Religion has led more imaginative constructions than any other endeavor in human life. Where the buildings incorporate a message, a vision, and awe of the divine as referenced by the architect’s perceptions of what is human and what is beyond humanity. In this, may architects use shapes, designs, natural formations, light and perception as building blocks for an experience that will continue to leave us in awe and in wonderment. This article does not cover famous and well recognized sites, such as St. Basil in Moscow or St. Paul’s in the Vatican City. I will add that not all the examples are pretty, in fact some are downright ugly (in my opinion).
Here are a few of the many unusual churches you will find around the world.
The Church of Hallgrímur
Architect: Guðjón Samuelsson
This amazing church is 74.5 meters (244 ft) height. It is the fourth tallest building in Iceland and took 38 years to build.
The hyper-trendy Harajuku district of Tokyo is better known for its street style scene than for its religious structures. But you can take a break from a busy day of shopping and visit this sleek, modernist Protestant church that opened in 2006. The design concept is based on the lucky number seven, so there are seven gently curving arches in the nave. The church also doubles as a concert hall, so the acoustics are impeccable.
Las Lajas Cathedral
Colombia, South America
You might think it is an iconic 17th century Austrian edifice, but it was in fact built-in 1916 inside the canyon of the Guaitara river where, according to local legend, the Virgin Mary appeared. It is located in the southern Colombian Department of Narino, municipality of Ipiales.
Chapel of St. Gildas
Originally a Druids temple, it was converted into a chapel by Saint Gildas who traveled to Brittany around 540AD. It is the legend that St. Gildas preached from the rough pulpit that is now found in this chapel. It can be found on the bank of the Canal du Blavet.
Notre Dame du Haut
Designed by Franco-Swiss architect Le Corbusier and completed in 1954, when rainwater pours off the roof it falls into a fountain with a wonderful waterfall effect.
St Joseph Ukrainian Catholic Church
Chicago, IL, USA
This modernistic concrete and metal edifice emulate the Eastern architecture that is found in the Ukraine and Russia. It was completed in 1977 and took 21 years to build.
Architect: Richard Meier
Not every church in Rome is ancient. This modern version uses titanium oxide in the walls to react with sunlight that destroys air pollution. It was completed in 1996.
Grace Fellowship Baptist Church
Baltimore Road in Detroit, Michigan, USA
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and this unusual (ugly) building is proof that any design can be suited for any reason. It is located at 265 Baltimore, MD, USA.
Basilica de Higuey
The Dominican Republic
Since this is a Basilica, it is an important structure not just in the Dominican Republic but in all of Catholic Churchdom. Inaugurated on January 21, 1971. It was designed by French architect’s and was originally a cathedral. It was raised to the honor of a minor basilica by Pope Paul VI on December 17, 1970. It was visited by Pope John Paul II in 1992.
Church in Stykkishólmskirkja
Architect: Jón Haraldssyni
What can be said about the Scandinavians, they know how to raise unusual and impressive structures, calling on their Viking past for inspiration. It was completed in 1990 on the site of the old Church which was originally built in 1879.
Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro
This cathedral was built between 1964 and 1979. It is a conical design with an internal diameter of 96 meters (315 ft) and an overall height of 75 meters (246 ft). It can hold 20,000 people (standing-room), and it has four rectilinear stained-glass windows that are 64 meters (210 ft) from floor to ceiling.
The original church was built in 1425, and the rest of the building was added during the 16th and 17th centuries. This is one of Greece’s most famous churches.
Borgund Stave Church
Stave churches are medieval wood churches that can only be found in Norway, while they were populous all around Northern Europe they were replaced by stone structures. Only a 28 remain in existence, and all are in Norway.
Paoay Church a.k.a St. Augustine Parish
Paoay Church looks like an Aztec pyramid. The walls are 1.67 meters thick and are supported by 24 carved and massive buttresses. The thickness keeps the interior cool in the hot and humid climate of the Philippines. Construction finished after 190 years in 1894 and can withstand most of the earthquakes that hit the island state.
Cathedral of Brasilia
Designer: Oscar Niemeyer
This cathedral was completed in 1970; this ultramodern edifice uses 16 concrete columns to support its structural integrity.
St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery
An impressive Eastern Orthodox church that is very much active and contains a nunnery as well. It was built during the 18th century, and the original Cathedral was destroyed by the Soviets and reconstructed recently.
Church in a Hill
This beautiful small church provides us with a look at how Luxembourg managed to stay a separate nation from its large neighbors. It uses natural resources and geography to remain hidden and resilient.
San Francisco de Asis Church
Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico
This simple church was built in 1772 and completed in 1815 and represents the Spanish quick building designs found in the area. It is one of the last early Spanish churches found in the US.
