5 of the World’s Most Stunning (but Less Obvious) Churches

Most people are familiar with Moscow’s Disneyesque Saint Basil’s Cathedral, and the eccentric grandeur of Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Here are 5 lesser-known, nevertheless stunning houses of God.

Hallgrímskirkja

Were it located anywhere else, Hallgrímskirkja wouldn’t work; in fact the local residents would probably want the entire structure reduced to rubble. Yet there’s something about its setting against the desultory azure-blue/thunder-grey skies of Iceland that brings out the best in Guðjón Samúelsson’s step-flanked cathedral. Plus, if you squint, it looks like a space shuttle made out of Lego. Being the quirky island race they are, Hallgrímskirkja isn’t the Icelanders’ only church of note. Take for instance, Stykkishólmur – a curvaceous, futuristic effort that wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of The Jetsons.

Duomo di Milano

Churches are not simply built to be beautiful, some are designed to put the fear of God into you too, and few edifices are more affective at doing so than Italy’s Duomo di Milano. This astounding work of Gothic piety bears the marks of numerous different architectural styles due to its taking almost 600 years to complete. It was only under the orders of one Napoleon Bonaparte in 1805 that the façade was eventually rendered. Even then, Duomo di Milano’s last gate was installed in 1965. How’s that for a delayed construction project?

All Saints, London

You can forget your St Paul’s Cathedral and your Westminster Abbey. To witness true architectural
compassion and artistic flair in England’s capital, branch off the bustling Oxford Street to find
William Butterfield’s gem tucked-away in a courtyard off St Margaret Street. All Saints was
audacious for its time (it was completed in 1859) – its brash redbrick exterior is unorthodox, not to
mention sublime, but that’s nothing compared to the church’s interior. This is Catholicism of a less
bling, more hip mindset; decorative glazed tiles and an assorted candy-colored ceiling mean that
prayer has never been such a toothsome prospect before or since. Said the great John Ruskin about
Butterfield’s masterpiece: “It challenges fearless comparison with the noblest work of any time.”

Catedral de Maringá, Brazil

The most contemporary church on this list, Brazil’s Catedral de Maringá was constructed in 1972,
and holds the honor of being tallest church in South America. The conical heart of the church towers
114 meters into the air, and looks something akin to a massive dunce’s cap with a jagged rim. This
may sound like an epic architectural failure, but there’s no denying this structure rules the skyline for
miles around. It’s practical too: the church can hold up to 3,500 worshipers at a time.

Borgund Stavkirke, Norway

Borgund is the most famous of Norway’s 28 stave churches (staving being an architectural style in
which wooden boards are placed vertically). There is an organic, fairytale quality to this construction
– crooked tiered roofs looked like they’re made from dragon scales, while the gables actually are
adorned with carved dragon heads. The surrounding valley steeped in mist echoes the fantastical
nature of this altogether unreal church.