside setting, "in chora" meaning "rural". However, the building of St Savior in Chora we see today is a newer incarnation, having been built in the eleventh century and turned into a mosque in the sixteenth century.
Today, a highlight of visiting St Savior in Chora is its incredible set of Byzantine mosaics dating to the fourteenth century, when the church underwent redecoration. Hidden by plaster during its time as a mosque, these works now remain beautifully preserved.
St. Stephen’s Basilica is Budapest’s largest church and was completed in 1905> It was built in the name of the canonised king, Stephen I of Hungary.
St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent Istvan Bazilika) is Budapest’s largest church.
Begun in 1851 and completed in 1905, St. Stephen’s Basilica was consecrated in the name of the canonised King, Stephen I of Hungary (reign 1001-1038). One of the king’s relics, his right hand - known as the Holy Right and symbolic of his incorruptibility - is housed within the church.
The tower of St. Stephen’s Basilica is also a good place from which to enjoy views of the city.
St-Trophime Church is a UNESCO listed historical church in Arles renowned for its Romanesque architecture.
St-Trophime Church (Eglise St-Trophime) is one of the main Romanesque structures in the town of Arles and is part of the town’s UNESCO World Heritage listing.
Arles was one of the earliest settlements in Gaul to have had a Christian presence and a church has existed on the site of St-Trophime since the fifth century. St-Trophime itself was constructed in around the twelfth century and originally served as a cathedral. It was also renovated in the fifteenth century, accounting for the fact that some of its features are gothic in style, such as its choir.
The exterior of St-Trophime is ornately carved with depictions of Christian stories and figures, this attention to detail being continued in its cloisters, with its intricately decorated columns. The inside of St-Trophime does contain some interesting aspects, such as an early sarcophagus, but is otherwise sparsely decorated.
In the Middle Ages, St-Trophime was one of the French sites along a famous Christian pilgrimage to the Spanish church of Santiago de Compostela.
St. Anna’s Church of Kokar is a pretty, whitewashed stone church in Aland built in 1784 and renowned for its fourteenth century Finnish Franciscan convent.
St. Anna’s Church of Kokar is a pretty, whitewashed stone church in Aland built in 1784 and renowned for its 14th century Finnish Franciscan convent.
The ruins of the convent are still visible today and visitors can see where the monks who lived there once worked. St. Anna’s Church of Kokar is also home to a baptismal font designed to a 13th century style.
This site also features as one of our Top 10 Finish Visitor Attractions.
Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini is a fifteenth century Franciscan church turned lavish Renaissance mausoleum.
Tempio Malatestiano, translated as the “Malatesta Temple” in Rimini was originally a Franciscan church, later transformed into a Renaissance church.
This work, which began in 1447, was carried out at the behest of the nobleman and notoriously ruthless military commander of Venetian forces, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta. Malatesta was part of a dynasty which ruled Rimini.
Malatesta hired architect Leon Battista Alberti to build a mausoleum for himself and his wife, Isotta degli Atti. The result was an elaborate and highly decorative monument to this couple, whose initials are emblazoned all over the Tempio Malatestiano. This was particularly detested by Pope Pius II, who virulently condemned the changes.
Among the more mysterious entries on the list of historic churches, Temple Church in London was established by the Knights Templar in the twelfth century.
The Temple Church in Central London is named after the Knights Templar, who founded it in the twelfth century.
Consecrated on 10 February 1185, probably in the presence of King Henry II, Temple Church became the British headquarters of this famous Christian charitable and military order who played an important role in the Crusades.
This first section of the Temple Church is now known as the Round Church, built in a circular form so as to echo the shape of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Despite having once been favoured by the monarchy, in the fourteenth century, the Knights Templar were forcibly dissolved in accordance with orders from the Pope and Temple Church became the property of the Knights Hospitaller. The Knights Hospitaller then rented the Temple Church to two legal colleges. These two colleges, now known as the Middle and Inner Temples, have been located there ever since.
Today, Temple Church is a working church and is open to the public. Sadly, much of it was destroyed in a German air raid in World War II, but it has since been restored. One of the highlights of the visit is seeing the unique effigies of ten knights on its floor, each with individual characteristics.
As discussed in the Dan Brown novel, “The Davinci Code”, which sets a very powerful scene at the site, these effigies do not mark the locations of actual tombs.
The Chapel of the Souvenir Francais is a memorial to French soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Somme.
The Chapel of the Souvenir Francais is a memorial church to the French soldiers who fought in the First World War, particularly the Battle of the Somme.
It was originally founded by the du Bos family, who lost their son in the battle on 25 September 1916 and who wanted a memorial for him and his comrades.
