Architecture for our Spirit and Soul - Sacred Buildings

Where People Pray, Worship, and Reflect

white sails like the sydney opera house form an abstract modern lotus
Bahai Lotus temple, Delhi, India, 1986, by Architect Fariborz Sahba. Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Around the world, spiritual beliefs have inspired great architecture. Begin your journey here to celebrate some of the famous gathering places — synagogues, churches, cathedrals, temples, shrines, mosques, and other buildings designed for prayer, reflection, and religious worship.

Neue Synagogue

Blue and Gold domes of Neue Synagogue in the Scheunenviertel District (Barn Quarter), Berlin's once large Jewish district
Sacred Buildings: Domed Neue Synagogue in Berlin, Germany Neue Synagogue is in the Scheunenviertel District (Barn Quarter), in the heart of Berlin's once large Jewish district. Photo by Sigrid Estrada/Hulton Archive Collection/Liaison/Getty Images (cropped)

The blue-domed Neue Synagogue, or New Synagogue, is in the Scheunenviertel District (Barn Quarter), in the heart of Berlin's once large Jewish district. The new Neue Synagogue opened in May 1995.

The original Neue Synagogue, or New Synagogue, was built between 1859 and 1866. It was the main synagogue for the Berlin Jewish population in Oranienburger Strasse and the largest synagogue in Europe.

Architect Eduard Knoblauch borrowed Moorish ideas for the Neo-Byzantine design of Neue Synagogue. The synagogue is lavished with glazed bricks and terracotta details. The gilded dome is 50 meters high. Ornate and colorful, Neue Synagogue is often compared to the Moorish style Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain.

Neue Synagogue was revolutionary for its time. Iron was used for floor supports, the dome structure, and visible columns. Architect Eduard Knoblauch died before the Synagogue was completed so most of the construction was supervised by architect Friedrich August Stüler.

Neue Synagogue was destroyed during World War II, in part by the Nazis and in part by Allied bombing. In 1958 the ruined building was demolished. Reconstruction began after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The front facade of the building and the dome were restored. The rest of the building had to be entirely reconstructed.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

The 13th century old St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland
Sacred Buildings: St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland The 13th century old St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland. Photo by Jeremy Voisey/E+ Collection/Getty Images

Where is the author Jonathan Swift buried? Once a Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Swift was laid to rest here in 1745.

From a water well on this land, at this site somewhat removed from the City of Dublin, a 5th century British-born priest named "Patrick" baptized early Christian followers. Patrick's religious experiences in Ireland led not only to his sainthood, but also ultimately to this Irish cathedral being named after him — Saint Patrick (c.385-461 AD), patron saint of Ireland.

Documented evidence of a sacred building on this spot dates back to 890 AD. The first church likely was a small, wooden structure, but the grand cathedral you see here was constructed with stone in the popular style of the day. Built from 1220 to 1260 AD, during what became known as the Gothic period in Western architecture, St. Patrick's Cathedral takes the cruciform floor plan design similar to French Cathedrals like Chartres Cathedral.

Yet, Dublin's National Cathedral of the Anglican Church of Ireland is NOT Roman Catholic today. Since the mid-1500s and the English Reformation, St. Patrick's, along with nearby Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, have been respectively the national and local Cathedrals of the Church of Ireland, which is not under the jurisdiction of the Pope.

Claiming to be the largest Cathedral in Ireland, St. Patrick's has had a long, tumultuous history — like Saint Patrick himself.

Unity Temple by Frank Lloyd Wright

Massive concrete Unity Temple designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park, Illinois
Sacred Buildings: Cubic Concrete Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois Frank Lloyd Wright used poured concrete for the revolutionary cubist Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois. Photo By Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Frank Lloyd Wright's revolutionary Unity Temple was one of the earliest public buildings constructed of poured concrete.

The project was one of Wright's favorite commissions. He was asked to design the church in 1905 after a storm destroyed the wooden structure. At the time, the design plan for a cubist building made of concrete was revolutionary. The floorplan called for a temple area conncected to a "unity house" by an entrance and terraces.

Frank Lloyd Wright chose concrete because it was, in his words, "cheap," and yet could be made as dignified as traditional masonry. He hoped that the building would express the powerful simplicity of ancient temples. Wright suggested that the building be called a "temple" instead of a church.

