9 Most Beautiful Houses of Worship Around the World

CUL_Map_HousesofWorship_02_534243792_OPENER
Chapel of the Holy Cross, nestled in the buttes of Sedona, takes its inspiration from nature in its service to the divine. Scott Stulberg/Getty

Throughout time, followers have pushed the boundaries of architecture in celebration of deities.

As we saw with the fire of Notre Dame, these buildings of beauty often transcend religion and become emotional symbols of culture and history to local communities, and even the world. From the temples of 15th century Japan to mid-20th century chapels in Arizona, celebrating the spiritual on earth has yielded some truly breathtaking results.

With the start of the Jewish high holidays this week, it seems an especially appropriate time to take stock of their inspiration:

Chapel of the Holy Cross
Sedona, Arizona

CUL_Map_HousesofWorship_03_567375083
Nestled in the vivid buttes of Coconino National Forest land, this 1956 chapel was commissioned by a local rancher and sculptor inspired by the Empire State Building. Originally conceived to be built in Hungary, it was relocated due to the onset of World War II. From Left: Ruprech Judit/Getty; Scott Stulberg/Getty

Las Lajas Sanctuary
Ipiales, Colombia

CUL_Map_HousesofWorship_04_929585070
Built on the edge of a gorge, visitors enter this neo-Gothic church by crossing a bridge about 130 feet above the river below. The precarious position was selected because of the belief that it was the site of a miracle in which a traveler’s sight was restored. From Left: Ruprech Judit/Getty; Scott Stulberg/Getty

Larabanga Mosque
Larabanga, Ghana

CUL_Map_HousesofWorship_05_1030203576CUL_Map_HousesofWorship_06_1130499095
One of the oldest mosques in West Africa, and commonly called the “Mecca of West Africa,” locals have been using the mud-plastered building since approximately 1421. Revenues from visitors are used to maintain upkeep of the building, but only Muslims are allowed inside. From Left: Ruprech Judit/Getty; Scott Stulberg/Getty

Szeged Synagogue
Szeged, Hungary

CUL_Map_HousesofWorship_06_1130499095
Built in the early 1900s, this synagogue is the fourth largest in the world and second largest in Hungary. Renovation—including to its impressive glass cupola and intricate floral designs—was recently completed after the Hungarian government announced that they would appropriate $4 million to the project in 2014. From Left: Ruprech Judit/Getty; Scott Stulberg/Getty

The Church of Transfiguration
Kizhi Island, Russia

CUL_Map_HousesofWorship_07_511920000
The Church of Transfiguration Kizhi Island, Russia Located northeast of St. Petersburg, this church is part of a historical site dating back to 1714. The wooden structure—built without any nails apart from in the dome and shingles—only hosts services in the summer due to a lack of heat. From Left: Ruprech Judit/Getty; Scott Stulberg/Getty

Bahá'í Gardens
Haifa, Israel

CUL_Map_HousesofWorship_08_647589380
A top tourist attraction in Israel, the Bahá’í Gardens consist of 19 sloped terraces leading to the Shrine of the Báb. Built on the slope of Mount Carmel, the top of the breathtaking gardens offer views of the city below, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. From Left: Ruprech Judit/Getty; Scott Stulberg/Getty

Floating Mosque
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

CUL_Map_HousesofWorship_09_1045662404
Also known as the Al-Rahma Mosque, this building—which includes 52 outer domes in addition to a main dome—appears to float over the Red Sea at high tide. Built in 1985, the mosque is a popular stop for those undertaking a holy pilgrimage to Mecca or Medina. From Left: Ruprech Judit/Getty; Scott Stulberg/Getty

Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple
Tiruchirappalli, India

CUL_Map_HousesofWorship_10_106387978
Dedicated to Ranganatha, a form of the Hindu deity Vishnu, the temple compound is one of the largest religious complexes in the world. Still a working temple, non-Hindus flock to see the vibrantly colored statuettes that adorn the structures—the pigment accomplished using herbal and vegetable dyes. From Left: Ruprech Judit/Getty; Scott Stulberg/Getty

Kinkaku-ji Temple
Kyoto, Japan

CUL_Map_HousesofWorship_11_PG7YFA
Also known as the Golden Pavilion, or officially Rokuji, this Zen Buddhist temple was originally a statesman’s villa dating back to 1397. The gold-leafed covered temple is surrounded by gardens and a reflecting pond. From Left: Ruprech Judit/Getty; Scott Stulberg/Getty
9 Most Beautiful Houses of Worship Around the World