If you’re building a temple to God, you’ll want it to look good. You’ll probably want what you’re building to be the greatest thing you ever did. This is likely why churches are some of our most beautiful and inspiring creations. Because, let’s be honest, you want God to be impressed with your work. You can’t just throw something together at the last moment and hope it’ll work out. It takes time (800 years sometimes), and it’s never going to be easy. This is God, after all. The guy who created galaxies and the solar system, grilled cheese sandwiches and bicycles. And that was just Tuesday. Later he created a universe and life to go in it. God set the bar high. He’s probably not going to be easily impressed. But we try to do our best, and sometimes we get pretty close. Here are our picks for the greatest churches in the world.
St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome
What list comprised of the world’s greatest churches would be anything without St. Peter’s in it? So let’s get this off to the right start. It’s the capital of the Catholic Church. The house of the rising smoke. Home of the Big Man. No, not quite that big. Well, maybe, what do we know? St. Peter’s is also the location of St.Peter’s tomb, which may account for the name
The Basilica Of The Sacred Heart Of Paris, Paris
Also known as the Sacre-Coeur. After the Eiffel Tower, this is the highest point in Paris, so long as you’re standing on top of the dome. Sitting’s ok, too. Its construction was inspired by Bishop Fournier, who suggested that France had lost the Franco-Prussian war as a punishment for their moral decline. Well, yeah, judging by some of those beaches in the south, who would argue?
Westminster Abbey, London
A World Heritage Site and Britain’s coronation church since 1066, the Abbey is also a kind of old folks home for dead famous white people. A smorgasboard of the renowned either buried or memorialized here. Here’s a smattering to whet your taste buds: Shakespeare, Newton, Darwin, Laurence Olivier, Dickens, and Thomas Hardy (though his heart is apparently buried somewhere else). Yes, it’s mostly men, but Jane Austen gets a mention in Poets’ Corner.
Salt Cathedral Of Zipaquira, Cundinamarca, Colombia
An underground Roman Catholic church built 600 feet down inside the tunnels of a salt mine. If you ever find yourself down on your knees on a Sunday morning praying to God with a bag of unsalted pretzels beside you, this is the church to be in.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem
Located in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, the Holy Sepulchre is believed to be the site of Calvary and the crucification of Jesus. But not everyone believes this, which is a surprise as usually in this part of the world everyone is in agreement.
Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany
It has the world’s largest church façade, which may go some way to explaining why it took from 1248 to 1880 to get it finished. Even so, that is 600 years. Surely a missed deadline somewhere. Still, this is Germany’s most visited landmark, and a survivor of seventy bombings during WWII. Shouldn’t there be more urgent things during a war than counting how often a church gets hit? Like running?
Las Lajas Sanctuary, Colombia
If it hadn’t been for Rosa, a deaf mute, and her mother, who in 1754 saw the Virgin Mary in a rock formation during a storm here, this would probably still be a cliff. The inspiration for the church was not fast moving, as it wasn’t completed until 1949, about 200 years after the vision.