Saint Louis Cathedral in New Orleans
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America's Most Iconic Houses of Worship

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Saint Louis Cathedral in New Orleans
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Houses of the Holy

While religious beliefs are a personal topic, many can agree that houses of worship have become iconic in our culture. The status of these institutions might be a nod to their architecture, history, or other distinguishing features. Join us on a coast-to-coast sampling that pays homage to where we, well, pay homage. (Note: Those interested in attending services, making a visit, or taking a formal tour of the places noted should check in advance for current COVID-19 practices and protocols).


Related: 20 Bucket List Buildings in America You Need to Visit

Paul revere Statue and the Old North Church, Boston, Massachusetts
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The Old North Church & Historic Site

Boston

It was here that the "One if by land, two if by sea" message was delivered. The date was April 18, 1775, when two lanterns from the top of this church gave Paul Revere the signal that the British were coming by water not land. This 1723 church's connection to the American Revolution is eternal; today, the Old North stands as Boston's oldest surviving church building, a picture-perfect venue that's the city's most visited historical site. 


Related: 20 Things You Never Knew About New England

Another Look: The Old North Church & Historic Site
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St. Patrick's Cathedral at Manhattan
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St. Patrick's Cathedral

New York

The impressive Neo-Gothic façade and soaring spires of St. Patrick's Cathedral, a midtown Manhattan landmark, presides over Fifth Avenue and fills an entire city block. The Catholic cathedral serves as both the seat of the Archdiocese of New York and as a traditional parish church. A tribute to religious freedom and tolerance, as its official site shares, St. Patrick's was "built in the democratic spirit, paid for not only by the contributions of thousands of poor immigrants but also by the largesse of 103 prominent citizens who pledged $1,000 each." 


Related: 40 Free or Cheap Things to Do in New York City

architecture
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Another Look: St. Patrick's Cathedral

Its cornerstone was laid in 1858 with it opening in 1879. Today, it draws city workers on lunch breaks and visitors from around the world.

Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City
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Salt Lake Temple

Salt Lake City 

A can't-miss sight in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, the Salt Lake Temple is the centerpiece of a 35-acre square owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The world's largest Mormon temple, which took some 40 years to build and opened in 1893, soars 210 feet into the Utah sky. Said to be an "acoustic and architectural wonder," the famed Mormon Tabernacle is home to the world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir. 


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Utah
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Another Look: Salt Lake Temple

The surrounding Temple Square features historic landmarks, the Family History Library (the world's largest genealogical library), two visitors' centers, dining options and other attractions. Visitors will want to note that a four-year renovation project (expected to conclude in 2024) is underway but phased re-opening has begun.

The Touro Synagogue of the Jeshuat Israel Congretation is the oldest synagogue building in the United States, founded in 1658
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Touro Synagogue

Newport, Rhode Island

Billed as America's oldest synagogue and a National Historic Site, Touro Synagogue was built in response to the need of the area's mid-18th century Jewish population for a house of worship. The congregation hired Peter Harrison, a local British-American merchant, sea captain and self-taught architect (whose work already included Newport's Redwood Library and the King's Chapel in Boston). He would create an elegant design, drawing from Palladian architecture. It's said Harrison relied on the advice of the congregation, including prayer leader Isaac Touro, for the interior, with the building dedicated in 1763.

Touro Synagogue, Newport Rhode Island
Touro Synagogue, Newport Rhode Island by S.d.touro (CC BY-SA)

Another Look: Touro Synagogue

The site has come to be associated with tolerance: in a 1790 letter, George Washington wrote to the "Hebrew congregation at Newport," pledging that the new nation of America would give "to bigotry no sanction and to persecution no assistance."

St. George's United Methodist Church
St. George's United Methodist Church by Beyond My Ken (CC BY-SA)
Historic St. George's United Methodist Church
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Another Look: Historic St. George's United Methodist Church

The church was originally built in 1763, to be a Dutch Reformed Church, but was auctioned when its completion was financially prohibitive. Today, a museum on site recognizes the religion's founding fathers, as well as its design and history.