Unity Temple was constructed between 1906 and 1908 at a cost of about $60,000. The concrete was poured in place into wooden molds. Wright's plan didn't call for expansion joints, so the concrete has cracked over time. Nevertheless, worship is held at Unity Temple every Sunday by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

New Main Synagogue, Ohel Jakob

The modernist New Main Synagogue, or Ohel Jakob, in Munich, Germany
Sacred Buildings: New Main Synagogue in Munich, Germany The modernist New Main Synagogue, or Ohel Jakob, in Munich, Germany. Photo by Andreas Strauss/LOOK/Getty Images

The modernist New Main Synagogue, or Ohel Jakob, in Munich, Germany was built to replace the old one destroyed during Kristallnacht.

Designed by architects Rena Wandel-Hoefer and Wolfgang Lorch, the New Main Synagogue, or Ohel Jakob, is a box-shaped travertine stone building with a glass cube on top. The glass is covered in what is called "a bronze mesh," making the architectural temple appear like a biblical tent. The name Ohel Jakob means Jacob's Tent in Hebrew. The building symbolizes the Israelites' journey through the desert, with the Old Testament verse "How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob!" inscribed at the synagogue's entrance.

The original synagogues in Munich were destroyed by Nazis during Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in 1938. The New Main Synagogue was built between 2004 and 2006 and was inaugurated on the 68th anniversary of Kristallnacht in 2006. An underground tunnel between the synagogue and a Jewish museum houses a memorial to Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Chartres Cathedral

Aerial view of Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France
Sacred Buildings: Gothic Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France Aerial view of Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France. Photo by CHICUREL Arnaud/ Images

Notre-Dame de Chartres Cathedral is famous for its French Gothic character, including the soaring height built upon the cross floor plan, easily seen from overhead.

Originally, Chartres Cathedral was a Romanesque style church constructed in 1145. In 1194, all but the west front was destroyed by fire. Between 1205 and 1260, Chartres Cathedral was rebuilt on the foundation of the original church.

The reconstructed Chartres Cathedral was Gothic in style, displaying innovations that set the standard for thirteenth century architecture. The massive weight of its high clerestory windows meant that flying buttresses -- external supports -- had to be used in new ways. Each curved pier connects with an arch to a wall and extends (or "flies") to the ground or a pier some distance away. Thus, the supporting power of the buttress was greatly increased.

Built of limestone, Chartres Cathedral is 112 feet (34 meters) high and 427 feet (130 meters) long.

Bagsværd Church

minimalist furnishings beneath a vast, curved ceiling with white folds of concrete beneath clerestory windows
Bagsvaerd Church, Copenhagen, Denmark, 1976.

seier+seier via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) cropped

Built in 1973-76, Bagsværd Church was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jørn Utzon. Commenting on his design for the Bagsværd Church, Utzon wrote:

" At an exhibition of my works, including the Sydney Opera House there was also a drawing of a small church in the centre of a town. Two ministers representing a congregation that had been saving for 25 years to build a new church, saw it and asked me if I would be the architect for their church. There I stood, and was offered the finest task an architect can have - a magnificent time when it was the light from above that showed us the way."

According to Utzon, the genesis of the design went back to a time when he was teaching at the University of Hawaii and spent time on the beaches. One evening, he was struck by the regular passage of clouds, thinking they could be the basis for the ceiling of a church. His early sketches showed groups of people on the beach with clouds overhead. His sketches evolved with the people framed by columns on each side and billowing vaults above, and moving toward a cross.

Al-Kadhimiya Mosque

Mosque Al-Kadhimiya in Baghdad, Iraq
Sacred Buildings: Elaborate Mosaics in Baghdad, Iraq Mosque Al-Kadhimiya in Baghdad, Iraq. Photo by Targa/age fotostock Collection/Getty Images

Elaborate tilework covers the Al-Kadhimiya Mosque in Baghdad's Kadhimain district. The mosque was built in the 16th century yet is the final earthly resting place for two Imams who died early in the 9th century: Imam Musa Al-Kadhim (Musa ibn Ja'far, 744-799 AD) and Imam Muhammad Taqi Al-Jawad (Muhammad ibn Ali, 810-835 AD). This high-profile architecture in Iraq is often visited by American soldiers in the area.

Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)

Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey
Sacred Buildings: The Byzantine Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey. See the interior. Photo by oytun karadayi/E+/Getty Images

Christian and Islamic architecture combine in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.

The English name for Hagia Sophia is Divine Wisdom. In Latin, the cathedral is called Sancta Sophia. In Turkish the name is Ayasofya. But by any name, Hagia Sophia (generally pronounced EYE-ah so-FEE-ah) is a treasure of remarkable Byzantine architecture. Decorative mosaics and structural use of pendentives are but two examples of this fine "East meets West" architecture.

