1. Santuario Madonna della Corona
Location of Mountain Church: FERRARA DI MONTE BALDO, ITALY
Santuario Madonna della Corona translated to English as Sanctuary of the Lady of the Crown and this really does deserve our crown as the king of Mountain Churches! It is a stunning masterpiece which looks although it is suspended in mid-air! This ancient Italian Mountain Church hangs half way down the sheer cliffside of Italys Mount Baldo. Due to the Mountain churches, restricted access and remoteness, it is a true survivor of the 20th century. Archaic but still intact! The original Mountain church was built in 1530 as a chapel for people who wanted to pay pilgrimage and contemplate the nature of God in tranquility.
Over the centuries the Mountain church grew larger and another Mountain church was actually built over the original. As the 1970’s came around an Italian architect refurbished a lot of the decaying structure, being mindful to keep its artistic authenticity. These days the once dangerous terrain of the mountain path leading to the chapel has been opened up and improved.
The Mountain church is not technically hanging on the sheer cliff face but sits on a narrow rocky shelf. The remote shelf was has been a tranquil spot for those seeks meditation and praise in peace. This Mountain church is a hidden gem and a very popular pilgrimage site for visitors wishing to lay eyes on the famous Scala Santa, a replica of the stairs to Pilate’s palace that Jesus climbed before he was sentenced to be crucified. Overall, this is one of the most stunning Mountain Churches in the world.
2. Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe
Location of Mountain Church: Aiguilhe, Le Puy, France
This striking pinnacle Mountain church is a true wonder of France. Voted as Frances 4th best monument in the country, according to the French. The English translation is “St.Michael on a needle” , due to the formation of rocks which resemble a needle! The architecture is reminiscent of holy buildings of Spain, such as the stone work of the famous Cordoba Cathedral. The chapel’s stone work is mighty, with stunning fresco murals and stained glass throughout!
The Mountain churches stunning location magnetises travellers and pilgrims to come from all over the world! The remarkable Panoramic views offer a true delight when you reach the top, at over 279 feet high (85meters). But, where did it all begin?
History of Mountain Church:
Built in 969AD, directly on top of a 279 foot volcanic plug! This phenomenal Mountain chapel has been a place of speculation and rumours for centuries! As some believe it has been a sacred place of worship for many years before the christian Church was built. The christian Mountain chapel was constructed by a bishop who went by the name of “Godescalc”. He constructed the monument as a way to celebrate his return from a pilgrimage, to the shrine of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
Why is the Mountain Church named “Needle”?
This remarkable Mountain church has 268 steps leading up to the 279 feet high Chapel. The cliff top measures at just 187 feet (57 meters). in diameter. That is why it has the name “Needle” or “Aiguilhe”. When you enter the chapel expect a tranquil environment, which is great for meditating and prayers. Overall, this is one of the most unique and quirky Mountain Churches in the world.
Top Tip: The actual steps leading up the Mountain Chapel are not too difficult with, many benches acting as rest points along the journey.
Top Tip: A common practice by pilgrims is to get their walking sticks blessed in the clifftop shrine before starting their ascent up the steps of the Mountain Church.
3. Sagra di San Michele
Location of Mountain Church: Turin, Sant’Ambrogio di Torino, Italy
Sometimes referred to as Saint Michael’s Abbey, this sensational masterpiece is built on top of Mount Pirchiriano, in the north of Italy. From on top of its towers you can admire the Piedmontese capital and stunning views of the Val di Susa. Built in the 10th century, its Byzantine influence is captured in the columns and arches of its crypt. Where in the 12th Century members of the royal family of the House of Savoy were buried!
A local legend says that the Mountain abbey was built by a hermit, named St. John Vincent. He Dedicated the construction to Archangel Michael , a true defender of the Christian people, Saint Michael’s abbey is part of a pilgrimage route stretching over 2000km from Mont Saint-Michel, France, to Monte Sant’Angelo, in Puglia.
Fun Fact: The Sangra Di San Michele was the setting for an award winning Mystery novel in the 1980’s called, “The name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco.
To reach the face of the chapel you must ascend a treacherous staircase named “Stairway of the Dead”, as you reach the top you will see a mighty 12th-century marble gateway known as “Zodiac’s Door.” Overall, this is one of the most theatrical Mountain Churches in the world.
4. Abune Yemata Guh, Ethiopia.
Location: Gheralta mountains, Ethiopia
The breath taking cave church of Ethiopia have been something of mystery and wonder for Centuries! Forged out of the sandstone of the Gheralta mountains approximately 1,600 years ago, this array of cave churches is truly an amazing sight. The remarkable Fresco covered rocks are amazingly well preserved, offering an artistic insight back in time!
