St. Peter’s Basilica

Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City near Rome, Italy
Saint Peter’s Square, Vatican City near Rome, Italy

The Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican is the formal name of the principal church of the Roman Catholic Church.  St. Peter’s Square leads you to the Basilica, and after a security check, the massive Renaissance cathedral is not only a spiritual pilgrimage site, but an architectural wonder as well.   I visited during an Easter week, but the crowds were manageable.   I didn’t see the Pope at the Vatican, but did make it to the Stations of the Cross held on Good Friday each year outside of the Roman Colosseum – here’s a photo of what it looked like while sitting on a nearby hill.

popecoliseum
Pope Benedict XVI celebrating the Stations of the Cross outside of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy.

The Basilica site was chosen on the location it was believed Saint Peter was buried after he was martyred in October 64 A.D.  The first Basilica was built in the early 300s, but the replacement you see today was started in 1506 and completed more than a century later.  There are several masterpieces of art inside, including Michelangelo’s Pieta. Thanks to an attack with a hammer in 1972, the famous sculpture is now seen through a glass panel.

 

In addition to the Basilica, the Vatican Museums are a must see, and a visit includes the Sistine Chapel.

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Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame de Paris or Notre Dame, Paris, France
Notre Dame, Paris, France

I was planning on adding Notre Dame to the blog this week, and then the sad events of this afternoon occurred.  Notre Dame (“Our Lady) is in the center of Paris, France and is nearly 900 years old.  When I was in the city, I took a few hundred photos from as many areas as I could and left without a doubt of why it’s one of the most visited churches in the world.  Despite the destruction from today’s fire, the church fared better than I would have expected and hopefully will be restored over time.  The Roman Catholic Cathedral has survived destructive events in the past, including desecration by atheists during the French Revolution and World Wars, so there’s reason to be optimistic.  There’s also a lot of history about this church online, so I’ll just add a couple more links if you want to read more.

Saint Marie Madeleine

Church Saint Marie Madeleine, Paris, France
Church Saint Marie Madeleine, Paris, France

Saint Marie Madeleine, or La Madeleine is a Neo-classical style Roman Catholic church started in the late 1700s, but  finally consecrated in 1842.  Originally, the design with the columned exterior and alcoves for statues was designated by Napoleon to be a memorial to the “Glory of the Great Army”.   Later, after Napoleon’s fall, King Louis XVIII decided that the structure would be a church, dedicated to Mary Magdalene.  The composer Chopin’s funeral was held here the year the church opened.  It still has daily Masses and can be visited at its location in the 8th arrondissement in Paris, France.

Pisa Cathedral

Bell Tower, Campanile, or Leaning Tower, Pisa, Italy
Bell Tower and Cathedral, Pisa, Italy

A train ride of just over an hour from Florence takes you to the town of Pisa, Italy.  Famous for the leaning bell tower, the complex is also home to the Pisa Cathedral and Baptistry and is known as Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo) or Square of Miracles.  The Cathedral’s construction started in 1063 and consecrated in 1118.  Over the years it’s been expanded and also partially rebuilt after a severe fire in 1595.

Baptistry of St. John, Pisa, Italy
Baptistry of St. John, Pisa, Italy

The Pisa Baptistry of St. John  is the largest in Italy.  The marble building has both Romanesque (lower) and gothic sections (upper) and was completed in 1363, two hundred years after construction began.  A computer analysis of the building supports the theory that the original architects designed it to mimic church organ pipes and the building is known for its incredible acoustics which the staff periodically demonstrate.

 

Votivkirche

Votive Church, Vienna, Austria
Votive Church, Vienna, Austria

The Votivkirche (Votive Church) is a neo-gothic church in Vienna, Austria.  It was being remodeled when I was visiting, but much of the cathedral was still accessible.  The church was built as a thanks to God when the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph survived an assassination attempt in 1853.  His brother helped raise the funds and it was dedicated in 1879.    The church was badly damaged during World War II and has had various renovations since then.  Wikepedia has some detailed information on the interior as well.

Saint Sulpice

Place Saint Sulpice, Paris, France
Place Saint Sulpice, Paris, France

There are several large, ornate churches in Paris that I’d never heard of before I visited.  Saint-Sulpice is a Roman Catholic Church a bit away from the main tourist areas but it’s the second largest church in Paris, France, after Notre Dame. The Romanesque church now in this spot (replacing an earlier building) was started in 1646.  It features a spectacular Great Organ dating from 1862 and is used for regular organ concerts in addition to Mass.

Notre Dame du Sablon

Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon Church, Brussels, Belgium
Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon Church, Brussels, Belgium

Notre Dame du Sablon (Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon) is a Brabantine Gothic  style church in the historic area of Brussels, Belgium.  Initially this was the site of a smaller chapel honoring Mary, but around 1400 the construction of the church began and took about a hundred years. The two chapels were added in the 17th century (St. Ursula – 1676, Saint Murcouf-1690) and a significant restoration was needed in the late 19th century due to deterioration.   Wikipedia has a fairly thorough summary of the history of the church.