The First Baptist Church and partial skyline of Providence, RI
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First Baptist Church in America

Providence, Rhode Island

The First Baptist Church in America was "gathered by Roger Williams in 1638." The church of this congregation is recognized for its picture-perfect, 185-foot steeple and spire, an iconic sight often captured by artists. The church, which was also known as the First Baptist Meetinghouse, houses the oldest Baptist church congregation in the United States. Its Meeting House, built from 1774 to 1775, was the largest building project in New England at that time and would seat 1,200 people, which equaled a third of Providence's population.

First Baptist Church in Providence, RI USA
First Baptist Church in Providence, RI USA by Hellohowareyoudoing (CC BY-SA)

Another Look: First Baptist Church in America

The architecture is said to blend English Georgian and the traditional New England meetinghouse style. Its interior is noted for, its site shares, "the Palladian window behind the high pulpit, the fluted Tuscan columns, the groined arches in the balcony, and the split pediments over the doors. All of this was superimposed on a plain, New England meetinghouse, with its white walls, clear glass windows, dominant pulpit, and lack of any religious symbols." A grand chandelier from Waterford, Ireland, was added in 1792. In 1957 former member John D. Rockefeller Jr. supported the project that restored the National Historic Landmark to nearly its original appearance.

Islamic Center of America mosque in Dearborn, Michigan
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Islamic Center of America

Dearborn, Michigan

The Islamic Center of America traces its roots to 1949, when Imam Mohammad Jawad Chirri, a religious scholar, came to America at the request of a group seeking Islamic guidance. By the 1950s, a group of young Lebanese-Americans worked to establish Michigan's first Shia mosque, and Imam Chirri was invited to lead the newly formed Islamic Center Foundation Society, which evolved into the Islamic Center of Detroit that opened in 1963.

Islamic Center of America mosque in Dearborn, Michigan
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Another Look: Islamic Center of America

Growth led to a new center, the Islamic Center of America, being unveiled in 2005, at 120,000 square feet, the largest mosque in North America and the oldest Shia mosque in the United States. Highlights include glazed bricks decorating its domes and round mosque at its center, while two 110-foot towers, or minarets, add architectural detail.

Chuang Yen Monastery
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Chuang Yen Monastery

Carmel, New York

This serene Buddhist temple is set within 225 acres in Putnam County. The property features simple, peaceful grounds anchored by an evocative main building. Inside, visitors will surely gasp when seeing the largest indoor statue (37 feet) of a Buddha in the Western Hemisphere (artfully surrounded by some 10,000 tiny buddhas). The site, dedicated to peace, is operated by the Buddhist Association of the United States, which describes itself as "a non-denominational organization dedicated to promoting the Buddha's teachings in the United States."

Chuang Yen Monastery
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Another Look: Chuang Yen Monastery

The monastery building began in 1976, with the Dalai Lama traveling to the Great Buddha Hall for its formal dedication in 1997. Today, visitors gather to walk the grounds, take part in programs — and sample the famed vegetarian meals, though currently, visitation is limited to Saturdays.

The Lakewood Church
The Lakewood Church by Hequals2henry (CC BY-SA)

Lakewood Church

Houston, Texas

Though its pastor, celebrity preacher Joel Osteen, has been in the news of late for having to return pandemic-related loans, the Lakewood Church remains an iconic destination, a nearly 17,000-seat arena. In 2003, the church signed a lease with the City of Houston to take over the former Compaq Center. It's considered an evangelical non-denominational Christian "mega-church" as it boasts one of the largest congregations in America, with its services broadcast around the world.

Lakewood Church Worship
Lakewood Church Worship by ToBeDaniel (CC BY)

Another Look: Lakewood Church

If you think your church is crowded, consider how it would feel being among the more than 50,000 who attend services and programs here each week. It's a long way from when the congregation first met in a converted feed store in the Houston area back in 1959.

The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine
The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine by Simon.Absonditus (CC BY-SA)

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine

New York 

Manhattan is host to countless houses of worship, many dramatic, including this cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, which hosts liturgical, cultural and civic events throughout the year. It is the largest cathedral (a church that also serves as the seat of a bishop) in the world and also one of the five largest church buildings in the world. Construction got underway in 1892; as with many Medieval churches and cathedrals, its construction will last over centuries, so the cathedral is officially unfinished. Still, it has garnered landmark status (in 2017, The Cathedral and Cathedral Close were honored by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission).

