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The 10 Prettiest and Most Historic Houses of Worship in America

Stunning spiritual sanctuaries that epitomize religious inspiration

spinner image the exterior of the national cathedral in washington, dc in the evening
GETTY IMAGES

Swiss architect Mario Botta once said, “Church architecture describes visually the idea of the sacred, which is a fundamental need of man.” That philosophy is demonstrated in the beauty of religious structures across the United States.

From the 17th-century San Miguel Chapel, a Spanish colonial spectacle in Santa Fe, New Mexico, known as the oldest Catholic church in the continental United States, to the St. Sarkis Armenian Orthodox Church in Carrollton, Texas, named the 2022 U.S. Building of the Year by World Architects­, builders have created awe-inspiring places of worship across this free nation.

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And while religious buildings have been closing at an alarming rate — 4,500 Protestant churches shuttered in 2019 and just 3,000 opened, according to Lifeway Research — these monuments to faith are entrenched in our past and present. More than 100 places of worship are designated as U.S. National Historic Landmarks. Here are 10 stunning spiritual sanctuaries that are both historically significant and structurally brilliant.

1. Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky

spinner image The exterior of the cathedral basilica of the assumption in covington, kentucky on a sunny day
The Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky, was inspired by the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
AP Photo/Julio Cortez

The Gothic cathedral, whose construction began in 1894, is known for its 82 stained glass windows handmade in Germany and installed between 1908 and 1923. The Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption is one of only 85 U.S. minor basilicas— a designation given by the pope to mark a church’s significance. The structure’s 54-foot-deep apse has a carved canopy decorated with 16 saints, four angels and Our Lady of the Assumption. Its twin-towered facade features 26 chimeras and 32 gargoyles, which were used for the practical purpose of diverting rainwater and the divine purpose of warding off evil spirits.

2. St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans

spinner image st louis church in new orleans on a bright, clear day
The St. Louis Cathedral is the centerpiece of Jackson Square, also known as Place d'Armes, in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. The church claims to be the oldest continuously operating Catholic cathedral in the continental United States.
Getty Images

A Catholic church has been on this site in downtown New Orleans since 1727. After a fire destroyed the original structure in 1788, the church spent more than five years rebuilding before reopening in December 1794. The iconic Jackson Square structure in the heart of the French Quarter features bells from the early 19th century and claims to be the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the United States. Entombed bishops and archbishops are among the more than 100 people buried in crypts under the floor and pews.

3. Beth Sholom Synagogue in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania

spinner image pyramid-like beth sholom synagogue in elkins park, pennsylvania on a sunny day
Beth Sholom Synagogue in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, was designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Darren Bradley

The massive pyramidal structure outside Philadelphia, which opened in 1959, is the only synagogue designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, who utilized a Mayan Revival style that drew inspiration from pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations. The synagogue was dedicated a few months after the famed architect’s death. In 2007, it was named a National Historic Landmark for its architecture. The inclined walls of corrugated wire glass sheets give the sanctuary a translucent appearance.

4. Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

The second largest cathedral in the U.S. is about 83,000 square feet and stands at 676 feet above sea level, making the top of the central tower the highest point in Washington. Construction began in 1907, and completion of the west towers, 83 years later in 1990, marked its end. The Gothic design features 112 gargoyles, 215 stained glass windows and 288 angels atop the two west towers. The Washington National Cathedral has hosted state funerals for presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Gerald R. Ford and George H.W. Bush.

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5. Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan

spinner image the islamic center of america mosque in dearborn, michigan at sunset
The Islamic Center of America mosque, located in Dearborn, Michigan, opened in May 2005, and is the largest mosque in the United States.
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

In May 2005, the Islamic Center of America opened its 120,000-square-foot facility to accommodate the growing Muslim community in Dearborn, home to the largest percentage of Arab Americans in the United States. The architecture was inspired by the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and features two golden domes that flank the entrance and two 10-story-tall minarets. The institution, located in the Detroit suburbs, was established in 1963 and is the largest mosque in the United States.

6. St. Andrew Church in Pasadena, California

spinner image st andrews church in pasadena, california
St. Andrew Church in Pasadena, California, draws inspiration from two Roman basilicas dating back to the fifth and sixth centuries.
David Crane

The Pasadena landmark, built in 1927, brings Romanesque architecture to Southern California. Outside the 140-foot bell tower and its medieval facade are recreations of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin, a basilica along the Tiber River with sixth-century roots. Inside, St. Andrew Church draws inspiration from the fifth-century Basilica of Santa Sabina, with rows of colorful Corinthian-capped scagliola columns. The mural above the white marble altar, depicting the legend of St. Andrew, was painted by Italian artist Carlo Wostry.

7. Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City

spinner image the mormon temple in salt lake city is lit up at sunset
Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City is the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac

At about 403,000 square feet, the towering structure that encompasses five blocks in downtown Salt Lake City is the largest Latter-day Saints temple by floor area. A 12-foot-5-inch statue of the Angel Moroni tops the six-spire granite edifice. The temple has been closed for major renovations since 2019, but it is expected to reopen in 2026. Before shutting down, Temple Square was one of the most visited tourist sites in Utah, drawing 3 to 5 million people each year.

8. Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas

spinner image the woodland ambience of thorncrown chapel in eureka springs, arkansas
Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, prides itself on its organic ambiance and use of natural materials.
Whit Slemmons/Thorncrown Chapel

Surrounded by trees and rock formations, the 48-foot-tall chapel, made with organic materials, invites the natural woodland ambience inside, with more than 6,000 square feet of glass and 425 windows. The structure, inspired by Sainte Chapelle in Paris, has been recognized by the American Institute of Architects and was designed by Arkansas’ E. Fay Jones, an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright. Jones wanted to use only materials that could be carried through the woods, so the chapel was predominantly built using 2-by-12s or smaller pieces of pressure-treated pine.

9. Eldridge Street Synagogue in New York City

spinner image the interior of eldridge street synagogue in new york city is lit up on a sunny day
The historic Eldridge Street Synagogue in Manhattan is a National Historic Landmark.
Getty Images

Built in 1887 during a time of mass immigration to the United States, the Lower East Side synagogue was a religious home to many Eastern European transplants. The handcrafted building, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1996, features a cream brick facade, horseshoe arches and brass chandeliers. It underwent a 20-year, $20 million restoration that concluded in December 2007, when it was rededicated as the Museum at Eldridge Street. In 2010, a 16-foot circular, star-filled stained glass window was added 50 feet above the ground.

10. The Byodo-In Temple in Kaneohe, Hawaii

spinner image byodo-in temple in hawaii on a cloudy day
Byōdō-in Temple in Oahu, Hawai'i is a replica of the 1,000-year-old Byōdō-in Temple in Uji, Japan.
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Located at the foot of the Ko‘olau Mountains on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, the nonpracticing Buddhist temple invites all faiths to worship, meditate or marvel at its beauty. The structure — a replica of the nearly 1,000-year-old Byōdō-in Temple in Uji, Japan — was built in 1968 to mark the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants coming to Hawaii. The temple features a three-ton bronze sacred bell and a nine-foot-tall statue of Amida Buddha. Small waterfalls, reflecting ponds, wild peacocks and Japanese koi can be found on the lush, beautifully maintained grounds.

What is the most beautiful house of worship you have ever visited?

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