Christian and Islamic art combine in the Hagia Sophia, a great Christian cathedral until the mid-1400s. After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the Hagia Sophia became a mosque. Then, in 1935, the Hagia Sophia became a museum.

Hagia Sophia was a finalist in the campaign to choose New 7 Wonders of the World.

Does the Hagia Sophia look familiar? Constructed in the 6th century, the iconic Ayasofya became an inspiration for later buildings. Compare Hagia Sophia with the 17th century Blue Mosque of Istanbul.

Dome of the Rock

Aerial view of Friday prayer, Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel
Sacred Buildings: 7th Century Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Israel Friday prayer on Temple Mount with the Wailing wall and the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel. Photo by Jan Greune/LOOK/Getty Images

With its golden dome, the Dome of the Rock at al-Aqsa Mosque is one of the oldest surviving examples of Islamic architecture.

Built between 685 and 691 by the Umayyad builder Caliph Abd al-Malik, the Dome of the Rock is an ancient holy site set on a legendary rock in Jerusalem. Outside, the building is octagonal, with a door and 7 windows on each side. Inside, the domed structure is circular.

The Dome of the Rock is made of marble and richly decorated with tile, mosaics, gilded wood, and painted stucco. The builders and artisans came from many different regions and incorporated their individual techniques and styles into the final design. The dome is made of gold and stretches 20 meters in diameter.

The Dome of the Rock gets its name from the massive rock (al-Sakhra) located at its center, upon which, according to Islamic history, the prophet Muhammad stood before he ascended to heaven. This rock is equally important in the Judaic tradition, which considers it the symbolic foundation upon which the world was built and the place of the Binding of Isaac.

The Dome of the Rock is not a mosque, but is often given that name because the holy site is located in the atrium at Masjid al-Aqsa (al-Aqsa mosque).

Rumbach Synagogue

Rumbach Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary is Moorish in design.
Sacred Buildings: Moorish Rumbach Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary Rumbach Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary is Moorish in design. Photo © Tom Hahn/iStockPhoto

Designed by architect Otto Wagner, Rumbach Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary is Moorish in design.

Built between 1869 and 1872, the Rumbach Street Synagogue was the first major work of the Viennese Secessionist architect Otto Wagner. Wagner borrowed ideas from Islamic architecture. The synagogue is octogonally-shaped with two towers that resemble the minarets of an Islamic mosque.

Rumbach Synagogue has seen much deterioration and is not currently functioning as a consecrated place of worship. The exterior facade has been restored, but the the interior still needs work.

Sacred Temples of Angkor

Bayon Temple stone face at Angkor, the sacred temples in Cambodia
Sacred Buildings: Sacred Temples of Angkor in Cambodia Bayon Temple at Angkor in Cambodia. Photo by Jakob Leitne/E+ Collection/Getty Images

The world's largest complex of sacred temples, Angkor, Cambodia, was a finalist in the campaign to choose the "New 7 Wonders of the World."

Temples of the Khmer Empire, dating between the 9th and 14th centuries, dot the Cambodian landscape in Southeast Asia. The most famous temples are the well-preserved Angkor Wat and the stone faces of Bayon Temple.

Angkor Archaeological Park is one of the largest sacred temple complexes in the world.

Smolny Cathedral

Smolny Cathedral with its bright blue and white colors in St.Petersburg, Russia
Sacred Buildings: Rococo Style Smolny Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia Smolny Cathedral with its bright blue and white colors in St.Petersburg, Russia. Photo by Ken Scicluna/AWL Images Collection/Getty Images

Italian architect Rastrelli lavished Smolny Cathedral with Rococo details. The cathedral was contructed between 1748 and 1764.

Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli was born in Paris but died in St. Petersburg, only after designing some of the most striking late baroque architecture in all of Russia. The Smolny Cathedral in St. Petersburg, one of Russia's great religious buildings at the center of a convent complex, was built at the same time as another of his designs, the Hermitage Winter Palace.

Kiyomizu Temple

Architecture blends with nature
Sacred Buildings: Buddhist Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan. Press photo © 2000-2006 NewOpenWorld Foundation

Architecture blends with nature at the Buddhist Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan.

The words Kiyomizu, Kiyomizu-dera or Kiyomizudera can refer to several Buddhist temples, but the most famous is the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto. In Japanese, kiyoi mizu means pure water.

Kyoto's Kiyomizu Temple was constructed in 1633 on the foundations of a much earlier temple. A waterfall from adjacent hills tumbles into the temple complex. Leading into the temple is a wide veranda with hundreds of pillars.

Kiyomizu Temple was a finalist in the campaign to choose the New 7 Wonders of the World.

