Competition is thick in the church world. If you want your Christian establishment to stand out, you best hold some quirky tricks up your gown. Thankfully, numerous peculiar houses of worship understood the assignment, and now we can offer our prayers and collect Instagram Likes during the same visit. Hallelujah! Here are 10 of the most extraordinary churches we’ve found across the globe:
01. Gereja Ayam (Central Java, Indonesia)
Around 1989, Daniel Alamsjah built the Gereja Ayam. He received a dream where God instructed him to assemble a church high on a forested hill near Magelang City. Furthermore, he must construct the chapel in the shape of a dove. Unfortunately, something got lost in translation, and locals better know the spectacle as the Chicken Church. No matter! Tourists from any faith are welcome, and they flock to the spot to snap their photos. Selfies are popular, but the views from the top are even more breathtaking. And if you get bored, the biggest Buddhist temple in the world, Borobudur, is only a 4km stroll away.
02. High-Heel Wedding Church (Budai Township, Taiwan)
If you can’t decide between your love for churches or women’s footwear, then do I have the landmark for you! Founded in 2016, the Guinness World Records recognises this glass slipper as the largest high-heel shoe-shaped building in the world. Technically, this is a wedding venue rather than a consecrated religious organisation, but for all its shiny blue panes and outrageous appearance, it hides a much darker tale within. Legend tells of a local girl who contracted black foot disease just before her wedding day. As a result, her legs were amputated, which ended her relationship. This lady sank into a deep depression, spending her days hiding in a church. They say this shoe was established in her honour. Whether true or not, it completely ruins this otherwise delightful sight. I am sorry.
03. Doorkijkkerk (Borgloon, Belgium)
Doorkijkkerk goes by many names, such as “The See-Through Church” or “Reading Between The Lines”. They assembled this distinctive religious masterpiece with 100 steel sheets stacked on top of one another. This allows for full literal transparency, unlike your standard church’s reputation. More impressive is that despite its optical illusion frame that almost disappears from certain angles, it is designed to withstand any weather. You won’t even get wet if it rains! Unfortunately, reaching the church is a different story, as it is notoriously difficult to locate.
04. Sedlec Ossuary (Kutná Hora, Czech Republic)
It’s a peculiar sentence to say, but our world is not short of churches decorated with human bones. However, one could argue that none are as creative as the Sedlec Ossuary. This Roman Catholic chapel holds the skeletons of between 40,000 and 70,000 people; each artistically arranged to furnish the temple. Bone chalices? Check! Schwarzenberg’s coat of arms made from bones? Check! A chandelier that features every bone in the human body? Check! But where are these dead bodies coming from? Sadly, the black death in the 14th century overflowed burial plots beyond available space. Hence, repurposing the remains into art pieces was an elegant albeit morbid solution. Not a bad way to be remembered, though! Everyone wins.
05. Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Like some science fiction beehive spaceship landing from the future, Rio conceived their cathedral to mimic the Mayan pyramids. Its most eye-catching attraction is its four rectilinear stained glass windows stretching 64 metres to the ceiling, meeting as a crucifix-shaped skylight. Saint Sebastian is the Patron Satin of Rio, who would be quite confused by this alien formation bearing his name, I’m sure.
06. The Church by the Sea (Madeira Beach, Florida, USA)
Worldwide travellers trek great distances to photograph this church from a very specific angle: the one where it resembles a giant chicken. This architectural similarity was an accident, and the non-denominational congregation prefers to de-emphasise the poultry likeliness. They’d much rather you focus on its other extraordinary achievements; for example, its 25-foot mast that was the city’s tallest structure in the 1940s! Still, considering the global attention its hilarious features call for, we can only hope the church appreciates the humour. The Lord works in mysterious ways!
07. Monastery of Saint Simon (Cairo, Egypt)
Religion in Egypt is complex, from its ancient polytheistic deities to its modern Islamic stronghold. But people forget that Christianity ruled the land before the Muslim takeover, and a potent Christian community remains. Primarily concentrated in Coptic Cairo, here you will find the largest Christian church in the Middle East. What’s remarkable is that they’ve carved the 2000-seated area into an existing cave.
For the more daring adventurers, you can explore Cairo’s Garbage City, which is a brief walk down the road. It is a slum where the entire of Cairo dumps its trash, filling up the buildings and spilling into the streets. Families spend their days sorting through the rubbish, claiming what is useful while trading recyclable material for money. It is a bleak yet intriguing scene not to be missed,
08. Device to Root Out Evil (Calgary, Canada)
Less a place of worship and more an art installation, sculpturer Dennis Oppenheim turned a 22-foot church upside down. Unsurprisingly, devout Christians loudly opposed its implied blasphemy, and it was deemed too inappropriate for its intended location at Stanford University. After several relocations and rejections, it has finally found a home in Calgary’s Glenbow Museum. What an exceptional feat of physics, regardless.
“It’s a very simple gesture that’s made here, simply turning something upside-down. One is always looking for a basic gesture in sculpture, economy of gesture: it is the simplest, most direct means to a work. Turning something upside-down elicits a reversal of content and pointing a steeple into the ground directs it to hell as opposed to heaven.” — Dennis Oppenheim
09. Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral (Liverpool, UK)
Most travellers to Liverpool focus on football achievements or Beatles landmarks. However, one should not neglect the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, otherwise known as Paddy’s Wigwam. Originally envisioned as the second-largest church in the world, finances fell apart. So instead, Liverpool held a contest, seeking the most spectacular design from anyone so inclined. Frederick Gibberd won with this captivating entry, avoiding Christian clichés with this futuristic Mayan architecture that might blast off into space at any moment. The interior is equally as peculiar, including a nightmarish rendition of demonic figures crucifying Saint Peter upside down.
10. Inflatable Church (Anywhere You Like)
Why go to church when you can summon the church to you? Operated by the Spain-based company Innovations Xtreme, a 12-feet tall portable balloon church can appear wherever you wish within two hours. The Guinness World Records 2004 registered the product as the largest inflatable church in the world. And once you’re bored of it, you can simply stick a pin into its side and watch it fly away into the sunset. Don’t quote me on that.