3 architecturally significant churches you can visit without flying to Europe

Hillsdale College
Christ Chapel, the recently opened 28.5 million chapel on the campus of Hillsdale College in Michigan. |

Many people wrongly believe only Europe has architecturally significant churches.

That is very understandable if you come from a nondenominational evangelical background and are used to worshiping in contemporary church settings. However, there are plenty of notable cathedrals, churches and chapels across denominational lines that don’t require a passport to visit.

Christ Chapel

At a time when most new houses of worship resemble movie theaters or performing arts venues it is refreshing to see a new edifice with old-school design.

Christ Chapel on the campus of Hillsdale College, the small but prominent conservative liberal arts college in Michigan, opened earlier this year. Designed by noted church architect Duncan Stroik, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, it cost $28.5 million.

Stroik employed a neoclassical design for the fifth iteration of the college chapel. The interior with its barrel ceilings, limestone columns and Venetian east window will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen the magnificent late 17th century or early 18th century London churches by Sir Christopher Wren, James Gibbs and Nicholas Hawksmoor. By contrast, the exterior, particularly the west front, looks very Roman Catholic — Stroik is a leading Catholic architect — and is in keeping with his other works.

Church of the Holy Family

Church of the Holy Family
Dating to 1799, the Church of the Holy Family was built in the traditional French colonial manner. |

Across the Mississippi River from present-day St. Louis stands the Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Family in Cahokia, Illinois.

The simple log cabin-style church was built in 1799, when this part of the United States was influenced by French colonial culture and Roman Catholicism.

It is also representative of the vernacular architecture that was commonplace in the 18th and 19th centuries before congregations became wealthy enough to afford grander edifices designed by professional architects. The church’s treasures include altar candlesticks from King Louis XIV and a bell given by his successor, Louis XV.

Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine

Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is the world’s largest cathedral. |

The world’s largest cathedral isn’t in Europe. Rather, it’s in New York City.

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, seat of the Episcopal bishop of New York, is both massive and unfinished.

It will probably remain that way as the Episcopal Church writ large has declined greatly in recent decades. There just isn’t the money to complete the cathedral, which dates to the late 19th century and was originally designed by George Heins and Christopher LaFarge in the style of Romanesque Revival. By the time acclaimed architect Ralph Adams Cram took over after their deaths, the design had morphed into 13th century French Gothic.

By far the most impressive part are the gigantic columns separating the high altar and ambulatory in the east end.

Spires and Crosses, a weekly travel column exclusive to The Christian Post, covers old churches, history and heritage, architecture, culture and art. Follow @dennislennox on Twitterand Instagram.

Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.

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