Assumption Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Dormition

Assumption Cathedral, Cathedral of the Dormition, Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, golden onion domes
Sacred Buildings: Early Renaissance Architecture in Moscow, Russia Assumption Cathedral, Cathedral of the Dormition, Kremlin, Moscow, Russia. Photo by Demetrio Carrasco/AWL Images Collection/Getty Images

Built by Ivan III and designed by the Italian architect Aristotle Fioravanti, the Russian Orthodox Dormition Cathedral is testament to Moscow's diverse architecture.

Throughout the Middle Ages, Russia's most important buildings followed Byzantine patterns, inspired by the architecture of Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey) and the eastern Roman Empire. The plan for Russia's churches was that of a Greek cross, with four equal wings. Walls were high with few openings. Steep roofs were topped with a multitude of domes. During the Renaissance, however, Byzantine ideas mingled with classical themes.

When Ivan III established a unified Russian state, he asked the celebrated Italian architect, Alberti (also known as Aristotle) Fioravanti, to design a grand new cathedral for Moscow. Built on the site of a modest church erected by Ivan I, the new Assumption Cathedral combined traditional Russian Orthodox building techniques with ideas from the Italian Renaissance.

The cathedral was constructed of plain gray limestone, without ornamentation. At the summit are five golden onion domes designed by Russian masters. The interior of the cathedral is lavishly decorated with more than a 100 statues and multiple tiers of icons. The new cathedral was completed in 1479.

Hassan II Mosque, Morocco

Hassan II Mosque, completed in 1993 on the Atlantic Coast, in Casablanca, Morocco
Sacred Buildings : 1993 Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco Hassan II Mosque, completed in 1993 on the Atlantic Coast, in Casablanca, Morocco. Photo by Danita Delimont/Gallo Images Collection/Getty Images

Designed by architect Michel Pinseau, Hassan II Mosque is the largest religious monument in the world after Mecca.

Hassan II Mosque was built between 1986 and 1993 for the 60th birthday of former Moroccan king Hassan II. The Hassan II Mosque has space for 25,000 worshipers inside and another 80,000 outside. The 210-meter minaret is the tallest in the world and is visible day and night for miles around.

Although Hassan II Mosque was designed by a French architect, it is Moroccan through and through. Except for the white granite columns and the glass chandeliers, the materials used to construct the mosque were taken from the Morocco region.

Six thousand traditional Moroccan artisans worked for five years to turn these raw materials into mosaics, stone and marble floors and columns, sculpted plaster moldings, and carved and painted wood ceilings.

The mosque also includes a number of modern touches: it was built to withstand earthquakes and has a heated floor, electric doors, a sliding roof, and lasers which shine at night from the top of the minaret toward Mecca.

Many Casablancans have mixed feelings about Hassan II Mosque. On one hand, they are proud that this beautiful monument dominates their city. On the other, they are aware that the expense (estimates range from $500 to 800 million) could have been put to other uses. To build the mosque, it was necessary to destroy a large, impoverished section of Casablanca. The residents did not receive any compensation.

This Northern African religious center, on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, has been subject to damage from salt water and requires continuous restoration and upkeep. It remains not only a sacred building of peace, but a tourist destination for all. Its intricate tile designs are marketed in a variety of ways, most notably on switch plates and electrical outlet covers, coasters, ceramic tiles, flags, and coffee mugs. 

Church of the Transfiguration

Church of the Transfiguration, wooden Russian church on Kizhi island, over 20 onion domes
Sacred Buildings: Wooden Church of the Transfiguration, Kizhi, Russia Church of the Transfiguration. Photo by DEA / W. BUSS/De Agostini Picture Library Collection/Getty Images

Built in 1714, the Church of the Transfiguration is made entirely of wood. Russia's wooden churches were quickly ravished by rot and fire. Over the centuries, destroyed churches were replaced with larger and more elaborate buildings.

Built in 1714 during the reign of Peter the Great, the Church of the Transfiguration has 22 soaring onion domes sheathed in hundreds of aspen shingles. No nails were used in the construction of the cathedral, and today many of the spruce logs are weakened by insects and rot. In addition, a shortage of funds has lead to neglect and poorly executed restoration efforts.

St. Basil's Cathedral

Brightly-colored, Onion-Domed St. Basil's Cathedral with statue in front
St. Basil's Cathedral, 1560, and monument to Minin and Pozharsky, 1818, Red Square, Moscow, Russia.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images


Also called the Cathedral of the Protection of the Mother of God, St. Basil's Cathedral was built between 1554 and 1560. St. Basil the Great (330-379) was born in ancient Turkey and instrumental in the early spread of Christianity. The architecture in Moscow is influenced by the East-meets-West traditions of ecclesiastical Byzantine designs. Today Saint Basil's is a museum and tourist attraction in Red Square, Moscow. St. Basil's Feast Day is January 2.

