St. Stephen Bulgarian Church: the unique cast iron Church of Istanbul

We are in Istanbul, Turkey, a city that has no shortage of houses of worship, and the Bulgarian Church of St. Stephen set along the shore of the Golden Horn blends in with its holy brethren at first glance. Upon closer inspection, however, this cross-shaped basilica is like few others in the world. St. Stephen Church has the detailed ornaments of a regular Orthodox stone church, but it’s actually made of prefabricated cast iron elements. Sometimes referred to as “The Iron Church”, it is considered the largest prefabricated cast iron…

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The impressive little Lourdes 30 km from Milan

It would take a miracle to save what should have been the little Lourdes of the Lombard Prealps. In Merate, a small town near Lecco, in Northern Italy, about 30 kilometers from Milan, locals call it “ex Oratorio San Luigi” because, before becoming a dark and decaying ruin, it was the parish meeting point in the city for about 30 years. Actually, this is the Basilica of the Santissima Immacolata, designed in 1906 by Spirito Monsignor Chiappetta, engineer and friend of Pope Pius XI on an area of 4 thousand…

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Don’t release the witch! The ruins of St Mary’s Church at East Somerton, England ~

The county of Norfolk, England, is home of the world’s greatest concentration of medieval churches, with over 650 scattered in the area. Drive to any place in the county, and you are guaranteed to find at least one such church. Try to imagine Norwich, its main city, that has enough for worshippers to visit a different one each week for a whole year! However, since some of these date from at least half a millennia ago, some have not survived as well as others. In the woods of East Somerton…

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Corenno Plinio: enchanting medieval hamlet on the eastern branch of Como Lake

Corenno Plinio is a small and charming medieval settlement just few minutes far from Dervio, on the eastern branch of Como Lake, Italy. It is an enchanted place that few people know, that stands atop a stone spur overlooking the waters of lake.Walking through its narrow streets and along the stairs built in the rocks, from the castle to the lake, it is impossible not to be charmed by this small hamlet that sweats history in every corner.Not by chance, it is also know as “The village of a thousand…

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The Hardy Tree: the churchyard ash tree surrounded by hundreds of gravestones placed there by author Thomas Hardy

Inside an ancient churchyard in London an ash tree is encircled with hundreds of overlapping gravestones, placed there by classic novelist Thomas Hardy. The cemetery, alongside London’s St. Pancras Old Church, is considered by many to be one of England’s oldest places of Christian worship, and it is the site of a number of fascinating stories. For istance, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and the future Mary Shelley planned their elopement there while visiting Mary’s mother’s grave. Restored in the first few years of the 21st century, the graveyard served…

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St. Dunstan-in-the-East: one of the few remaining casualties of the London Blitz, this destroyed church has become an enchanting public garden.

We are on St Dunstan’s Hill, halfway between London Bridge and the Tower of London in the City of London.The church of St.Dunstan-in-the-East built here has survived a lot during its 900-year history, including the Great Fire of London in 1666.It was originally built during Saxon times, in about 1100. Although the Great Fire caused terrible damage to the church it was faithfully rebuilt, and topped with a steeple designed by Sir Christopher Wren, one of the most highly acclaimed English architects in history. However in 1941 the church was…

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Kościół w Kartuzach: the coffin-shaped church in Poland where monks once slept in coffins

Despite It’s hard to tell from the ground, if you take to the skies you’ll see that this 14th-century Gothic church is shaped like a coffin. Yes, really a coffin. And, interestingly, it isn’t its only coffin connection, either. The church, located in Kartuzy, in nothern Poland (about 32 kilometres west of Gdańsk), was part of a monastery built in 1380 by a group of Carthusian monks from Bohemia. However, the small brotherhood was rather eccentric and had the macabre custom of sleeping in coffins. Also the building’s inside has…

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St. Senara’s Curch and the legend of the Mermaid of Zennor~

A variety of fish-tailed gods were worshipped by the first civilisations of the Middle East, and the earliest known of these was Oannes, Lord of the Waters, who appeared about 7000 years ago. However, it is unclear what the connection is between these ancient gods and the mermaids that were reported by European sailors from around the 15th century onwards. But sightings were at one time pretty common in Cornwall. British folklore proposes that the mermaid represents an early depiction of the goddess Aphrodite, who was seen as a warning…

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Allegory of “The Tree of Life” in Segovia – Spain

We are in Segovia, Spain. In the local Cathedral, among the colors of the stained glass windows and the splendid Gothic architecture, there is also a curious painting hanging on the wall. It is called The Tree of Life, locally El Arbol de la Vida, and is one of many that hangs in the Immaculate Conception Chapel (Capilla de la Concepción) in Segovia Cathedral. A riotous party is taking place in the bough of a tree symbolizing life, complete with food, live music, and merriment. Meanwhile below, a sinister skeleton…

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Is Saint Corona the patron saint of epidemics?

