20.01.2010 7 °C
7. Hong de Tang Great Virtue Christian Church, Shanghai
One of the most interesting places I saw in China, Shanghai has a reputation for being a modern global center of international finance. It's actually just full of millions of Chinese businessmen trading with each other, but there are several pockets of foreign influence both new and not so new. This church, built in 1928, is a rare example of a Christian house of worship built in a Chinese architectural style.
6. The Basilica of San Albino, Mesilla, New Mexico
Certainly the newest basilica I've ever visited, it was only designated as such by the Pope in November 2008. It's had a varied history before that, however, as part of a town that at different times has been part of Mexico, Arizona and Texas. In contrast to the main path of Spanish missionaries north from Mexico to modern day New Mexico, this church was founded in 1851 by Mexicans based in the United States who wanted to resettle in Mexico after the Mexican-American war. The church itself was completely rebuilt several times since then, and of course the town is now part of the US.
5. Valencia Cathedral
With this enormous cathedral, a visitor's first challenge is to actually find the front door. Originally just a church of three sides in the 13th Century, various rulers later extended its naves and added a chapter hall, dome and tower. Inside you can do what Dan Brown never could and actually find the Chapel of the Holy Grail, complete with golden chalice in plain view.
4. St Colmcille's Church, Dublin
This entry would not be complete without the church where my baptism, communion and confirmation all took place. My favourite features were the bright wooden benches - in contrast to the more usual dour mahogany tones - and the church's unique dove shape.
3. St Mark's Basilica, Venice
The wonderful thing about many of Europe's oldest cities is that they were built at a time when the church was one of, if not the, main building in town. There's no better example of this than Piazza San Marco, which may be famous for pigeons but when you get there the entire vista is eaten up by this wondrous building. The only shame about this extremely gilded Byzantine masterpiece is that it was originally built only for the wealthy Venetian rulers, and makes you think of the many starving people that never set foot inside.
2. The Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
A church of unique contrasts, the Hagia Sophia was a Catholic cathedral, then a mosque, and now a museum. Inside you'll find a very strange mix of features of a Christian church and a Muslim mosque, in many cases just painted over or placed on top of a previous feature. My favourite part though was the dome within a dome within a dome - if you step inside gradually while looking up you can really get a sense of the awe-inspiring effect intended.
1. St Peter's Basilica, The Vatican
I hate to be so obvious, but there's few more amazing churches to be seen around the world than this one. Perhaps its most impressive feature is simply its sheer size: while everyone knows its significance as the mother church of Catholicism, it's easy to forget before you go in that it's also the largest Catholic church in the world. While not strictly part of the church itself, the Sistine Chapel is certainly the most impressive thing you'll see inside the Vatican. The ceiling is somehow smaller than I imagined, but that only makes the intricate paintwork even more impressive. Additional kudos to the security staff for managing to say 'quiet please, no photography' in about a dozen languages, over and over.