Connecting Global Cities: Churches and Temples

Oct 25, 2013 9:05:47 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

“Connecting Global Cities” is a monthly column written by Colin Speakman, Director of China Programs for CAPA International Education.

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When I showed American students around London, I always asked, "What are the two kinds of buildings that you think are the oldest you will find in this global city?" They usually got one quickly: churches. (The other was actually public houses as these were often the earliest inns and watering holes for horse drawn transport).

UK - London - Westminster: Westminster Abbey - West Front Towers
Photo: Westminster Abbey by Wally Gobetz

London boasts many fine churches, including the Wren churches that survived the Blitz on London in World War II, and the famous Westminster Abbey, where Monarchs are buried and most members of the Royal Family are married.

Photo: St. Paul's on the City of London skyline by Colin Speakman

An exception was the late Princess Diana who married Prince Charles in the imposing St. Paul's Cathedral, which some believe to have been built on the site where an ancient Roman temple to the Goddess Diana once stood. In daily life, in the days of village London, church greens were focal points for the local community.

Salamanca domes
Photo: New Cathedral of Salamanca domes by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Around the world, it is a source of wonder as to how the magnificent cathedrals were constructed so tall, so long ago and how they have stood the test of time. Head to Florence and it is hard to miss the sight of the Duomo with its towering presence on the city skyline. Visit Salamanca and walk from the Old Cathedral to the New Cathedral (which is actually pretty old!) and which can be spied from a far as one approaches the city. The Notre Dame Cathedral with its sculptures and stained glass windows attracts more visitors annually in Paris than the Eiffel Tower. These venerable edifices can indeed become name cards of their locales.

Photo: Inside Notre Dame by Stephanie Sadler

Of course religions come in many forms as do the buildings followers worship in like the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, the Lama Temple in Beijing and the Metropolitan Cathedral as the leading Catholic Church in Buenos Aires. Churches often contain valuable works of art. Venice alone has more than 250 churches, many decorated with frescoes and other works by artists such as Tintoretto, Titian, Bellini and Lotto. Some cities have a surprising number of churches that are woven in a clandestine way into the fabric of the city, such as Sydney's eight Gothic-inspired churches that are dotted almost unnoticed around the metropolis. Reflecting the time of the (former) British Concession in Shanghai after the Opium Wars of mid 19th century, one can find a very Western looking church just behind Suzhou Creek, though no longer used for worship.

Interior View of St. Mark's Basilica, Venice, Italy
Photo: St Mark's Basilica in Venice by -Reji

So if you're planning to visit a church or a temple in one of CAPA's 8 Global Cities which will it be? Here are some recommendations.


The Yonghe Lama Temple

The location of Beijing's Yonghe Lama Temple was originally built in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty, but served first as an official residence for court eunuchs before becoming the court of Prince Yong, a son of the Kangxi Emperor. When Prince Yong took the throne in 1722 as the Yongzheng Emperor, half the buildings became a monastery for monks of Tibetan Buddhism. The temple subsequently become home to many monks from Mongolia and Tibet and then the national center for Lama administration and the largest lamasery in China. It is set behind a relaxing garden area and the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses contains a 26 meter tall statue of the Maitreya Buddha carved from a single piece of Sandalwood.

Photo: CAPA Beijing outside the Yonghe Lama Temple by Colin Speakman


The Metropolitan Cathedral

The Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires is the main Catholic church in the capital. During the development of Buenos Aires in 1580, part of a block facing the main square was reserved for the major church of the town. This is still the location of the current Cathedral though it is the last of several structures to have occupied that site. The Cathedral was consecrated in 1791 without a facade, owing to financial constraints, and it took till around 1863 to complete that element. In 1880, the remains of the famous General Jose de San Martin were brought from France and placed in a mausoleum that is accessible from inside the Cathedral.

The Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral
Photo: Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires by iwillbehomesoon


St. Patrick's Cathedral

Also known as the National Cathedral (and Collegiate Church of Saint Patrick) Dublin, and founded in 1191, it is the largest church in Ireland with a 43 meter spire, added in 1769. Unusually Dublin is a two-Cathedral city as it also has Christ Church, a cathedral which acts as the seat for the Archbishop of Dublin, with St. Patrick's focused on a role for the whole of Ireland. The most famous official was Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels, who was Dean of St. Patrick's from 1713-1745. Swift's grave can be found in the cathedral. Today the cathedral is used for a number of public ceremonies including Remembrance Day and a special Christmas Carol Service held twice in December, including December 24.

St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin
Photo: St. Patrick's Cathedral by Daniel


The Duomo of Florence

Il Duomo di Firenze is the popular name for the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, which was completed in 1436 after initial construction as far back as 1296. It boasts an elaborate 19th Century Gothic Revival facade by Emilio de Febris. Located in the Piazza del Duomo, the Cathedral complex includes a separate Baptistery and Giotto's Campanile Tower. The three buildings are designated as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in the historic center of Florence. The Dome of the Cathedral, so visible above the rooftops of Florence, is the largest brick built dome ever constructed. Il Duomo di Firenze is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Florence.

Duomo - Florence
Photo: The Duomo by Russell McNeil


The Sultan Ahmed Mosque

Popularly known the Blue Mosque because of the tens of thousands of blue tiles on the interior walls, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque was built in Istanbul between 1609 and 1616 under the rule of Ahmed 1 (whose tomb is in a separate building on the north side of the mosque) and hence the official name. Sultan Ahmed died at the young age of 27, one year after the mosque was completed. It is considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period, and is estimated to attract between 4 and 5 million visitors a year.The mosque has a main dome, eight secondary domes and six minarets. When Pope Benedict XVI visited this mosque in 2006, he was making only the 2nd ever visit by a Pope to a Muslim place of worship.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul
Photo: The Blue Mosque by Ming-yen Hsu


St.Paul's Cathedral

This Church of England Cathedral sits at the top of Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London. It is the mother church of the Diocese of London and seat of the Bishop of London. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, it was declared officially complete on December 25, 1711 having been consecrated for use in 1697. The Dome has been described by several authorities as the finest in the world. As if not already famous enough, the eyes of most of the world were surely on it when Prince Charles married the then Lady Diana Spencer (assumed to be the future Queen) in the Cathedral on July 29, 1981. The current cathedral is not the first on this site. An earlier St. Paul's was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Photo: St Paul's Cathedral with the famous Dome by Colin Speakman


Jing An Temple

Jing An Temple is a Buddhist Temple located in Jing An District in Shanghai, on the West Nanjing Road. It is one of the most famous temples in Shanghai and arguably set in the most attractive buildings. The name means Temple of Peace and Tranquility. The Temple was relocated to its current site as long ago as 1216 during the Song Dynasty and rebuilt there during the Qing Dynasty, undergoing several renovations since and is preserved in excellent condition for current visitors with a further refurbishment completed this year. The three halls around a courtyard date from the reconstruction in 1880. There is a Jade Buddha Hall containing the largest statue of a sitting Jade Buddha in China. It is a fully functioning temple surrounded on three sides by exterior shopping facilities with a convenient 2 line metro station running underneath. An interesting blend of ancient and modern.

Photo: Jing An Temple on West Nanjing Road Shanghai by Colin Speakman


St. Mary's Cathedral

St Mary's is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney and seat of the Archbishop of Sydney. It has the greatest length of any church in Australia, though it is not the largest overall. The current cathedral was opened in 1882, but more work was undertaken on it into the next century. Like Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, one of its glories is said to be the stained glass installed over a period of 50 years, involving 40 pictorial windows. Continuing Global Cities links, like Istanbul, Pope Benedict XVI also visited this cathedral in Sydney on July 19, 2008 on a historic occasion.

St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney
Photo: St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney by Praveen Tomy

Do you have a favorite church or temple? Please tell us about it in the comments.

Topics: Global Cities