The 1560 cathedral also goes by other names: Pokrovsky Cathedral; and the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin by the Moat. The architect is said to have been Postnik Yakovlev, and originally the building was white with gold domes. The colorful painting scheme was instituted in 1860. The front statue by architect I. Martos, erected in 1818, is a monument to Kuzma Minin and Prince Pozharsky who repelled a Polish invas of Moscow in the early 1600s.

Basilique Saint-Denis (Church of St. Denis)

Basilique Saint-Denis, or the Church of St. Denis, near Paris, France
Sacred Buildings: Romanesque and Gothic Church of Saint-Denis, near Paris Basilique Saint-Denis, or the Church of St. Denis, near Paris, France. Photo by Gerd Scheewel/Bongarts Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

Constructed between 1137 and 1144, the Church of Saint-Denis marks the beginning of the Gothic style in Europe.

The Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis wanted to create a church that would be even greater than the famous Hagia Sophia Church in Constantinople. The church he commissioned, Basilique Saint-Denis, became a model for most of the late 12th-century French cathedrals, including those at Chartres and Senlis. The facade is primarily Romanesque, but many details in the church move away from the low Romanesque style. The Church of Saint-Denis was the first large building to use the new vertical style known as Gothic.

Originally the Church of Saint-Denis had two towers, but one collapsed in 1837.

La Sagrada Familia

The sun's rays coming through windows into La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Sacred Buildings: Antoni Gaudí's Famous La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain The sun's rays coming through windows into La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona. Photo by Jodie Wallis/Moment Collection/Getty Images

Designed by Antoni Gaudí, La Sagrada Familia, or Holy Family Church, was begun in 1882 in Barcelona, Spain. Construction has continued for more than a century.

Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí was way ahead of his time. Born on June 25, 1852, Gaudi's design for Barcelona's most famous basilica, La Sagrada Familia, is now being fully realized by the use of high-powered computers and 21st century industrial software. His engineering ideas are that complex.

Yet Gaudi's themes of nature and color — "the ideal garden cities dreamed of by the urbanists of the end of the 19th century" says the UNESCO World Heritage Centre — are of his time. The interior of the massive church recreates a forest, where traditional cathedral columns are replaced with branching trees. As the light enters the sanctuary, the forest comes alive with nature's colors. Gaudi's work "anticipated and influenced many of the forms and techniques that were relevant to the development of modern construction in the 20th century."

It's well-known that Gaudi's obsession with this one structure contributed to his death in 1926. He was struck by a nearby tram and went unrecognized in the street. People thought he was a simple vagabond and took him to a hospital for the poor. He died with his masterpiece unfinished.

Gaudi was eventually buried in La Sagrada Familia, which is scheduled to be completed by the 100th anniversary of his death.

Stone Church in Glendalough

Stone Church in Glendalough, Ireland, County Wicklow
Sacred Buildings: Ancient Stone Church in Glendalough, Ireland Stone Church in Glendalough, Ireland, County Wicklow. Photo by Design Pics / The Irish Image Collection / Getty Images (cropped)

Glendalough, Ireland has a monastery founded by St. Kevin, a hermit monk of the sixth century.

The man known as St. Kevin spent seven years in a cave before spreading Christianity to the people of Ireland. As word of his holy nature spread, monastic communities grew, making the Glendalough hills an early center of Christianity in Ireland.

Kizhi Wooden Churches

Wooden Church on Island of Kizhi, Russia
Sacred Buildings: Kizhi Wooden Churches on the Island of Kizhi in Russia Wooden Church on Island of Kizhi, Russia. Photo by Nick Laing/AWL Images Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

Although built of rough-hewn logs starting in the 14th century, the churches of Kizhi, Russia are surprisingly complex.

Russia's wooden churches often perched on hilltops, overlooking the forests and villages. Although the walls were crudely constructed of roughhewn logs, the roofs were often complex. Onion shaped domes, symbolizing heaven in the Russian Orthodox tradition, were covered with wooden shingles. The onion domes reflected Byzantine design ideas and were strictly decorative. They were constructed of wood framing and served no structural function.