Cathedral of St. John the Divine
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Another Look: The Cathedral of St. John the Divine

Among its notable elements is the tile dome for the Crossing, one of the largest freestanding domes in the world and constructed by Rafael Guastavino in 1909.

Mother Mosque of America
Mother Mosque of America by RifeIdeas (CC BY-SA)

The Mother Mosque of America

Cedar Rapids, Iowa

This building, once known as The Rose of Fraternity Lodge and now also called the Islamic Cultural & Heritage Center, dates back to 1934 when it was unveiled as a one-story, wooden-framed building created in the Prairie Schoolhouse style to serve as both mosque and social center. It remains significant — and is on the National Register of Historic Places — for being the first building designed and constructed as a house of worship for Muslims in America.

The Mother Mosque of America
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Another Look: The Mother Mosque of America

Today, it remains the oldest surviving place of worship for Muslims and remains key in studying the history of immigration as well as the development of Islam in this country. Today, after its purchase by the Islamic Council of Iowa in the 1990s, it was renovated to again serve as a place of worship and resource about the Islamic religion and the history of Muslims in America.

National Cathedral in Full View
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Washington National Cathedral

Washington, D.C.

The cathedral of the Episcopal Church, officially named The Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington, is another neo-Gothic treasure. It's the sixth-largest cathedral in the world and was constructed over an 83-year period. Its website notes it's an "architectural masterpiece designed to point eyes and hearts toward things above," a modern interpretation of 14th century English gothic style.

Washington DC, USA, National Cathedral
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Another Look: Washington National Cathedral

Among the highlights are the "Creation" Rose window, featuring more than 10,000 pieces of glass; the "Scientists and Technicians" window, commemorating the exploration of space and man's first steps on the moon; the War Memorial Chapel; and quirky gargoyles including the 1986-installed carving of Darth Vader (no kidding) that remains the most-popular site.    

 

Related: Free or Cheap Things to Do in Washington, D.C.

Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim
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Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim

Charleston, South Carolina

Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim was founded in 1749 and remains one of the country's oldest Jewish congregations. This, its current home of the Congregation Beth Elohim, was built in 1840, its stately colonnades reflecting its Greek Revival architectural style, and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1980.

Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim
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Another Look: Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim

Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim is known as the "birthplace of American Reform Judaism."

Thorncrown Chapel
Thorncrown Chapel by Bill Keaggy (CC BY-NC-SA)

Thorncrown Chapel

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

The architecture of this Christian chapel is singular — a stunning wooden structure featuring some 425 windows and more than 6,000-square feet of glass, all situated on more than 100 tons of native stone. The woodland gem has hosted more than 6 million visitors since opening in 1980.

Thorncrown Chapel
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Another Look: Thorncrown Chapel

It was designed by architect E. Fay Jones. The sense of nature is palpable, making the site not only a place to worship but also a popular wedding destination.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception by AgnosticPreachersKid (CC BY-SA)

National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Washington, D.C.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception remains the largest Roman Catholic church in North America, one of the 10 largest churches in the world. Its design was based on Old World cathedrals, a Romanesque-Byzantine creation made of stone, brick, tile, and mortar (no steel).

Inside of Basilica National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC, USA
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Another Look: National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Construction began in 1930 and continued for nearly 40 years. There are several chapels within the site, noted for its ecclesiastical artwork including sculptures, as well as its intricate mosaics accenting the chapels and domes in the Great Upper Church.

St. Paul's Chapel
St. Paul's Chapel by ajay_suresh (CC BY)

St. Paul's Chapel

New York 

The chapel building of Trinity Church, an Episcopal parish in lower Manhattan, is a 1766 building long noted for its Late Georgian church architecture. It will remain forever linked to the 9/11 terror attacks of 2001, though. Situated across the street from the World Trade Center, the chapel itself suffered no physical damage despite its proximity to the horrific events unfolding steps away.

NYC - St Paul Chapel
NYC - St Paul Chapel by Jean-Christophe BENOIST (CC BY)

Another Look: St. Paul's Chapel

The chapel would become a refuge for those working on the rescue and recovery effort, offering rest, food and spiritual recovery to earn the nickname "The Little Chapel That Stood."