Did you know Aachen Cathedral, Western Germany, may be able to claim a special spiritual connection with the global coronavirus pandemic? It is said that the cathedral, one of Europe’s oldest, house the relics of Saint Corona herself. What’s more, Saint Corona is believed to be the patron saint of protection against plague. Ironically, locals had begun renewing its focus on Saint Corona more than a year ago, well before the novel virus had spread as a public health threat and, originally, Aachen Cathedral had planned to put the saint’s…

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Roche Rock Hermitage: a ruined 15th-century hermitage steeped in myth and mystery~

Roche, in cornish dialect “Tregarrek”, which mean homestead of the rock, is a civil parish and village in mid-Cornwall, United Kingdom. Atop a 20-meters-tall tourmaline granite, outcrop looking out at the atmospheric Bodmin Moor and china clay mountains of St. Austell, stands a suggestive ruined hermitage. Built around 1409, it is dedicated to Saint Michael and has been surrounded by myth and mystery for hundreds of years. The hermitage has two floors, with the top room originally serving as the chapel. Although the west wall is all but gone, the…

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Lee Chapel Cemetery – Virginia, and the county’s grisliest murder

The Lee Chapel was a Methodist Episcopalian church that sat at the intersection of the former Pohick Road and Mill Road (now Fairfax County Parkway and Lee Chapel Road). It was built in 1871 to replace Mt. Carmel Methodist Church, which had stood about a block to the south and was burned during the Civil War. Property for the church was donated by John Mahon, a prominent landowner of the day, and it is surrounded by a cemetery where the oldest grave is reported to date from 1887. The church,…

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Gereja Ayam: the curious “chicken church” in the middle of the Indonesian forest

We are in the thick forest of Magelang, Indonesia. If you be trekking here, try not to be too alarmed if you stumble upon a massive building shaped like a chicken. Yes, a chicken. Known as Gereja Ayam (unsurprisingly, “Chicken Church”), this moldering, behemoth, bird-like building is an unexpected, pictoresque and whimsical sight to stumble upon. The church’s unusual design has inspired many debates and fan theories over the years, each one attempting to solve the mystery of why someone would spend money to build a chicken in the middle…

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The real Sleepy Hollow: where the legends lives!

From the listless repose of the place, and the peculiar character of its inhabitants, who are descendants from the original Dutch settlers, this sequestered glen has long been known by name of Sleepy Hollow … A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere. — Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” Historically, the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, also known as the Dutch Reformed Church, is the oldest existing church in New York. Together with its two-and-a-half-acre colonial-era burying ground, served as…

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Snagov Monastery: the island that (allegedly) houses the tomb of Dracula

We are in Romania. Transylvania has long been known as a place where vampires, werewolves, and the souls of the dead haunt dark forests, like Hoia Baciu forest, which has a reputation as one of the most haunted place of the world, and ghostly-looking fortresses. Many of the most “haunted places” in Transylvania, Romania are also popular tourist attractions. On a tiny island in a lake just outside of Bucharest stands Snagov Monastery which local tradition states is the burial place of Vlad Tepes, better known as Vlad the Impaler,…

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Stephansdom Crypt – Vienna

In Vienna city center, the dark and imposing St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom in German) draws thousands of tourists to gaze at its imposing architecture. It is arguably Vienna’s No. 1 attraction all round, certainly a marvel of gothic architecture, and it’s truly ancient: work began in the 12th century and the present structure was completed in 1511 (even though the north tower was never finished) and, in addition, It is Austria’s largest and most significant religious building. However, there is something to be seen below as well: just beneath the…

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The Lucifer of Liège – Belgium

Even though the original structure of St. Paul Cathédrale de Liège goes back to the 10th century, it’s been built over a few times, and today it is mostly comprised of 13th and 15th century architecture. It became a Roman Catholic cathedral in the 19th century due to the destruction of Saint Lambert Cathedral in 1795. The Liège revolutionaries considered it a symbol of the power of the Prince-Bishop. Thus, once the revolutionary mood had passed, another church had to be chosen to replace the destroyed cathedral and the collegiate…

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The beautiful tiny church of St. Andrew on the Vuoksa River – Russia

Although it is an unusual custom, it is technically possible to built a church in an area of only 100 square meters, and this small church on an island in Russia proves it. Designed by Andrey Rotinova, this sacred building is relatively very recent, having been consecrated in 2000. The Saint Andrew church (Priozersky district of Leningrad Oblast) is so small that the Vuoksa river that runs around it, looks like a sea compared to the dimensions of the microscopic building. The church is named after one of the twelve…

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The “Indecent” little man on the church of St. James in Brno, Cze

On the southern window of Brno’s Church of St. James, the same church that houses Europe’s second largest ossuary, one sculptural element of the impressive structure seems somewhat out of place: an indecent little two-headed man cheekily displaying his bare butt to the world. This little guy is called “Neslušný mužícek” – the Indecent Little Man. There are two stories attributed to the little man, both involving the competition between the Church of St. James and the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul on nearby Petrov Hill, to build the…

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The Chios Rocket War is the most explosive Easter in the world!

We are in Greece, where, during the celebration of the Mass the night before Easter Sunday, it is customary to launch fireworks. However, nothing is as spectacular as the event that takes place in Vrontados, on the island of Chios. Rouketopolemos, literally rocket war, is the traditional manifestation that takes place every year on the occasion of Orthodox Easter, and which sees two rival parishes engage in a most unusual and dangerous tradition that has been taking place quite possibly since the Ottoman era. The churches, which sit on opposite…

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