My aspiration is to photograph many of the world’s greatest cathedrals and churches, capturing them in the best quality and resolution possible so that others get a sense of the amazing scenes I’ve seen with my own eyes. On a recent cruise, I met a well-travelled fellow photography enthusiast who proudly told me that he had photographed 100 cathedrals across the world. I love meeting passionate, enthusiastic people and he really enjoyed discussing which ones were his favourites and why. It was clear that his personal project provided immense pleasure and a great focus for his own photography. While I am currently quite a way from that dizzy number, he did inspire me to maintain momentum.
You can view some of my photographs here:
In the last 12 months, I feel fortunate to have visited and photographed some particularly impressive cathedrals and churches on my travels in the UK and overseas. In this article, I wanted to highlight some of the ones I found particularly interesting in the past year– just in case you are in those areas. I intend to provide a yearly update of my progress.
Berlin Cathedral, Berlin, Germany
If you are looking to visit somewhere with significant historical and cultural significance, few places come close to Berlin, the capital and largest city of Germany. As shown in my Berlin 2023 Photo Gallery, Berlin is packed with interesting places to visit, including the Reichstag Building, Brandenburg Gate, Topography of Terror, the Holocaust Memorial, remaining parts of the Berlin Wall, the East Side Gallery, Museum Island and Tiergarten. While Berlin may look a little unkempt, this cannot be said for the spectacular Berlin Cathedral, which is a ‘must see’ on any visit to Berlin.
While there have been several church buildings on the site since the 15th century, the present building was built from 1894 to 1905. With a mix of statues, gold features and mosaics, the lavish interior is a sight to behold. The cathedral is dominated by its monumental dome, which is crowed by a lantern with a golden cross.
St Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest, Hungary
Budapest is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful European capitals, with impressive architecture and a perfect location next to the Danube River. Nothing really prepares you for the sight of the Hungarian Parliament Building illuminated at night. It truly dwarfs everything around it. With so many attractions vying for attention in this magical city, St Stephen’s Basilica is well worth the time. Appearing in many online articles identifying the best cathedrals in the world, St Stephen’s is a Roman Catholic basilica and is the most important church building in Hungary. It was completed in 1905, 54 years after construction began. Interior decoration is lavish and ostentatious. Marble, stained glass, mosaics and gildings are in abundance. St Stephen’s Basilica is rich in works of art, with paintings and statues by Hungarian artists.
St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria
Next we move to the romantic capital of Austria. As shown in my Vienna Photo Gallery, a visit to Vienna’s Christmas markets is particularly magical. However, any visit to Vienna is not complete without a visit to St Stephen’s Cathedral, which (at 136 meters) is the tallest church in Austria. St Stephen’s Cathedral appears in many ‘top cathedrals in the world’ online articles and for good reason. The initial foundation stone dates back to 1137. Damaged in the Battle of Vienna in 1945, the cathedral was reconstructed by 1952. If you fancy a walk up the steps, you’ll get a close-up view of the famous, dazzling multi-coloured tiled roof and a great view of Vienna.
Church of St Nicholas on Kastri Island, Kos, Greece
What sets many cathedrals and churches apart is their spectacular interiors. In city centres these days, majestic cathedrals are often surrounded by large buildings and roads. Sometimes, a small church stands out due its incredible surroundings, which is the case with the Church of St Nicholas. This small church is situated on the tiny Kastri Island, which is opposite the beach of Kefalos, on the southern side of the Greek Island of Kos. The location is stunning, and I particularly enjoyed viewing a wedding in the church from a distance, with the bride and groom and all their guests arriving by boat!
Church of Agia Paraskevi, Kos Town, Kos, Greece
Living in the UK, you get used to a certain ‘look’ of churches and cathedrals in Britain. So, it is wonderful to travel to other parts of the world, to see churches and cathedrals that simply look different, and more colourful. An example that sticks in my mind is the eye-catching Church of Agia Paraskevi, a Greek Orthodox church in Kos Town. There’s no doubt that the glorious Mediterranean sunshine helps! The interior is very colourful, which fits well with the architecture and the colours of the island. The church was built in 1932, following an earthquake and has been damaged by subsequent earthquakes since.
