From towering domes to glistening glass windows, to haunting sculptures and magnificent artwork, churches are not only a place for sanctuary, but also historic landmarks with intricate architecture and deep histories.
1. Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Chanthaburi: Bangkok, Thailand
Known as the largest Catholic building in Thailand, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was built in 1906. Greeting visitors at its entrance is a majestic statue of the Virgin Mary, completely covered with gold, gemstones and enamels – a gift to the church from the Chanthaburi Christian gem dealers and goldsmiths community. Atop its towers, visitors can expect an impressive view of the town of Chanthaburi and its picturesque surroundings.
2. Westminster Abbey: London, England
One of London’s iconic sights, Westminster Abbey is a large Gothic church located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. Owned by the royal family, it is one of the most notable religious buildings in the UK. The abbey also serves as the burial ground for approximately 3,300 people, including politicians, sovereigns and notables such as Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton and David Livingstone. Built in the 10th century, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site
3. Santo Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church, Miagao: Iloilo, Philippines
Built in 1897 and completed only a decade later, the Santo Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church is famous for the artistic sculptural relief carved on its facade. Depicting the image of St Christopher carrying the Christ child, the structure’s unique colour is due to its limestone and adobe construction. Described as the finest example of a fortress Baroque church by the UNESCO Convention, it is also one of the four Baroque churches in the Philippines inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. As one of the country’s architectural gems, the church stands as a living legacy of Filipino culture and their way of life.
4. Duomo di Milano: Milan, Italy
An exceptionally large and elaborate Gothic cathedral in the main square of Milan, the Duomo di Milano is one of the most famous buildings in Europe. It is the largest Gothic cathedral and the second largest Catholic cathedral in the world. The huge structure is made of brick faced with marble donated by Duke Gian Galeazzo, featuring 3,400 statues, 135 gargoyles and 700 figures. Don’t miss the rooftop terrace – it’s a fair hike up the stairs or take the elevator – where visitors can have a view of the city all the way to the Alps.
5. La Sainte-Chapelle: Paris, France
Constructed for the royal palace and to house precious relics by the devout King Louis IX of France, La Sainte-Chapelle (The Holy Church) was also a result of his political ambition to be the central monarch of western Christendom. Said to be one of the high points of French High Gothic Architecture, the chapel features an exquisite 6,458 sq ft of stained glass windows in deep reds and blues, and illustrates 1,130 figures from the Bible.
Tip: Nearby is the Conciergerie, which can be accessed on a combined ticket with Sainte-Chapelle. Known as Paris’ oldest prison, it is where Marie Antoinette and later, the leaders of the Revolution, were held before their execution.
6. Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Named after the Virgin Mary, the Notre Dame Cathedral is the one remaining stronghold of Catholicism in the largely Buddhist Vietnam. Built between 1863 and 1880 by French colonists, it was constructed with materials directly imported from France, including the red bricks of the exterior walls, which retain their bright and lively colour today. In front of the cathedral stands a statue of the Virgin Mary, which is said to have shed tears in 2005, causing a stir within the city.
7. Basilica of Our Lady of Dolours: Kerala, India
Locally known as “Puthen Pally” (which means new church), the Basilica of Our Lady of Dolours is said to be the largest church in India and the third tallest church in Asia. It is well-known for its remarkable Gothic style architecture and three magnificent towers, two in the front and one in the rear. Along with 15 altars and musical church bells imported from Germany, its exuberant interior is decorated with images of saints, scenes from the Bible and murals, including one of the holy trinity on its ceiling.