Located at the northern end of Lake Onega near St. Petersburg, the island of Kizhi (also spelled "Kishi" or "Kiszhi") is famous for its remarkable array of wooden churches. Early mention of the Kizhi settlements are found in chronicles from the 14th and 15th century. Many of the wooden structures, destroyed by lightening and fire, were consistently rebuilt in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

In 1960, Kizhi became home to an open-air museum for the preservation of Russia's wooden architecture. Restoration work was supervised by the Russian architect, Dr. A. Opolovnikov. The The pogost or enclosure of Kizhi is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Barcelona Cathedral - Cathedral of Santa Eulalia

Lighted Spires and Gothic Details of Barcelona Cathedral, night in Barcelona, Spain
Sacred Buildings: Gothic Barcelona Cathedral in Spain Lighted Spires and Gothic Details of Barcelona Cathedral, night in Barcelona, Spain. Photo by Joe Beynon/Axiom Photographic Agency/Getty Images

The Cathedral of Santa Eulalia (also called La Seu) in Barcelona is both Gothic and Victorian.

Barcelona Cathedral, the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, sits on the site of an ancient Roman basilica built in 343 A.D. Attacking Moors destroyed the basilica in 985. The ruined basilica was replaced by a Roman cathedral, built between 1046 and 1058. Between 1257 and 1268, a chapel, the Capella de Santa Llucia, was added.

After 1268, the entire structure except for the Santa Llucia Chapel was demolished to make way for a Gothic cathedral. Wars and the plague delayed construction and the main building wasn't finished until 1460.

The Gothic facade is actually a Victorian design modeled after 15th century drawings. The architects Josep Oriol Mestres and August Font i Carreras completed the facade in 1889. The central spire was added in 1913.

Wieskirche, 1745-1754

Rococo interior of the simple Bavarian country church, the Wieskirche
Sacred Buildings: Rococo Interior of Wies Church in Bavaria The Wieskirche, or the Pilgrimage Church of the Scourged Saviour, close to the town of Steingaden in Bavaria, Germany. Photo by Eurasia/Robert Harding World Imagery/Getty Images

The Wies Pilgrimage Church of the Scourged Saviour, 1754, is a masterpiece of Rococo interior design, although its exterior is elegantly simple.

The Wieskirche, or the Pilgrimage Church of the Scourged Saviour (Wallfahrtskirche zum Gegeißelten Heiland auf der Wies), is a late Baroque or Rococo style church built according to plans by German architect Dominikus Zimmerman. In English, Wieskirche is often called Church in the Meadow, because it is literally located in a country meadow.

The church was built on the site of a miracle. In 1738, some faithful people in Wies noticed tears shedding from a wooden statue of Jesus. As word of the miracle spread, pilgrims from all over Europe came to see the Jesus statue. To accommodate the Christian faithful, the local Abbot asked Dominikus Zimmerman to create an architecture that would shelter both the pilgrims and the miracle statue. The church was built where the miracle happened.

Dominikus Zimmerman worked with his brother, Johann Baptist, who was a fresco master, to create the lavish interior ornamentation of Wies Church. The combination of the brothers' painting and preserved stucco work contributed to the venue being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

St. Paul's Cathedral

Ariel photo of St Paul's Cathedral, London, Christopher Wren-designed dome in center of cross
Sacred Buildings - Baroque Dome by Sir Christopher Wren Sir Christopher Wren designed the high dome for St. Paul's Cathedral in London. Photo by Daniel Allan/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

After the Great Fire of London, St. Paul's Cathedral was given a magnificent dome designed by Sir Christopher Wren.

In 1666, St. Paul's Cathedral was in poor repair. King Charles II asked Christopher Wren to remodel it. Wren submitted plans for a classical design based on ancient Roman architecture. The plans Wren drew called for a high dome. But, before work could begin, the Great Fire of London destroyed St. Paul's Cathedral and much of the City.

Sir Christopher Wren was in charge of rebuilding the Cathedral and more than fifty other London churches. The new Baroque Saint Paul's Cathedral was constructed between 1675 and 1710. Christopher Wren's idea for a high dome became part of the new design.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey in London
Sacred Buildings: Westminster Abbey in London, England Westminster Abbey in London. Photo by Image Source/Image Source Collection/Getty Images

England's Prince William and Kate Middleton were married at the grand, Gothic Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011.

Westminster Abbey in London is considered one of the world's most famous examples of Gothic architecture. The Abbey was consecrated on December 28, 1065. King Edward the Confessor, who had the church built, died a few days later. He was the first of many English monarchs buried there.