The Cadet Chapel at United States Air Force Academy
The Cadet Chapel at United States Air Force Academy by Greverod (CC BY-SA)

Cadet Chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy

Colorado Springs, Colorado

The most recognizable building at the academy, the all-faith center of worship is also the most-visited, man-made tourist attraction in the state. Its aluminum, glass and steel structure — designed by Walter Netsch Jr. of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and opened in 1962 — features more than a dozen spires soaring 150 feet into the sky, a testament to American academic architecture.

US Air Force Academy: Cadet Chapel
US Air Force Academy: Cadet Chapel by Wally Gobetz (CC BY-NC-ND)

Another Look: Cadet Chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy

Closed for repairs until 2023, it's still worth seeing from the outside, while earning a spot on your long-term travel list.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church Pittsburgh
Emmanuel Episcopal Church Pittsburgh by Tim Engleman (CC BY-SA)

Emmanuel Episcopal Church

Pittsburgh 

An unusual shape combined with distinctive brickwork — selected as an economical choice but eventually becoming its signature — mark this 1886 building that was one of the last designs of Henry Hobson Richardson. A National Historic Landmark, the Emmanuel Episcopal Church continues to operate today as an active parish.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church
Emmanuel Episcopal Church by Jim Forest (CC BY-NC-ND)

Another Look: Emmanuel Episcopal Church

Of note, its interior features include side windows containing Romanesque stained glass, while the triple window in the entrance gable contains glass by Tiffany.

St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Sitka, Alaska
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St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral

Sitka, Alaska

This cathedral of the Orthodox Church in America was built in the 19th century as the earliest Orthodox cathedral in the New World, when Alaska was still under the control of Russia. St. Michael's came under the control of the Diocese of Alaska after 1872 and was recognized in 1962 as a National Historic Landmark and remains an important testament to the legacy of Russian influence in North America. Some of the cathedral's icons date back to the mid-17th century.

St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral
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St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral

A fire in 1966 led to a rebuilding, with its green domes and gold crosses creating a distinctive local landmark.

Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church Heritage Sanctuary
Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church Heritage Sanctuary by Michael Barera (CC BY-SA)

Ebenezer Baptist Church

Atlanta 

Long considered the "spiritual home" of Martin Luther King Jr., this predominantly African-American congregation was founded in 1886 and has been housed in its current location since 1922. King's grandfather, the Rev. Adam Daniel Williams, and father, Martin Luther King, would serve as not only pastors but also leaders in the fight against racism, a legacy that MLK Jr. carried on.

Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia
Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia by Mikefairbanks (CC BY-SA)

Another Look: Ebenezer Baptist Church

The Civil Rights leader would deliver his first sermon here in 1947, become co-pastor with his father in 1959 and continue in that role until his death in 1968, his life coming full circle with his funeral held in this church where he was also baptized. In 2001, a Save America's Treasures Grant along with private and corporate donations allowed the National Park Service to begin the restoration of the site, including its historic electric sign.    


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Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam
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Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam

Queens, New York

The Hindu Temple Society of North America was incorporated in 1970, and soon after that acquired the site of a former Russian Orthodox Church to build what it says is the first traditional Hindu temple in America. Informally known as the Ganesh Temple, the massive and intricate granite structure was completed in 1977 and consecrated that summer.

Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam
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Another Look: Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam

In addition to religious services, the site hosts festivals, cultural classes, yoga and meditation, senior activities and even offers South Indian specialties in the Temple Canteen.

Hindu Temple in Illinois
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Sri Venkateswara Swami Temple

Aurora, Illinois

Midwestern Hindu devotees came together in the 1980s, led by nine families who donated 20 acres of land that became the site of this sprawling Balaji temple. According to its website's history section, "Since Sri Venkateswara swami (Balaji) temple is an institution that has to serve innumerable generations to come, plans were drawn on a magnificent scale related to the means available and the needs of the moment."

Hindu Temple, near Chicago
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Another Look: Sri Venkateswara Swami Temple

Padmasri M.Muthiah Sthapathi, an expert on temple construction in India, teamed up with Sri Subhash Nadkarni, a noted Chicago-area architect, and together they designed the temple that integrates ancient practices with modern technology. It has continued to grow, with two major expansions since its 1986 creation.

Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
Wikimedia Commons

Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity

New York

This cathedral, which sits within the city's Upper East Side, serves as the seat of His Eminence, Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, and is so designated the "National Cathedral" of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of America. The church's history dates back to the late-19th century when Holy Trinity became the second Greek Orthodox church in the Americas and the first in New York City in 1891.

Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
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Another Look: Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity

It has been housed in its current location since 1932, a Neo-Byzantine treasure that, according to the its website, "is filled with impressive Byzantine mosaics by Sirio Tonelli, imported Italian stained glass in true Byzantine colors and forms, and Botticino marble for walls, columns, and the altar area. The iconography on the dome, pendentives, and other areas, is the work of Georgios Gliatas, a student of the renowned 20th century iconographer, Fotis Kontoglou." A restoration project is now underway.

St. John's Cathedral in Savannah
St. John's Cathedral in Savannah by Drumguy8800 (CC BY-SA)

The Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist

Savannah, Georgia

With a history reaching back to the late 1700s, this institution went through several locations and incarnations before landing on the current site, dedicated in 1876. A massive fire led to destruction in 1898, but the rebuilt cathedral was dedicated in 1900 and by 1912, its extensive redecoration and artwork, which include elaborate murals and Austrian-crafted stained-glass windows, were complete.

Cathedral of St. John The Baptist
Cathedral of St. John The Baptist by TravelingOtter (CC BY-SA)

Another Look: The Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist

This Roman Catholic cathedral and minor basilica (so designated by Pope Francis in 2020) serves as the Mother Church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah, its distinctive twin-spired façade a local landmark and tribute to the French Gothic style.

Front view of St. Louis cathedral with green tile roof and stone Byzantine style architecture
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Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

St. Louis

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis is, perhaps, what might come to mind when you say "cathedral" — it's all domed and vaulted ceilings and intricate mosaics. And those mosaics are key to the distinction of this landmark that was the result of some dozen architects and artisans coming together to envision the church's creation from 1907-1914. That mosaic work began in 1912 and was only fully completed in 1988, a total creation containing some 41.5 million glass tesserae pieces in more than 7,000 colors.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, Missouri
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Another Look: Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

There is also an on-site museum and archives that delve into the elements, from sculptures to the organ, but for those at home, the cathedral website offers a virtual tour that can only inspire a future visit.

Congregation Shearith Israel
Congregation Shearith Israel by Gryffindor (CC BY-SA)

Congregation Shearith Israel

New York

Known as The Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue, this house of worship is home to what is considered the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States. It was established in 1654 New Amsterdam and is closely tied to the founding of the Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island. This synagogue, on the city's Central Park West since 1897, features Tiffany windows and crystal chandeliers, elegant touches only hinted at from its stately façade.

Torah ark of Congregation Shearith Israel
Torah ark of Congregation Shearith Israel by jeremy Seto (CC BY-NC-SA)

Another Look: Congregation Shearith Israel

The New York congregation, which maintains centuries of archives, was instrumental in founding a number of the country's leading Jewish organizations including the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1886.

Union Church of Pocantico Hills in New York State
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Union Church of Pocantico Hills

Pocantico Hills, New York

There's some world-class artistry housed within this humble 1921 stone church nestled into New York's northern suburbs. Historic Hudson Valley, a nonprofit education and historic preservation organization, operates the Union Church as one of its regional sites, this one boasting stained-glass windows commissioned by the Rockefeller family and executed by European masters.

Union Church of Pocantico Hills
Union Church of Pocantico Hills by Elisa.rolle (CC BY-SA)

Another Look: Union Church of Pocantico Hills

It's not every quiet country church that features Henri Matisse's last work, "The Rose Window," as well as nine windows by Marc Chagall.

St. Mary Catholic Church
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St. Mary Catholic Church

High Hill/Schulenberg, Texas

St. Mary has been called the "Queen of the Painted Churches," a collection of vibrantly decorated churches built in the 19th century by the area's Austrian and German immigrants. Don't be fooled by the straightforward exterior of the building, though. Inside, there is elaborate stenciling, more than a dozen stained-glass windows and vivid statuary that combine to create a memorable visit.

St. Mary Catholic Church
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Another Look: St. Mary Catholic Church

With a history dating back to 1869, this present-day church was built in 1906 and painted in 1912.

