Life on the road can be unsettling to the soul, so from time to time–when passing through towns and cities–we’ll randomly take our time to wander through a variety of houses of worship for a healthy dose of salvation and inner peace.
As we’ve wound our way across America, several sanctuaries have stood out for their historical significance, stunning architecture, and their integration into the communities they serve.
The chapel of the Mission San Antonio de Valero, better known as the Alamo, was founded in the early 18th century as a Roman Catholic mission along the San Antonio River,
and distinguished itself as the Shrine of Texas Liberty, commemorating the Battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836, when a 13-day siege ended in the Mexican army’s victory over 189 Texian soldiers.
Originally, the compound was intended as an education center for America’s Indians who converted to Christianity,
but, ultimately the Alamo became a fortress of New Spain militiamen after the Franciscan missionaries abandoned it in 1793.
In 2015, the Alamo was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
While exploring Big Sky country around Helena, Montana, Leah and I visited the Cathedral of St. Helena,
a Roman Catholic parish patterned after the Gothic form of Votive Church in Vienna, Austria,
and distinctive for its 59 stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
Nearly destroyed by an earthquake in 1935, the cathedral was restored to its original design after three years of reconstruction.
The interior was gilded in time for the Cathedral’s Golden Jubilee in 1959,
and included in National Register of Historic Places in 1980–giving the residents of Helena something to crow about.
Romanesque architecture defines the exterior of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, completed in 1914,
and attributed to patron Saint Louis IX, King of France.
However, the interior reflects from a Byzantine style rooted in soaring domes and mosaic art.
Installation of the Cathedral’s mosaics–which adorn almost every decorative surface of wall, ceiling and dome–began in 1912 and was completed in 1988.
Twenty different artists collectively inlaid 41.5 million tessarae tiles of 7,000 colors, covering 83,000 square feet, making it the largest mosaic collection in the world.
Pope John Paul II designated the Cathedral a basilica in 1997, where it acts as the mother church for the Archdiocese, and seat of its archbishop.
In stark contrast, the Cadet Chapel–a multi-faith house of worship–soars heaven-bound at the Air Force Academy campus located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
With 17 upright wings on edge, and piercing the sky at 150 feet, the Cadet Chapel is a stirring example of modern American Architecture.
Constructed mostly of aluminum, glass, and steel,
the main sanctuary is home to an Air Force Academy demographic that is primarily Protestant.
However, the lower level of the structure houses chapels and prayer rooms for Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Orthodox Christians.
The Cadet Chapel was awarded the American Institute of Architects’ Twenty-five Year Award in 1996, and was named a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 2004.
Also reflective of modern American architecture, and an homage to nature in its purest form is Thorncrown Chapel, nestled in the Ozarks of Arkansas, on the edge of Eureka Springs.
Constructed from the same Southern pine indigenous to the site, the chapel is so integrated into the landscape that it stealthily stands camouflaged by its surroundings,
and represents an inside/outside sensibility, with Arts and Crafts flourishes.
Thorncrown Chapel was named a National Historic Place in 2000, and received the Twenty-five Year Award by the American Institute of Architects in 2006 for design of enduring significance.
The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah, Georgia is a Roman Catholic sanctuary built in the French Gothic style, and was dedicated in 1876.
Twelve years later, fire gutted the interior, leaving behind only the walls and towers.
Overcoming adversity, the church community quickly rebuilt much of what was destroyed, and resumed inside services in 1900,
while interior decoration continued for an additional 13 years,
to restore the stained glass and organ loft to its original splendor.
Embedded in Savannah’s Historic District, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was awarded landmark status by the National Park Service in 1966.
Lastly, in our effort to somehow balance the preponderance of churches and chapels we’ve toured, we visited Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue in the Historic District of Charleston, South Carolina.
Kahal Kadosh is notable as the country’s second oldest synagogue, and the oldest in continuous use. Established in 1749, Kahal Kadosh grew into America’s largest and wealthiest Jewish community by the end of the 18th century.
A new vision of American Reform Judaism originated at this site in 1824 after parting ways from its conservative Sephardic origins.
After Charleston’s fire of 1838 ravaged the city and destroyed the synagogue, a new Greek revival style was adopted for the new structure, with rich interior ornamentation,
reminiscent of Greek temples.
Jewish services, according to reformist rituals and practices, were now conducted in English, with a new emphasis on organ music, and women were encouraged to participate with men on the main floor, breaking with a long-standing tradition of separation and isolation in the sanctuary balconies.
The rich history and diversity of religion and protected religious freedoms in America cannot be overlooked as increased debate centers around self-centered interpretations of our Constitution’s First Amendment.
Moral outrage and hubris abound as politicians and public figures drape themselves in stars and stripes, while preaching to their flock from behind protective glass with handfuls of stones at the ready.
A reckoning of biblical proportion awaits us if we cannot ascend beyond our intolerance, and let each other live as we would have others let us live–in peace and without judgement.