Over the next few centuries, Westminster Abbey saw many changes and additions. King Henry III began adding a chapel in 1220 but more extensive remodeling began in 1245. Much of Edward's Abbey was torn down to build a more magnificent structure in Edward's honor. The King employed Henry of Reyns, John of Gloucester, and Robert of Beverley, whose new designs were influenced by the Gothic churches of France — the placement of chapels, pointed arches, ribbed vaulting, and flying buttresses were some of the Gothic characteristics. The new Westminster Abbey does not have the traditional two aisles, however — the English simplified with one central aisle, which also makes the ceilings seem higher. Another English touch includes the use of native Purbeck marble throughout the interiors.

King Henry's new Gothic church was consecrated on October 13, 1269.

Over the centuries more additions were made both inside and outside. The 16th century Tudor Henry VII rebuilt the Lady Chapel begun by Henry III in 1220. The architects are said to have been Robert Janyns and William Vertue, and this ornate chapel was consecrated on February 19, 1516. The western towers were added in 1745 by Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736), who had studied and worked under Sir Christopher Wren. The design was meant to blend with the older sections of the Abbey.

And why is it called Westminster? The word minster, from the word "monastery," has come to be known as any large church in England. The abbey that King Edward began to expand in the 1040s was west of St. Paul's Cathedral — London's Eastminster.

William H. Danforth Chapel

William H. Danforth Chapel by Frank Lloyd Wright
Sacred Buildings: William H. Danforth Chapel at Florida Southern College William H. Danforth Chapel by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo © Jackie Craven

The non-denominational William H. Danforth Chapel is a landmark Frank Lloyd Wright design on the campus of Florida Southern College in Lakeland.

Constructed of native Florida tidewater red cypress, the Danforth Chapel was built by industrial arts and home economics students according to plans by Frank Lloyd Wright. Often called a "miniature cathedral," the chapel has tall leaded glass windows. The original pews and cushions are still intact.

The Danforth Chapel is non-denominational, so a Christian cross was not planned for. Workers installed one anyway. In protest, a student sawed off the cross before Danforth Chapel was dedicated. The cross was later restored, but in 1990, the American Civil Liberty Union filed suit. By court order, the cross was removed and placed in storage.

St. Vitus Cathedral

interior of massive, gothic cathedral ceiling
St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague. Matej Divizna/Getty Images

Perched at the top of Castle Hill, St. Vitus Cathedral is one of the most famous landmarks of Prague.

The high spires of St. Vitus Cathedral are an important symbol of Prague. The Cathedral is considered a masterpiece of Gothic design, but the western portion of St. Vitus Cathedral was built long after the Gothic period. Taking nearly 600 to build, St. Vitus Cathedral combines architectural ideas from many eras and blends them into a harmonious whole.

The original St. Vitus Church was a much smaller Romanesque building. Construction on the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral began in the mid-1300s. A French master builder, Matthias of Arras, designed the essential shape of the building. His plans called for the characteristically Gothic flying buttresses and the high, slender profile of the Cathedral.

When Matthias died in 1352, the 23-year-old Peter Parler continued construction. Parler followed Matthias's plans and also added his own ideas. Peter Parler is noted for designing choir vaults with especially strong criss-crossed rib vaulting.

Peter Parler died in 1399 and construction continued under his sons, Wenzel Parler and Johannes Parler, and then under another master builder, Petrilk. A great tower was built on the south side of the cathedral. A gable, known as the Golden Gate connected the tower to the south transept.

Construction stopped in the early 1400s due to the Hussite War, when interior furnishings were heavily damaged. A fire in 1541 brought still more destruction.

For centuries, St. Vitus Cathedral stood unfinished. Finally, in 1844, architect Josef Kranner was commissioned to renovate and complete the cathedral in the Neo-Gothic fashion. Josef Kranner removed Baroque decorations and oversaw the construction of foundations for the new nave. After Kramer died, architect Josef Mocker continued the renovations. Mocker designed the two Gothic style towers on the west facade. This project was completed in the late 1800s by architect Kamil Hilbert.

Construction on St. Vitus Cathedral continued into the twentieth century. The 1920s brought several important additions:

  • Facade decorations by sculptor Vojtěch Sucharda
  • Art Nouveau windows in the northern section of the nave designed by painter Alfons Mucha
  • The Rose Window above the portal designed by Frantisek Kysela

After nearly 600 years of construction, St. Vitus Cathedral was finally completed in 1929.

Duomo Cathedral of San Massimo

Damage to the Duomo Cathedral of San Massimo in L'Aquila, Italy after 6.3 earthquake in 2009
Sacred Buildings: The Duomo Cathedral of San Massimo in L'Aquila, Italy Damage to the Duomo Cathedral of San Massimo in L'Aquila, Italy after 6.3 earthquake in 2009. Photo handout by Police Press Office via Getty Images/Getty Images News Collection/Getty Images

Earthquakes have taken a toll on the Duomo Cathedral of San Massimo in L'Aquila, Italy.