Memorial Presbyterian Church, St. Augustine
Memorial Presbyterian Church, St. Augustine by Steven Martin (CC BY-NC-ND)

Memorial Presbyterian Church

St. Augustine, Florida

You might have to take a second look. Amid the palm trees that reflect its location, the eye-catching domes and overall design of this historic church seem more suited to a European city than the Florida coast. The home of Florida's oldest Presbyterian congregation (1824), the current location, dedicated in 1890, was the gift of industrialist Henry Morrison Flagler (yes, of Standard Oil fame and of the Gilded-Age Palm Beach mansion that now hosts his namesake museum).

Memorial Presbyterian Church
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Another Look: Memorial Presbyterian Church

As for his other nearby buildings, Flagler again tapped the New York-based design firm of Carrère and Hastings for the church inspired by St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, Italy, and containing Spanish, Moorish, Italian and Baroque styles. Interior highlights include Italian marble floors, pews carved from mahogany and stained-glass windows by artist Herman T. Schladermundt.

St. John's Episcopal Church
St. John's Episcopal Church by AgnosticPreachersKid (CC BY-SA)

St. John's Episcopal Church

Washington, D.C.

The iconic Greek Revival building, designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, has stood a block from the White House since its first service was held in 1816. Its significant features include its steeple bell, weighing in at nearly 1,000 pounds, cast by Paul Revere's son in Boston and in continuous use since its 1822 installation. Also of note are the dozens of French-designed Lorin Stained Glass Windows. Known as "the church of the Presidents," this National Historic Landmark has had every president since James Madison attend a service.

Policemen Standing in Front of St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. USA
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Another Look: St. John's Episcopal Church

Most recently, the church gained more than its share of media attention — when a May 31, 2020, fire set during the protests against police brutality and racism, prompted a polarizing photo op the next day from then-President Donald Trump.

Church of the Mission San Diego de Alcalá
Church of the Mission San Diego de Alcalá by Bernard Gagnon (CC BY-SA)

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá

San Diego

It was back in the 18th century when Spain built a string of missions across California, from San Diego to Sonoma, in hopes of "gaining a foothold" in the new frontier, according to VisitCalifornia.com. This basilica was the first, built in 1769 and restored in 1931. It remains notable for its bell tower, which soars 46 feet into the sky and features five bells, the largest of which is 1,200 pounds.

Interior of the Church of the Mission San Diego de Alcalá
Interior of the Church of the Mission San Diego de Alcalá by Bernard Gagnon (CC BY-SA)

Another Look: Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá

Elaborate gardens further enhance the site's serene feel. And though the mission era ended in 1834, its influence lives on in California's architecture, from red-tile roofs to arches and bell towers. Today, the 21 missions remain, each open to visitors and featuring museums and gift shops — and in most cases, still offering mass.

Christ Cathedral and crystal Crean Tower in Garden Grove, California.
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Christ Cathedral

Garden Grove, California

Notable for its reflective glass main building and its entire complex's forward-thinking architecture created by a team of world-class architects and designers, from Philip Johnson and John Burgee to Richard Meier, this site, dedicated in 1980, served as the longtime home of evangelist Robert H. Schuller and his Garden Grove Community Church. The "Hour of Power," in fact, was broadcast from "Crystal Cathedral," as it was formerly known.

Christ Cathedral
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Another Look: Christ Cathedral

The 34-acre campus was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in 2012 and is believed to be the first onetime Protestant church converted to a Catholic house of worship.

Saint Louis Cathedral in New Orleans
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St. Louis Cathedral

New Orleans

Officially known as The Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France, this is the oldest cathedral in continuous use in America, its triple steeples overlooking Jackson Square and providing a New Orleans landmark. With a history that reaches back to the 1720s — the devoted have worshiped in churches on this site since then — the cathedral was completed in 1794 but suffered destruction from fire and was rebuilt with the current structure unveiled in the 1850s.

St. Louis Cathedral Interior, New Orleans, Louisiana
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Another Look: St. Louis Cathedral

The seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans, it's a reflection of Renaissance, Gothic Revival and Spanish Colonial architecture, complete with wonderfully detailed ceiling murals and stately flags flanking its center aisle.    


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