World's Most Beautiful Churches
Just in time for Easter, we've rounded up 10 of mankind's most miraculous odes to faith. Consider this slide show a little piece of heaven on earth.
Whether or not you're religious, there's no denying that churches are among man's most spectacular creations. From a modern glass-and-pine place of worship deep in the Arkansas countryside to a wooden stave church dating back to the Middle Ages in Norway, we scoured the globe to identify the most breathtaking churches in the world.
Borgund Stave Church
The country best known for fjords and otherworldly Arctic landscapes is also the only place in Northern Europe with Middle Ages–era wooden churches that are still intact. Norway has 28 in all—each attractive in its own right—but the loveliest of them is the Borgund Stave Church in western Norway, which dates to 1180. Named for the vertical wooden boards (called staves) from which they are built, stave churches are famous for their nail-less construction of interlocking notches and grooves. The result often looks like an upside down Viking ship. The Borgund is a wonderful example of stave architecture, with four carved dragonheads sprouting from its rooftop gables—like something you'd see in the Far East—and steeply pitched rooftops that mirror the dramatic plunges of the surrounding mountains. Apart from a row of benches, a simple altar, and a cupboard for storing religious vessels, there's not much to see inside the church, but the fantastical exterior is well worth a look.
How to go: Laerdal is 183 miles—and an easy four-hour drive—northwest of Oslo, Norway's capital city. There is an entry fee of 70 Norwegian kroners (about $13) for adults.
Church of Hallgrímur
No matter where you are in Iceland's capital city, chances are you'll be able to spot the towering steeple of this most unusual concrete structure. At 244 feet tall, the Church of Hallgrímur—or Hallgrímskirkja, as locals call it—is the tallest building in Reykjavík and the largest church in all of Iceland. Viewed head on, Hallgrímur resembles a jagged arrowhead or spaceship, erupting from the ground. The design is meant to conjure the rugged mountains, volcanic basalt, and glacial landscapes of Iceland's supernatural scenery. Hallgrímur was under construction for over 30 years and finally completed in 1974, inspiring much controversy along the way thanks to its radical form. And while the architect, Guðjón Samúelsson, did not live to see the church's completion, he'd surely be honored by its presence on nearly every Reykjavík postcard. For a small fee, you can ride an elevator up into the steeple for fabulous views across the capital and out to the Atlantic (rides are 500 Icelandic króna—or about $4.40—per person). The minimalist interior is in keeping with the church's Lutheran heritage, save for one bold element: an enormous organ with some 5,000 pipes that tower up to 50 feet high.
How to go: Hallgrímur is centrally located downtown in Reykjavík. There is a suggested donation of 50 kr (about 44¢) for entry.
La Sagrada Família
This gorgeously macabre Gothic cathedral, designed in the 1880s by celebrated Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, is Barcelona's most famous tourist site. La Sagrada Família is constructed of stones and rocks, and the jumbled way they're pieced together resembles a melting house of wax or mineral deposits inside a psychedelic, stalagmite-rich cave. Situated at the end of a bustling city street lined with cafés and shops, the towering cathedral appears to have been plucked from a fantasy animation flick, with its cavern-like nooks and crannies, decorated with gargoyles and monsters and columns that completely ignore the right-angle-to-the-floor norm. Gaudí worked on the project for some 40 years but died before construction was completed. He's buried in a crypt beneath the nave. It's easy to imagine the eccentric artist overseeing the ongoing work of his masterpiece. Construction on the cathedral, including the east-facing main face, is scheduled to continue for another 20 to 30 years.
How to go: La Sagrada Família is located in the Barcelona neighborhood of Eixample, in the center of city. There is an entry fee of €12.50 (about $18) per person.