The Duomo Cathedral of San Massimo in L'Aquila, Italy was built in the 13th century, but was destroyed in an earthquake early in the 18th century. In 1851 the church facade was reconstructed with two Neoclassical bell towers.

The Duomo was heavily damaged again when an earthquake struck central Italy on April 6, 2009.

L'Aquila is the capital of Abruzzo in central Italy. The 2009 earthquake devastated many historic structures, some dating from the Renaissance and Medieval times. In addition to damaging the Duomo Cathedral of San Massimo, the earthquake crumbled the rear section of the Romanesque basilica Santa Maria di Collemaggio. Also, the dome of the 18th century Church of Anime Sante collapsed and that church, too, was heavily damaged by the quake.

Santa Maria di Collemaggio

Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L'Aquila, Italy.
Sacred Buildings: Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L'Aquila, Italy The Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L'Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy. Photo by DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini Picture Library Collection/Getty Images

Alternating pink and white stone create dazzling patterns on the medieval Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio.

The Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio is an elegant Romanesque building that was given Gothic embellishments during the 15th century. Contrasting pink and white stones on the façade form crucifix patterns, creating a dazzling tapestry-like effect.

Other details were added over the centuries, but a major preservation effort, completed in 1972, restored the Romanesque elements of the Basilica.

A rear section of the Basilica was heavily damaged when an earthquake struck central Italy on April 6, 2009. Some have argued that improper seismic retrofitting in 2000 made the church more vulnerable to earthquake damage. See "Introspection on improper seismic retrofit of Basilica Santa Maria di Collemaggio after 2009 Italian earthquake" by Gian Paolo Cimellaro, Andrei M. Reinhorn, and Alessandro De Stefano (Earthquake Engineering and Engineering Vibration, March 2011, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 153-161).

The World Monuments Fund reports that the historic areas of L'Aquila are "mostly inaccessible due to strict safety regulations." Assessments and planning for reconstruction are underway. Learn more about the 2009 earthquake damage from NPR, National Public Radio Italy Surveys Quake Damage To Historic Structures (April 09, 2009).

Trinity Church, 1877

Trinity Church, Boston, 1877, Henry Hobson Richardson
Sacred Buildings: Boston Architecture Starts a Movement Trinity Church, Boston, 1877, Henry Hobson Richardson. Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images Entertainment Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

Henry Hobson Richardson is often referred to as the First American Architect. Instead of imitating European designs by masters such as Palladio, Richardson combined styles to create something new.

The design of Trinity Church in Boston, Massachusetts is a free and loose adaptation of the architecture Richardson studied in France. Starting with French Romanesque, he added Beaux Arts and Gothic detailing to create the first American architecture — as much a melting pot as the new country itself.

The Richardsonian Romanesque architectural design of many late 19th century public buildings (e.g., post offices, libraries) and the Romanesque Revival House Style are direct results of this sacred building in Boston. For this reason, Boston's Trinity Church has been called one of the Ten Buildings That Changed America.

Modern architecture, too, has paid homage to Trinity Church's design and importance in architectural history. Passersby can see the 19th century reflection of the church in the nearby Hancock Tower, a 20th century glass skyscraper — a reminder that architecture builds on the past and that one building can reflect the spirit of a nation.

The American Renaissance: The last quarter century of the 1800s was a time of great nationalism and self-confidence in the United States. As an architect, Richardson flourished in this time of great imagination and free-thinking. Other architects from this period include George B. Post, Richard Morris Hunt, Frank Furness, Stanford White and his partner Charles Follen McKim.


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  • Jewish Centre Munich and Synagogue Ohel Jakob and Jewish museum and synagogue in Munich, Bayern Tourismus Marketing GmbH [accessed November 4, 2013]
  • St. Basil the Great, Catholic Online; Emporis; St. Basil's Cathedral and The Statue of Minin and Pozharsky, Moscow Info [accessed December 17, 2013]
  • Works of Antoni Gaudí, UNESCO World Heritage Centre [accessed September 15, 2014]
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Craven, Jackie. "Architecture for our Spirit and Soul - Sacred Buildings." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Craven, Jackie. (2021, February 16). Architecture for our Spirit and Soul - Sacred Buildings. Retrieved from Craven, Jackie. "Architecture for our Spirit and Soul - Sacred Buildings." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 21, 2023).