Historic churches from every state
The United States has provided a refuge for persecuted religious groups ever since the Puritans boarded the Mayflower and set sail for the New World in 1620. Roger Williams later broke away from the Plymouth Colony and established the country's first Baptist congregation in Providence, R.I. Quakers settled in Pennsylvania, while Catholics, financed by Britain's Lord Baltimore, escaped to what would eventually become the state of Maryland.
Since the colonial period, churches have served an important role not only in politics and history but also in the creation of a new, distinctly American architectural landscape. Today, the U.S. is home to more than 300 different religions and roughly 350,000 congregations attending services in a vast array of ecclesiastical buildings throughout the nation.
The Anglican Book of Common Prayer reminds believers that all human life, inevitably, turns to dust. The same principle can hold true for great works of architecture, which can just as suddenly turn to ash. On April 15, millions of people watched in disbelief as flames consumed the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris—arguably one of the most beautiful and historically significant ecclesiastical buildings in the western world. For many, the 850-year-old Gothic masterpiece represented the very heart of France and had seemed indestructible, weathering even the French Revolution.
Stacker presents this carefully curated list of some of the most beautiful and historically significant churches in each of the 50 states. Several buildings are elaborate cathedrals in major cities. Others are simple, yet striking, structures in America's heartland or former missionary centers that sprang up as the country expanded westward. Many buildings are artistic masterpieces, including a handful of churches designed by some of the most innovative architects of modern times.
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Alabama: First Baptist Church
Designed by local black architect Dave Benjamin West in 1894, First Baptist Church was built for a historically African American congregation. The red brick Gothic Revival church rose to prominence in the 1960s as a center for the growing civil rights movement.
Alaska: St. Michael's Cathedral
St. Michael's Cathedral in Sitka, Alaska, is the oldest Orthodox cathedral in the United States. The structure was built in the 1840s while Alaska was still under Russian rule; the U.S. later bought Alaska from the Russians in 1867 for $7.2 million. The cathedral was made of wood and capped with a traditional Russian onion dome, and was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1961. The church was destroyed by fire just five years later, but thanks to a drawing created by the Historic American Buildings Survey, architects were able to recreate the original structure using fireproof materials.
Arizona: Chapel of the Holy Cross
Rising out from the red rocks of Sedona, the Roman Catholic Chapel of the Holy Cross was built in 1956. Designed by Marguerite Brunswig Staude, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, the facade is dominated by a wall of stained glass, encased by a thin membrane of masonry and a towering cross measuring 90 feet high.
Arkansas: Thorncrown Chapel
Retired school teacher Jim Reed had a vision: the creation of a non-denominational, ethereal sanctuary on land he originally purchased for his retirement. Reed hired Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice E. Fay Jones to design the structure, which was completed in 1980. Nestled in the wooded Ozark hills just outside Eureka Springs, Thorncrown Chapel is a temple of light supported by a series of crisscrossing beams evocative of the surrounding forest, visible through the soaring, floor-to-ceiling panes of glass.
California: Wayfarers Chapel
Wayfarers Chapel—another glass church influenced by the aesthetic of Frank Lloyd Wright—was designed by his son, Lloyd Wright, for Palos Verdes resident Elizabeth Schellenberg. Both Schellenberg and Narcissa Cox Vanderlip, the woman who donated the land Wayfarers Chapel sits upon, were members of the Swedenborgian Church. This Christian sect was founded in the 18th century by Lutheran theologian Emanuel Swedenborg. Wayfarers Chapel embodies the Swedenborgian principles of harmony and balance between the spiritual and natural realms. A popular destination for celebrity weddings (Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay were married there in 1958), the skeletal, glass-enclosed structure overlooks the beautiful blue of the Pacific Ocean.
Colorado: Chapel on the Rock
The rough-hewn stone Chapel on the Rock sits in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Dedicated to St. Catherine of Siena, it was originally part of a 60,000 square foot retreat complex founded by Edith and Oscar Malo in the 1930s. But a 2011 fire and 2013 flooding destroyed much of the property surrounding the chapel. In 2016, the Archdiocese of Denver began a massive renovation to the site, which hosted Pope John Paul II when he visited the U.S. in 1993.
Connecticut: First Congregational Church of Litchfield
Litchfield is noteworthy for more than the fictional women's prison featured in the hit Netflix series “Orange Is The New Black”—it's also home to one of the oldest congregational communities in the country. This Greek Revival church, built in 1829, is considered one of the finest examples of early 19th-century church architecture.
Delaware: Trinity Episcopal Church
A haven for colonial settlers of all faiths, Delaware has no shortage of beautiful churches. Trinity Episcopal in Wilmington, however, is particularly impressive. Constructed from rough stone in the English Gothic style, the church was designed by Philadelphia-based architect Theophilus Chandler, Jr. It boasts a distinctive timbered ceiling and Tiffany stained glass windows.
Florida: St Bernard de Clairvaux
North Miami is home to the cloister of the Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux—a stunning Spanish Romanesque chapel and surrounding gardens dating to the early 12th century. Purchased by William Randolph Hearst in 1925, the building was taken apart stone by stone and shipped to a storage facility where it languished for over 25 years. In the 1950s, a pair of entrepreneurs purchased the dismantled structure and resurrected it in Miami. Originally a Catholic church, the chapel is now home to an active Episcopal parish.
Georgia: Faith Chapel
Made of stained cypress shingles, Faith Chapel on Georgia's Jekyll Island was founded in 1904 to serve members of the exclusive Jekyll Island Club. The chapel ceased to function as a non-denominational house of worship in the 1940s, but couples can still be married in the soft, prismatic glow of the building's Tiffany stained glass window.2018 All rights reserved.