Explore America’s Landmark Churches

   By DJ Wilson

During my senior year of College, I was fortunate to travel to Paris, France as part of my educational studies.  One of the most memorable experiences I had was visiting Notre Dame de Paris, meaning Our Lady of Paris.  Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it is a considered to be one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world and is often described as the finest example of French Gothic Architecture. The first period of construction began in 1163, and took almost 200 years to build.   Its glorious spires, vaults, and towers left a grand impression on me.  The intriguing flying buttresses elegantly support the structure of the magnificent Catholic cathedral.  The soaring height of the interior and the stained glass south rose window are breathtaking, with gargoyles adding tremendous interest to the overall architecture.  Paris is quite a far journey for many of us, so why not explore churches and cathedrals within our own country?  America has a plethora of religious landmarks worthy of visiting.  It is our privilege to explore and learn about our religious structures, while it is our duty to honor these sacred places of worship.  I’ve made a list of those I would like to visit and I am happy to share two examples with you.

The Cathedral of St. Patrick, Manhattan, New York

Known to many as St. Patrick’s Cathedral, this magnificent Roman Catholic cathedral church is both an active parish and seat of the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.  Designed by James Renwick, Jr. in the Gothic Revival Style, the cathedral was built between 1858 and 1878.  The exterior is built of brick clad in marble, quarried in New York and Massachusetts.  The slate roof and high spires add splendor to the exterior façade.  On the interior, the Saint Michael and St. Louis alters were designed by Tiffany & Company.  The stained glass windows, crafted by artists, are among the finest in the world.  A crypt is located beneath the high alter, where notable Catholic figures are entombed.     Located on the east side of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and between 50th and 51st Streets, the church accommodates 2,200 people and takes up a whole city block.  In 1976, it became a National Historic Landmark.  The parish welcomes over 5.5 million visitors each year.  In the words of Monsignor Robert T. Ritchie, “Great cathedrals have always linked past, present and future generations in a web of faith, solace, music and inspiration.  We hope to connect you time and again to a building of peace, prayer, hope and charity.”

Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania

Home of the faithful congregation of the Episcopal Church, Washington Memorial Chapel is an active parish located amidst the gentle hills of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.  The historic chapel is open to the public 365 days a year and seats 150 communicants.  On the 125thanniversary of the evacuation of the continental army, in 1903, the cornerstone for the chapel was laid.  The small chapel was completed in 1917 and stands as an exemplary model of Gothic Revival Architecture.  Not only serving as a wayside chapel for visitors of Valley Forge National Park, it stands as a living memorial in honor of George Washington and those encamped at Valley Forge in the winter.  It is important to note the chapel is independent of the National Park Service and receives no funding from the Valley Forge Historic Park, thus donations are appreciated.  Construction of The National Patriots Bell Tower was undertaken by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).  The Bell Tower houses the DAR Patriot Rolls, listing those who served in the Revolutionary War, WWI and WWII.  It is also home to the Justice Bell and the Washington Memorial National Carillon. The Justice Bell is a full size replica of the Liberty Bell which was used between 1915 and 1920 in the Women’s Suffrage Movement.  The Carillon is amongst the largest and finest in the world.  Its 58 bronze bells represent states and some U.S. territories and cover nearly five octaves.  The carillon is especially unique as it is played entirely by hand from a keyboard located by the bells, not electronically.  The Veterans Wall of Honor is currently under construction and is designed to preserve the memory of special veterans.  All United States Forces Personnel, whether living or dead, are eligible but space is limited.  The beautiful chapel invites you to tour, worship, or attend special services.  From the glorious stained glass window depicting George Washington at prayer to the attractive stone exterior, it is a hallowed place where history, religion, and patriotism graciously unite.

Since we may not have the luxury of traveling to Europe, why not explore some of America’s beautiful churches and cathedrals here at home?  With so many to choose from, you may wish to begin by visiting some closer to where you live.  Designed to express religious conviction, our places of worship stand as constant reminders of the faithful who built our nation.  Our churches remain symbols of the strength and will of the people to give Glory to God.  Let us appreciate the rich historical and architectural significance they provide.  Displaying some of the most beautiful structural designs in the world, they are extraordinary places to explore.  Many serve as important music centers too, offering celebration though inspirational composition and song.  Synagogues of the Jewish Faith and Mosques for followers of Islam are also important centers of worship for some Americans.  Discover America in a new way.  Take a wonderful journey examining the remarkable history of America’s chapels, churches, and cathedrals which play an important role in the growth and development of our beautiful nation.

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