Frederik’s Church (Marble Church), Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen is one of my favourite cities. It is regularly rated as one of the world’s best cities for quality of life and equality. As well as having one of the lowest crime rates in the world, it has a fascinating history. As shown in my 2023 Copenhagen Photo Gallery, I was fortunate to witness a visit by the King of Norway while I was there. On top of its amazing harbour views at Nyhavn, and incredible buildings such as Christiansborg Palace, Amalienborg Palace and Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen is home to several interesting churches. For this article, I have selected Frederik’s Church – popularly known as the Marble Church. Situated west of Amalienborg Palace, Frederick’s Church has the largest church dome in Scandinavia. The church looks equally impressive internally as it does externally. The foundation stone was set by King Frederick V in 1749 but stood as a ruin for nearly 150 years.
Norwich Cathedral, Norfolk, UK
Back home in the UK and, as demonstrated by my Norfolk Photo Gallery, my fascination with Norfolk has continued into 2023, with me attempting to capture more interesting locations in the county. At the time of the Domesday Book (1086), Norfolk was one of the most heavily populated and wealthiest regions in England, and it remained so throughout the medieval period. This history is demonstrated by a visit to the cathedral city of Norwich. Medieval Norwich had an incredible 57 churches within the city walls, but today only 31 of these still exist, although this is still a very impressive number! Set in over 40 acres of ground, with access to a riverside walk, Norwich Cathedral is a magnificent sight. It is the most complete Norman Cathedral in England and one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Europe. The Cloister is the largest monastic cloister in the country. Construction of the cathedral commenced in 1096, with the entire cathedral being completed by around 1120.
Two small churches in Norfolk, UK
With a population below 1 million, Norfolk is one of the least populated counties in the UK. However, with over 650 churches, Norfolk has the greatest concentration of churches in the whole world. One could realistically spend a lifetime just photographing all of Norfolk’s churches. For this article, I have selected two of the churches I photographed in 2023.
I always associate the characterful round-tower church of St Mary’s Church in Syderstone with Norfolk. Standing over 18 metres high, the round tower construction is found mainly in East Anglia. Norfolk has about 70% of the country’s round tower churches and the greatest number in Europe. The church in its present form has origins from the Norman era (1066–1154).
As well as 650 churches still standing, there are 100 existing ruins. The Church of Wiggenhall St Peter is one such ruin, which sits on the east bank of the Great Ouse. The church is largely 15th century and is now maintained by Norfolk Historic Churches Trust.
Cologne Cathedral, Germany
Cologne – the fourth largest city in Germany – is one of Germany’s oldest cities. The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter is a Roman Catholic church and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As Germany’s most visited landmark, it is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. At 157 metres, the cathedral is the tallest twin-spired church in the world. While construction of the present Cologne Cathedral commenced in 1248, with the laying of a foundation stone, it remained unfinished for 632 years. The completion of Germany’s largest cathedral was finally celebrated in 1880.
Dürnstein Abbey on the Danube River, Austria
The best way to approach the picturesque town of Dürnstein in Austria is by boat on the Danube River, when you have the time to appreciate how beautiful this location in the Wachau Region is. With a population below 900, this small town in one of the most visited tourist destinations in the region. Overlooked by the medieval Dürnstein Castle, this is one of the most attractive towns I have ever seen. It is not really possible to miss the distinctive blue tower of the incredible Dürnstein Abbey, a former monastery. Established in 1410, Dürnstein Abbey was rebuilt in 1710 in baroque style.
St Kilian Cathedral, Würzburg, Germany
Another cathedral that elicited the “wow” response from me in 2023 was the spectacular Würzburg Cathedral. Würzburg Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Bavaria, Germany. Being heavily damaged by British bombing in 1945, it was rebuilt after the Second World War. Reconstruction was completed in 1967. While the cathedral’s two red and white brick towers are an impressive sight externally, it is the interior of the building that took my breath away.
