Whether you regularly attend church or not, there’s no denying that some of the oldest, most intricate, most wonderful buildings in the world are churches. If you love history – and who doesn’t – it’s always fun to step into a very old building and let your imagination run wild about what it must have been like in its heyday. For today’s Fantasy Break, we’re exploring five of the oldest and most famous churches in the world. Enjoy, and vote for the one you’d most like to visit in our poll!
1. Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow, Russia
This whimsical cathedral has always reminded me of a Disney castle. Located on Moscow’s Red Square, Saint Basil’s was built between 1555 and 1561 on orders from Ivan the Terrible. The building was intended to be reminiscent of a bonfire rising into the sky. It is actually comprised of eight churches surrounding a central core, for a total of nine churches. Russia toyed with the idea of tearing it down after Lenin’s death in 1924, but preservationists fought for it. As part of the push for state atheism, Saint Basil’s was confiscated from the Russian Orthodoxy and forcefully secularized. Since 1928, it has operated as a state museum.
2. Notre Dame de Paris, Paris, France
The groundbreaking for this ancient beauty was in 1163, and construction continued for nearly two centuries – it was completed in 1345. As the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Paris, Notre Dame contains a reliquary with some of the most famous treasures of Catholicism inside, including the purported true crown of thorns, a fragment of the true cross, and one of the holy nails. Their famous pipe organ has nearly 8,000 pipes, with 900 of them classified as historical. The largest of the cathedral bells weighs over 13 tons. While Notre Dame belongs to the state, the intended beneficiary is the Catholic Church, who are free to use it for religious purposes. Visitors are welcomed daily.
3. Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy
If you’re a fan of The Da Vinci Code, you may recognize this one especially! At the heart of the Vatican and one of Catholicism’s holiest shrines, tradition holds that this church is the burial place of Saint Peter. Many popes have also been interred here. The present site was constructed between 1506 and 1626, but portions of it of course date back many centuries. Peter was martyred at the site along with Paul in 64 A.D., under the reign of Nero, the Roman emperor. Visitors are in awe of the sheer size of the building – it is the largest Christian Church building in the world, and the tallest dome in the world. The art alone – Michaelangelo, Rafael, Bernini, Caravaggio, Da Vinci, and more – is worth the trip by itself.
4. Westminster Abbey, London, England
This enormous Gothic cathedral may be worth visiting for the graveyard alone – you can pay your respects to the likes of Charles Darwin, Queen Elizabeth and many other royals, Sir Isaac Newton, Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Aphra Benh, Rudyard Kipling, Alfred Tennyson, and many more. Since the coronation of William the Conqueror there in 1066, all coronations of royals have been held here, as well as 16 royal weddings; most recently that of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Construction began in the year 960, making this church well over a thousand years old. Wow! Visitors are welcomed daily to the abbey and museum.
5. Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel
This ancient church contains two of the most important sites in Christian history – the place where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified (interestingly, he was also circumcised, presented to the church, and drove out the money changers in the same place) – and the site of Jesus’ empty tomb, where he was resurrected. This church was consecrated in the year 335 A.D. Incredible! The church also contains the chapel of Adam – legend holds that Jesus was crucified over the spot where Adam’s skull was buried. The site welcomes millions of visitors every year.