12 Most Beautiful Churches in America
Medieval labyrinths, intricate stained glass, even a sculpture of Darth Vader… There's no question that America's churches are just as intriguing as their European counterparts. And not just in grandeur—the stories behind these architectural masterpieces are downright biblical.
Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis
St. Louis, MO
The Archbishops of St. Louis during the early 1900s were very persistent in their desire to build the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis—not even a devastating tornado at the time could stop them from raising the $1 million needed to construct the Byzantine and Romanesque style Cathedral. In 1908 the cornerstone was laid and the project was dedicated to Christ and King—King Louis IX that is, officially making St. Louis the city's patron saint. From 1930 to 1988, a series of beautiful Byzantine-inspired mosaics depicting the life of St. Louis was added, and in 1997, Pope John Paul II designated the site as a Cathedral Basilica, visiting it for himself in 1999.
Visit: Free hour-long guided tours are available most Sundays after the 12 p.m. mass (subject to change if other events are scheduled). Reservations are not needed unless you plan to visit with a large group. 4431 Lindell Blvd., 314/373-8200, cathedralstl.com.
Cathedral of Saint Paul
St. Paul, MN
The Cathedral of Saint Paul was built in 1907 when Archbishop John Ireland saw a growing need for a larger place of worship in the area. The Cathedral itself was designed in the Beaux Arts architectural style and is now a major piece of St. Paul's skyline. In 2012, the Vatican declared the site to have a "bond of spiritual affinity" with its sister church, the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome—which means, in plain terms, if you make a spiritual pilgrimage to St. Paul's Cathedral in Minnesota, it's considered to be the same thing as making a spiritual pilgrimage to the Basilica in Rome, symbolically speaking. As a result, the Cathedral brings in tens of thousands of people who come to pray and admire the beautiful bronze grills that portray the major events in St. Paul's life from his conversion story to his eventual martyrdom for the church. It's not all about St. Paul though—the Cathedral's Shrine of the Nations was built to honor other saints who are important to the ethnically diverse people who have helped make the church what it is today.
Visit: The Cathedral is open to the public daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and stays open until 9 p.m. on Saturdays. Tours take place Monday thru Friday at 1 p.m. 239 Selby Ave., 651/228-1766, cathedralsaintpaul.org.
Eureka Springs, AR
Located deep in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, Thorncrown Chapel sits on top of 100 tons of local stones, allowing it to blend almost entirely into its natural surroundings. The 48-foot-tall structure also has 425 windows to let in views of the forest growing around it. Arkansas native Jim Reed originally purchased the land as a place to put his retirement home, but instead decided to create a peaceful spot where travelers could worship in a natural setting. Native pine was used to build the structure, and every piece of wood was literally carried in, since using large trucks would disturb the integrity of the forest.
Visit: Thorncrown Chapel is open to visitors April thru November from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but it's smart to call ahead in case it is closed for a special event. 12968 Highway 62 W, 479/253-7401, thorncrown.com.
St. Mary's Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at High Hill
High Hill, TX
There are several painted churches in this vibrant German-Czech area between Houston and San Antonio, but St. Mary's at High Hill is known as the Queen. The church was built in 1906, and 18 of the stained glass windows portraying Biblical scenes were purchased from Germany by members of the community and donated to the church. Inside you will also find carved statues of Jesus, Mary, and the saints, as well as a ceiling decorated with frescoes of angels, birds, vines, and grapes. The church's main event is a parish picnic the Sunday during Memorial Day weekend, with plenty of German food and performances by German and Czech bands.