Architect: Gottfried Böhm
This expressionist and the post-Bauhaus church were designed by German renowned church architect Gottfried Böhm, who built numerous concrete edifices for religious and civil purposes.
This is a rare example of expressionist church architecture. It is one of the best-known churches in Copenhagen. It was designed by architect Peder Vilhelm Jensen Klint and was built between 1921 and 1940. Its name is a statement of fact since it was built as a memorial to N.F.S. Grundtvig, a 19th-century Danish pastor, philosopher, historian, hymnist, and politician.
The Felsenkirche a.k.a. Church of the Rock
Where would we be without our European wall architecture? Another fine example of churches built into natural surroundings.
Don Justo’s Self Built Cathedral
Mejorada del Campo near Madrid, Spain
Designer: Justo Gallego Martínez (also known as Don Justo)
What is amazing about this church is that it is designed and constructed by a farmer with no formal education and the plans are in his imagination only. Using a McGyver approach, Don Justo is building his church from donations and his own money, sourced from his farm work and selling off some of his property. The columns are molded using old petrol drums; the window arches carry the marks of the tires they were molded in and bicycle wheels have been used as pulleys.
Cathedral of Maringa
Architect: José Augusto Bellucci
This is an exceptionally tall church, in fact, the 16th highest one in the world, and is 124 m high. It was completed in 1972 and is the tallest church in South America.
Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira
Built underground by salt miners for their daily prayers, it as consecrated in 1954. The original church was closed in 1990 due to fear of collapse, and the new one was completed in 1996, it is 200 feet below the original sanctuary.
Bruder Klaus Chapel
Mechernich, southern Germany
Don’t let appearances fool you; this amazing construction required that I post more photos, so you can appreciate the inventiveness of the German farmer that designed and built this at the edge of is a field. This is a truly iconic religious building that demands more respect and recognition. The concept is sound; a simple exterior will fool you into believing it is a boring structure, while inside it is more than beautiful Which proves the proverb “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
This small chapel built into the rock beside a railway tunnel was constructed on site based on a legend that an icon was found in the wall during excavation for the tunnel.
Church of St. George
Ethiopia boasts the worlds best, and ground built churches, edifices built from the rock face downwards, excavated into creating amazing buildings with intricate designs. They are a constant source of awe and mysticism.
Chapel in the Rock
This is another amazing Catholic church that demanded I post more photos to explore and view its majestic splendor. The unique church was commissioned by artist and rancher Marguerite Brunswig Staude. Staude’s idea was to build something modern, that could speak to people in their time. Staude, a devout Roman Catholic, said, “God can be worshipped as a contemporary–bringing him closer to earth and every one of us.”
The Wireman Chapel at Eckerd College
St. Petersburg, Florida, USA
Architect: Eero Saarinen
As I have stated, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I am not a fan of this design, but it does hold some kind of commercialistic beauty that suits a capitalistic society. It is Octagonal and provides an unusual play on space and light on the inside and is actually more beautiful inside than out. In my opinion, it resembles a Costco’s or Walmart’s logistics center more than a Church.
Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe chapel
Le Puy-en-Velay, France
There are many ways to plug a volcano, but would you use a church? Maybe it represents a divine force to plug a hole to hell or maybe it is an earlier version of St. Aquinas leap of faith, trusting in God to tame the elements. It was built in 962 and is over 1,000 years old now.
Santuario Madonna Della Lacrime
Is this a church or a Federation Star Ship headquarters? An amazing design that propels religion into thinking about the infinite ways you can pray to God and the infinite creatures around the universe that do so. After all, if God is infinite, then he has many faces, including mans. (Theology 101, big debate on is there life in the universe). Actually, the Catholic church remains agnostic on this issue, but let’s just say that most Catholic leaders know that all life is created by God, even those that are not terrestrial.
Air Force Academy, Colorado, USA
Architect: Walter Netsch of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill of Chicago
What can be said about the USAF, when they do something, they do it big? This modernistic edifice is a US National Landmark, completed in 1962; it is an impressive building, built to impress the size of what is beyond us.
St. Augustine Church
Brookland, Kent, UK
This Roman Catholic bell tower church was built in the 12th Century, the bell tower is the only one of its kind in the UK, and the larger church building was added as an afterthought in the 15th century.
Eureka Springs, AR, USA
Architect: E. Fay Jones
Another example of pure beauty. This is how Architects prove that their science is divine. Creating simple looking yet complicated structures t show off the glory of nature and light. It was completed in 1980, and I conclude this article with the most beautiful structure in my opinion, only because it is so simple in concept, it shows how nature is Gods greatest scenery.