Anyone who has a passion for history, architecture, and anything aesthetical will surely appreciate the beauty of the different churches dotting the world. It doesn’t matter whether you’re religious or not. Whether you’re visiting a church as part of a pilgrimage or merely a tour, it’s definitely worth your while to see at least one.
In order to appreciate the beauty of a Church, it’s essential to know its history. What era was it built in? Who built it? Is the original structure still standing or has it undergone some renovations? All these questions are best answered when you actually step onto the grounds of the church and bask in its wealthy history. Although churches were built primarily as a place of worship and prayer, they have been used time and again for a multitude of other occasions.
Some church goers and members of religious groups often converge in the church in fellowship, socializing with other members and discussing their common goals, like charity work or other forms of service. During times of war, many seek protection and safety in a church from the enemy, as it was considered sacrilegious to lay siege to a place of worship. As an act of charity and service, a church can also be used as a refugee center for victims of natural disasters, like earthquakes, typhoons, and tsunamis, as well as a venue for a soup kitchen and other feeding programs.
Though many original structures are still standing, many churches have been converted into other uses. Many have stopped attending church services so the virtually empty churches are sold to private investors and turned into restaurants or function halls for events. Due to their beautiful architecture, the churches make for very picturesque backgrounds in photographs. However, that’s all many of these churches are these days; backgrounds.
Hopefully, all churches, new and old, can survive and continue to bear witness to the life and times of the people who go in and out of it, especially the oldest churches still standing.
10. Basilica of San Nazaro in Brolo (circa 382 AD)
Due to its rich heritage in Christianity, a trip to Italy almost always includes at least one church visit in every city you go to. There are that many churches in this popular tourist destination and one of the oldest in the world is found in Milan. San Nazaro in Brolo or San Nazaro Maggiore was built by St. Ambrose in 382 AD. It was built on the road that led to Rome, to give travelers a chance to say a prayer before making the journey to the then powerful city. Originally dedicated to the Apostles of Jesus, the altar still houses relics of the Apostles up to this day.
9. Basilica of Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains (circa 380 AD)
Once the country where popes resided and ruled over the Catholic Church, France has its fair share of churches to visit. The oldest one is still standing in Metz, a pre-medieval basilica called Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains. Initially built as a Roman gymnasium for a spa complex, the building was converted into a church and convent in the 7th century. Today, the pre-medieval structure still stands and is truly reminiscent of the architectural style of the period. It may no longer be used as a church, but it advocates arts and culture as it’s now a venue for concerts and plays.
8. Basilica of San Simpliciano (circa 374 AD)
Another church in Milan, Italy has made it to the list. Located in the northern part of the city, the Basilica of San Simpliciano was built in the form of a Latin cross by Saint Ambrose. It was named for Saint Simplician, a bishop of Milan. Originally the site of a pagan cemetery, the church has undergone several renovations and its architectural style is a mix of various periods, from Renaissance to Baroque, Rococo, Neo-classical and its present day Romanesque appearance.
7. Monastery of Saint Anthony (circa 356 AD)
In the eastern desert of Egypt is found the Monastery of Saint Anthony, a Coptic Orthodox monastery nestled deep within the Red Sea mountains. It was built in homage to St. Anthony, a Christian saint hailing from the lower regions of Egypt. Despite the peace that came with its remoteness, the monastery has been witness to persecution from the Bedouins and Berbers, who plundered the monastery several times. The Church of St. Anthony was renovated and now stands in the medieval style.
6. Santa Maria in Trastevere (circa 340 AD)
Two churches still standing were built in 340 AD, the first of which is the Basilica of Our Lady of Santa Maria in Trastevere. Located in Rome, Italy, this basilica is one of the oldest in the city and is the first one where Mass was openly celebrated by the Christians. It was built in honor of Mary, mother of Jesus and bears the Romanesque-style architecture today.
6. Cathedral of Trier (circa 340 AD)
The other church built in 340 AD is located in Trier, Germany. The High Cathedral of Saint Peter in Trier is the oldest in the country and its architecture is an eclectic mix of all the periods it stood through, each period contributing to what it looks like today. It’s most noted to house the relic of St. Helena, who oversaw the construction of the church.
5. Church of the Nativity (circa 327 AD)
The little town of Bethlehem holds the distinction of being the birthplace of Jesus Christ. It’s but natural that a church was built there to commemorate his birth. The Church of the Nativity was commissioned by Constantine and his mother Helena right on the cave where Jesus was said to have been born. Every year, thousands of pilgrims make their way to the church and stand in line for hours just to be able to touch the spot where Jesus’ manger lay. This is a true testament to their faith and spirituality.
4. St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City (circa 319 AD)
“And on this rock, I will build my church” are the words Jesus uttered to St. Peter, as written in the Bible. It was a symbolic speech to signify that Peter would be the rock of the entire Catholic faith. Peter, as the rock, was put into fruition with the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica at the center of Vatican City. Construction was commissioned by Emperor Constantine the Great in 319 AD and it was typical of basilicas of that period as it was shaped in the form of a tau cross. It was remodelled during the Renaissance period and is home to some of the greatest works of art in the world, including Michelangelo’s Pieta, Maderno’s nave, and Bernini’s furnishings. Today, it’s one of the most visited churches in the world and is the place that the Pope calls his home.
3. Etchmiadzin Cathedral (circa 301 AD)
If the Roman Catholics have St. Peter’s Basilica as their founding church, the Armenian Apostolic Church members consider Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Armenia as theirs. The oldest cathedral in the world that’s also referred to as the Armenian Vatican, it was built in 301 AD by the country’s patron saint Gregory the Illuminator. The cathedral has undergone many renovations throughout the centuries and today still bears some of the original design, with the northern wall still containing several ancient Greek inscriptions.
2. Megiddo Church (circa 290s AD)
Israel is also aptly known as the Holy Land, and with good reason. After all, it’s where many religions were born and continue to thrive. It’s no surprise that one of the oldest known churches in the world is found in this country, the ancient Megiddo church, to be exact. Located near Tel Megiddo, Israel, the original structure of the church still stands and was discovered within the walls of the Megiddo Prison. Within the structure’s walls are mosaics with Greek inscriptions, referencing Jesus Christ.
1. Dura-Europos House Church (circa 241 AD)
The oldest church structure in the world is located in civil war-torn Syria. Dura-Europos House Church is small and simple, completely lacking in the grandeur of other, more well-known churches. Yet, its history breathes life into its walls, speaking of thousands of years’ worth of memories. It contains frescoes and other paintings depicting the miracles that Jesus performed, as documented in the Bible. Most notably, Hebrew scrolls in parchment paper were also discovered within the church grounds and researchers interpreted the writings to be Christian prayers.