The Gheralta mountains are located 500 miles north of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa and just 60 miles south of the border with Eritrea. If you wish to visit, expect to make your way along narrow ledges, up rope ladders and across a rickety bridge. The church was dedicated to Abuna Yemata, one of the nine Saints that came from Syria to the ancient Kingdom of Aksum in present-day Ethiopia. Approximate figures of the construction are around the 6th century.
Due to it’s remoteness and mystery to the rest of the world, some of the priests have been up in the mountains for over 40 years! Overall, this is one of the most unique Mountain Churches in the world.
Fun Fact: Even though the journey to the hidden cave churches is treacherous, at best. I saw many young families brining their new born babies to be baptised!
5. Lalibela Rock Cut Mountain Church: Ethiopia
Most Unique Mountain Churches in the world!
In a mountain cladded region, nestled in the heart of Lalibela, Ethiopia around 645 km from Addis Ababa. Stands eleven medieval churches, carved entirely out of rock. According to historic records King Lalibela who promised to build a ‘New Jerusalem’,in the 12th century. After Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the holy Land.
The Mountain churches are very unique in that they weren’t constructed in the traditional way. They were hewn from the living rock of monolithic blocks. These blocks were then chiselled out, to construct doors, windows, columns, floors and the roof. This grand work was then further detailed with an vast system of drainage ditches, trenches and ceremonial passages. These unique stone churches are even equip with hermit caves and catacombs. Source.
6. Jvari Monastery
Location: Mtskheta, Republic of Georgia
Jvari Monastery is a stunning UNESCO World Heritage site, located on a hilltop between the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers in Georgia, eastern Europe. The site was first settled by humans around 3000-2000 BC. Who were Attracted by Its mild climate, river intersection and fertile soil. This time capsule of Georgian architecture, was a bustling hub for Christians and Ancient trade.
Architecture of Mountain Church:
The tremendous Georgian architecture is a great example of the “four-apsed church with four niches,” a technique also known as “tetraconch”! Although the tetraconch architectural type did not originate in Georgia, it underwent a unique and complex development in the country.
History of Mountain Church:
Legend has it this mysterious and sacred place is where St. Nino (A female Evangelist) built a wooden cross on a previous pagan temple this was the seed which grew the site. As many pilgrims trekked from all parts of the then Kingdom of Georgian Iberia. The Actual Monastery was completed in 605 AD.
World Monuments Watch: Mountain Churches
Heavily deteriorated from centuries of water damage, violent regional conflicts, and inadequate maintenance, Jvari Monastery was included on the 2006 World Monuments Watch. Missing its roof, the interior mosaics and frescoes of the small church have been mostly destroyed by the elements.
Top Tip: Driving distance from Tbilisi is 19 km (20 min)
7. Saint-Marie Madeleine
The awe inspiring retreat of the Legendary Mary Magdalene after she fled persecution in the Holy Lands, this cave in Provence’s Massif de la Sainte Baume has exploded to become a prime pilgrimage spot from for everyone from popes to royalty!
Architecture of Mountain Church:
The building includes a nine-span nave with eight-bay collaterals to which side chapels are placed between the buttresses.
Top Tip: Visit on Pentecost Monday to join masses who worshipping from around the world.
8. Felsenkirche Mountain Church
Location: Idar-Oberstein, Germany
Otherwise know as the “Chapel-in-the-Rocks” and “Crag Church,” is a rugged symbol of the city of Idar-Oberstein, Germany. This is a unique place which is actually moulded into the rocky cliff face in exquisite fashion! Originally built around (1483), as a shelter and defensive fort for the villagers. These days it attracts over 100,000 visitors annually who scale the 230-step stairway to see the remarkable site and works of art. Popular art attractions include a Gothic-style stone font, an agate crucifix and a functioning organ dating all the way back to 1756. Having only been open to tourists since 2005, this place has exploded in popularity! With weddings been a popular event here.
History of Mountain Church:
This place has a gruesome history. Legend has it, the a local prince named “Wyrich” killed his brother by pushing him from the top of the cliff! He then but the church as a remembrance, to help have his sin forgiven!
Restoration of Mountain Church:
A series of costly renovations are underway due to falling rocks, weather damage and water seepage which has built up over centuries.
Don’t think about just trying to drive ride up to it, as it unique location makes it inaccessible by any vehicles. Making the steps or long footpath the only way to access it.
9. Mountain Church of St John the Baptist
Location: Cappadocia, Selçuk, Turkey
This great site is an ancient relic of forgotten spiritual past! Offering hilltop views this is a fantastic place to watch the sunset! Equip with grand marble steps and a monumental gate, this is a nice spot in a remote village location. Originally built by a Byzantine Emperor named “Justinian” ( 527–565), it was mysteriously left abandoned for many years.