Obere Pfarre Unsere Liebe Frau, Bamberg, Germany
Bamberg is a picturesque city, situated in the north of Bavaria in Germany. One of the most ornate church organs I have ever seen resides in the Obere Pfarre Unsere Liebe Frau (Upper Parish the Church of Our Lady). This is located on the hill of Kaulberg. Construction of this church began in 1338. It was finally completed in 1535. The spectacular organ was built between 1758 and 1760, and beautifully matches the incredible, colourful ceiling.
Chapel of Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin, Germany
One of the smallest, and cutest, organs I have ever seen resides in the Chapel of Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin. The rococo Charlottenburg Palace (Schloss Charlottenburg) is a Baroque palace, which was once a royal summer residence, and certainly deserves a visit when in the German capital. The original building was erected between 1695 and 1699 and was later extended substantially over the years. The Golden Gallery and the Porcelain Room are truly stunning. The Chapel – in the Old Palace – is certainly one of the highlights of any visit. It was consecrated in 1706.
Basilica of the Nativity of Our Lady, Regensburg, Germany
The Basilica of the Nativity of Our Lady is the oldest Catholic church in Bavaria, with a nickname of the “Old Chapel”. The church was built after the fall of the Roman Empire. It is considered a masterpiece of opulent rococo decoration in Europe. Located in an old monastery, its walls and ceiling are full of brightly coloured paintings and golden decoration.
St John’s Co-Cathedral and St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral in Valletta, Malta
Situated in the central Mediterranean Sea, south of Sicily, the small island of Malta has had a rich and very interesting history, partly due to its strategic significance as a naval base. As shown in my 2023 Valletta Photo Gallery, the Maltese capital Valletta has many interesting places to visit. These include Lascaris War Rooms, Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens, Fort St Elmo – The National War Museum, Valletta Waterfront, the Barrakka Lift, Triton Fountain, Casa Rocca Piccolo and St Catherine’s Monastery. Valletta is certainly a beautiful place, with the deep-blue Mediterranean sea being seen at the end of its cobbled streets. Valletta was crowned European Capital of Culture for 2018. Valletta is home to not one but two – very different – cathedrals.
St John’s Co-Cathedral is a Roman Catholic co-cathedral, built between 1573 and 1578. The interior was revamped in the 17th century in Maltese baroque style. On entry to the building, I was taken aback by how ornate the interior is. It is one of few interiors that has elicited a dumbstruck “wow” response from me. Online reviews mention “so much gold” and the co-cathedral needs to be visited in person to be truly appreciated. Given that Malta is the smallest country in Europe, with a population of about 0.5 million, it seems an unlikely place to house one of the world’s greatest cathedrals. St John’s Co-Cathedral is also home to a masterpiece by Italian artist Caravaggio, known as ‘The Beheading of St John the Baptist’. This was completed in 1608.
In contrast to St John’s Co-Cathedral, the interior of St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral looks far less ornate. This cathedral was funded by the Dowager Queen Adelaide when she discovered that there was not an Anglican church in Malta, at the time of her visit in 1838-39. It was built between 1839 and 1844. On visiting St John’s Co-Cathedral, you cannot miss the links with the British Royal Family. The King is Patron of The Friends of St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral.
Looking forward to 2024
With travel plans now in place, 2024 is set to take me further along my photography journey. I am particularly looking forward to visiting, and photographing, Lisbon Cathedral, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Pisa Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, St Paul’s Cathedral in London, Canterbury Cathedral, Salisbury Cathedral, Sagrada Família in Barcelona, St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, Basilica San Marco in Venice and Seville Cathedral. I am also looking forward to all the inevitable surprises along the way, discovering less-well-known churches and chapels, which I am sure will be equally fascinating.
You can always see my progress here:
All these images have been captured in RAW format and converted to JPEG at their maximum resolution. Once SmugMug supports the true High Dynamic Range (HDR) next-generation AVIF format, I cannot wait to present my images with all the captured dynamic range intact. For more information about true HDR photography, visit my HDR Photography page.