Located in the village of Rancourt, the Chapel of the Souvenir Francais stands next to Rancourt Cemetery, which, at 28,000 square metres is France’s largest burial ground for the soldiers of the Somme. Over 8,500 soldiers are buried here, each symbolised by a simple white cross.
The Chapel of the Souvenir Francais is one of the sites along the Circuit of Remembrance, a route which explores the role this region played in the First World War, specifically between September and November 1916.
Urnes Stave Church is an excellent and oldest surviving example of this genre of medieval wooden architecture.
Urnes Stave Church (Urnes Stavkirke) is an excellent and oldest surviving example of this genre of medieval wooden architecture, a fact which has made it the only stave church to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Built from 1150, Urnes Stave Church was the private church of an affluent family.
Vezelay Basilica is a 12th century Romanesque church once said to have housed Mary Magdalene’s relics.
Vezelay Basilica, also known as Vezelay Abbey or Basilique Ste-Madeleine, has been a place of pilgrimage since it was claimed that the relics of Mary Magdalene had been brought there, sometime before the twelfth century. Whilst it is unlikely that this was really the case, Vezelay Basilica has remained an important site for Christians.
In medieval times, Vezelay Basilica was a key stop for pilgrims making their way to the Spanish church of Santiago de Compostela. This fame was further enhanced by the important events that have taken place at the church, including a meeting between Richard the Lionheart and Philip Augustus in July 1190, just before they embarked on the Third Crusade.
Vezelay Basilica itself was founded as a Benedictine abbey in the ninth century, although the current structure was built later and completed in around the twelfth century. A vast Romanesque structure resplendent with detailed carvings, such as its twelfth century tympanum – a depiction of Christ on His throne surrounded by the apostles - Vezelay Basilica has been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979. Much of it was restored by Viollet-le-Duc in the nineteenth century.
Whitby Abbey is a picturesque cliff-top ruin of a thirteenth century church which belonged to a Benedictine abbey in Yorkshire.
Whitby Abbey is a picturesque cliff-top ruin of the 13th century church of a Benedictine abbey in Yorkshire.
An Anglo-Saxon monastery was actually first founded here by Northumbria’s King Oswy in 657AD, but nothing remains of this now. Instead, the jagged walls and arches that stand here are what are left of a later gothic church, part of an abbey begun in 1220 by the Normans.
Whitby Abbey has several claims to fame, although mostly from its first incarnation. The site has been the residence of Caedmon the cowherd as well as a royal final resting place. What’s more, Dracula author Bram Stoker used the site as inspiration for his dark novel.
Over time, Whitby Abbey has suffered from a series of destructive elements, having been ravaged by invaders, dissolved by Henry VIII and pummelled by wartime bombs.
Today, Whitby Abbey is open to the public under the remit of English Heritage. There is also a modern visitor centre which tells the story of Whitby Abbey as well as having exhibitions of finds from the site, including from the 7th century abbey.
Among Britain’s most popular historic places, York Minster is one of the largest gothic cathedrals in northern Europe, built by the Normans and expanded over the centuries.
York Minster is a vast gothic cathedral – one of the largest in Northern Europe – officially known as The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York. The term “Minster” is attributed to the cathedral as it was a teaching church founded by the Anglo Saxons.
In fact, the first church built on the site of York Minster was a small wooden one constructed in the seventh century for the baptism of the Anglo Saxon monarch, King Edwin of Northumbria. This was soon replaced by a stone church, however this was destroyed in a fire in 1069.
It was the Normans who began building the basis of the York Minster which exists today. Begun in 1080 and completed in 1100, the Normans built a vast cathedral, the remnants of which can be viewed in the undercroft of the current cathedral together with the remains of ancient buildings from the Roman era.
Over the next centuries, York Minster was enlarged and renovated, much of the work being instigated by Archbishop Walter Gray. By 1472, the structure of York Minster was complete with the addition of the north and south transepts, the nave, the Lady Chapel, the Quire, rebuilding the collapsed central tower (this had to be supported once again in the twentieth century) and the western towers.
Since these major works, York Minster has changed little. Some reconstruction works had to be undertaken due to outbreaks of fire at the cathedral (one such fire being set deliberately in 1829).
There is much to see at York Minster. In addition to admiring its beautiful architecture and imposing proportions, one can visit the undercroft to see ancient Roman and Norman ruins and climb the 275 steps of the central tower for great views of the city.
Exhibitions within York Minster focus on the long and vibrant history of the site. Of particular interest is the section dedicated to Roman history, from the Roman barracks first establishment here to the life of Constantine the Great, who was declared Emperor in York. In addition to these displays, under foot are glass floors which reveal the ruins of the original Roman buildings.
As well as individual passes, there are various types of guided tours available (mostly for group booking) including a free guided tour of up to 1.5 hours which details the history of York Minster.