10. Chapel on the Rock
Location: Colorado Mountains, Denver, United States
The “chapel on the rock” is a fully functioning Catholic Church and popular tourist landmark of Colorado! Originally named “St. Catherine of Siena Chapel” this lovely venue is located on the grounds of the Saint Malo Retreat and Spiritual Center, just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park near Allenspark.
Origins from out of space!
Originally built in 1936, it was constructed by Monsignor Joseph Bosetti who in 1916 stumbled upon the cliff while attempting to locate the impact site of a meteorite. Legend goes that upon laying eyes on the rock formation Joesph was reminded of Matthew 16:18, which reads: “Upon this rock I’ll build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Over a period of 20 years, he transformed his vision to a reality. With help from local landowners (“Mr. and Mrs. Malo”) who donated the land and a great design by Denver architect Jacques Benedict.
In 1993 Pope John Paul II visited the chapel as part of his trip to Denver to attend World Youth Day. He had some fun hiking in the nearby trails of Camp St. Malo, which were later named John Paul II Trail in his honor. For great driving roads in Colorado check out this epic article: BEST U.S DRIVING ROADS
11. Symmes Chapel “Pretty Place”
Location: Cedar Mountain, North Carolina, United States.
The open air chapel at the YMCA Camp Greenville, nicknamed “Pretty Place,” delivers an awe inspiring view from the top of Standing Stone Mountain. Expect a peaceful, serene setting. Perfect for thought and prayer. Numerous weddings are also held at this fantastic venue.
Top Tip: The chapel faces east so sunrise is an amazing time to be here.
This all year round operation serves as a Summer Camp, Environmental Education Center, Group & Conference Center, and of course a wedding venue.
Top Tip: Check the website before driving up the mountain to be sure no events are scheduled that would close the chapel to the public. The drive up is eye catching and magical.
12. St Samaan Mountain Church, Egypt
Location: Cliffs Manshiet Nasser, Cairo, Egypt
This is one of Middle East’s largest churches, features a 20,000-capacity amphitheatre! Named after Coptic Orthodox saint Simon the Tanner, who was credited with moving nearby Mokattam Mountain. H. H. Pope Shenouda III visited the church annually on the feast of Saint Samaan the Tanner from 1978 till 1980. Overall, this is one of the most holy Mountain Churches in the world.
The water miracle (construction)
After buying the building materials, namely gravel, cement, steel, and bricks, work could still not begin due to the need for water. This was especially so in that desert area whose inhabitants could not find water for their necessary needs at that time.
Legend of this Mountain Church.
“Fervent prayers were lifted up and the miracle took place. One evening when the minister was returning, he found at the edge of the paved road leading up to the Mokattam City a tractor pulling a huge water container. He asked the driver to provide him with the water necessary for the building of the church. The man agreed on the spot with no hesitation. This was the assistance of heaven! “
Fun Fact: Hundreds of people flock here for a weekly exorcism!
To learn more or to arrange a visit, check out their website. SamaanChurch.
13. Mountain Top Church
Location: Cisco, Texas. U.S.A
Although not technically a “Mountain church”, we included this due to the name and also the great community aspect. This wins our:
Town and Tourist award for Best community church 2019
(As voted by our independent review board).
Started as a little countryside church, the ever growing congregation now fills a huge sanctuary!
This place includes a vast variety of facilities from a Community Center, Fitness centre (4000 square foot) , Gymnasium (5600 square foot), Offices, kitchen/restaurant area and even Child Care areas for nursing mothers and young kids. According to Pastor Phil Green on further expansion “There has been a tremendous need for this expansion to accommodate our future plans for serving the community and the congregation.”
We also like the Morals at mountain top church (MTC) , here is a statement from their website.
At MTC, you come as you are. No pretenses. Honesty and authenticity create an atmosphere of acceptance. MTC wants to provide a safe place for people to experience grace and truth in a way that we experience God’s love for us. Mountain Top Church fulfills the scriptures through Worshiping God, Loving Others, and Serving Community.”
For more info see: Mymtc.
Why are Churches Built on top of Mountains?
Since civilisation began it has been believed that the “creators” “gods” and other divine beings lived in the sky or heavens. From the greeks with Mount Olympus to the Egyptians. In the Old Testament of Christianity, this belief was heightened when God spoke with Moses on Mount Horeb. In Judaism, Mount Carmel is considered sacred, where Elijah built an altar to God and even the city of Jerusalem is located on a mountain, Mount Zion. Mountains continued to be associated with divine powers after the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus suffered after the last supper on the Mount of olives, and was sacrificed on Mount Calvary.
In essence, being higher up makes people feel closer to God and their spirituality, the Peace and awe offered by a Mountain Church has made people wonder for generations and will continue to do so in the future.
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