Their intricacy and grandeur have made them icons of Christianity and culture while providing a window into European faith.
Europe is home to some of the world’s most architecturally impressive and historically significant churches. From soaring Gothic cathedrals to contemporary structures and onion-topped domes, these churches serve as testaments to the intersection of faith and creativity.
The following post highlights 11 of Europe’s most captivating churches and identifies features that make each special. Other famed European churches, such as St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, can be found in this list of the World’s Most Remarkable Churches, while 9 amazing American churches can be found here.
1. Sagrada Familia (Barcelona, Spain)
Famed architect Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished Roman Catholic basilica stands out for its fantastic, Art Nouveau-inspired design. Gaudí devoted over 40 years to this tremendous, unique church, incorporating symbolism inspired by nature and faith.
Christian symbols inspire Sagrada Familia’s sweeping towers, and its interior features numerous kaleidoscopic stained glass windows. The Nativity Façade depicts scenes from the birth of Jesus with ornate sculptured figures. The Passion Façade will portray the crucifixion in sharp angular forms when completed.
2. St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Vienna, Austria)
This Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral stands out amongst Vienna’s architecture by dominating the skyline with its multi-colored tile roof. The cathedral’s towering spire stands 450 feet tall and took nearly 70 years to construct.
The pulpit of St Stephan’s Cathedral was carved from a single stone block in 1515. The cathedral also contains 18 altars and an ornate royal box where the Habsburg emperors once worshiped.
3. Church of Hallgrímur (Reykjavik, Iceland)
This Lutheran parish church towers over Iceland’s capital and was built with concrete in a process that took over 40 years. The church houses over 30m2 of stained glass windows and a large pipe organ with over 5000 pipes.
Hallgrímur stands 244 feet tall and mimics the surrounding basalt volcanic rock, designed to resemble the surrounding lava flows of Iceland’s landscape. At 74 meters high, its tower is one of the tallest structures in Iceland.
4. Cologne Cathedral (Cologne, Germany)
Cologne Cathedral is one of Europe’s largest and most ambitious Gothic cathedrals, featuring imposing twin spires over 500 feet high that were briefly the tallest structures in the world upon completion in 1880.
The cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that took over 600 years to complete, with stained glass spanning over 1000 square meters. It contains the Shrine of the Three Kings, a lavish reliquary said to contain the bones of the biblical Magi.
5. Florence Cathedral (Florence, Italy)
Also known as the Duomo, the Florence Cathedral is one of Italy’s top tourist attractions and a unique Renaissance Cathedral with an ornate red, green, and white marble exterior.
The heart of the Duomo is the almost 300-foot tall, terracotta-tiled dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. Climbing the 463 interior steps (it’s tiring and tight but amazing; I did it as a younger man) leads to stunning city views from the top of the dome. The interior features numerous beautiful frescoes behind the altar, such as Giorgio Vasari’s Last Judgment.
6. St. Basil’s Cathedral (Moscow, Russia)
The iconic Moscow’s Red Square church features colorful bulbous domes resembling flames rising into the sky. Built in the 16th century, this astounding Russian Orthodox Cathedral showcases a unique and unbelievable design.
Legend says Ivan the Terrible blinded the architects after building the cathedral so they could never design something as beautiful again. The central church and eight surrounding chapels are each unique and showcase vibrant onion-shaped domes in the shape of flames, flowers, or tendrils.
7. St. Paul’s Cathedral (London, England)
St. Paul’s Cathedral features stunning Baroque architecture and was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. It contains elaborate monuments and artworks, including the Duke of Wellington’s tomb, mosaics by Sir William Richmond, and the 15th-century Great West Window.
This Anglican cathedral’s massive dome has been a part of London’s skyline since the 1700s and is the 2nd largest dome in the world at 367 feet (112 meters) tall.
8. Milan Cathedral (Milan, Italy)
This Gothic Catholic cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete. Its spires and ornamented marble exterior mark the Milan cityscape, while its interior is even more impressive with its hanging chandeliers and stained glass.
Milan Cathedral took almost 600 years to complete. Its facade contains over 3000 statues within intricate spires and arches. The stained glass windows in the church’s apse are the largest in Europe. The underground crypt displays the remains of saints like Charles Borromeo.
9. Seville Cathedral (Seville, Spain)
Built to demonstrate Seville’s wealth and power after the Reconquista, this immense Gothic Catholic cathedral is the largest in Spain and the third largest in Europe. The intricately carved stonework on the exterior and interior are in the Baroque, Rococo, Gothic, Renaissance, and Neoclassical styles.
The cathedral’s famed bell tower, La Giralda, stands 104 meters tall and was originally a minaret when the site was a mosque. Seville Cathedral also contains Columbus’ tomb and a 15th-century altarpiece depicting the life of Christ.
10. Lund Cathedral (Lund, Sweden)
Founded in 1103, Lund Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Lund and the Lutheran Church of Sweden. The imposing Romanesque cathedral dates back to the 12th century and towers over the city, with architecture combining rounded Romanesque arches with Gothic vaulted ceilings.
The apse features a striking astronomical clock from 1424, with moving figurines of the three Magi and spectacular painted zodiac rings. The crypt also holds unique attractions, such as a well dating back to the 11th century.
11. Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood (St. Petersburg, Russia)
This Russian Orthodox church stands out on the St. Petersburg skyline with its vivid onion domes and intricate mosaics. Its ornate Russian Revival style sets it apart from other churches in St. Petersburg.
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood was built on the site where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. The interior contains over 7000 square meters of intricate mosaics depicting biblical scenes and saints in stunning detail.
Europe’s churches showcase an incredible diversity of architectural styles and histories, serving aesthetic and spiritual purposes. Their intricacy and grandeur have made them icons of Christianity and culture while providing a window into European faith.SKM: below-content placeholder