Indias 10 Most Stunning Churches and Cathedrals
From Asia’s largest Baptist church to churches shaped like stars and ships, you’ll want to visit these places of worship in India.
Christianity is the third largest religion in the Indian subcontinent, and there are a plethora of churches and cathedrals representing almost every Christian community in the country. Some date back centuries, others are modern architectural marvels, but they are all an integral part of the country’s multi-cultural ethos and heritage. While it’s hard to pick the most impressive, here are 10 worth a closer look—each one is a work of art and interesting in its own way.
Morning Star Church
WHERE: Kair, Najafgarh, Delhi
After spending a few days in any urban hub, you’re bound to want a respite. Seventeen miles southwest of Delhi, the Morning Star Church gives visitors exactly that. Part of Ish Vatika (an eco-spirituality center), the church sits on rich farmland and is surrounded by scenic nature to admire as you get a dose of spirituality. What’s more, the design of the church is unique and has even won an award. It’s a pentagon structure that looks like a star from all the angles. It’s also strikingly different inside—it resembles a tent giving a feel of Tent of Meeting in the Old Testament. While the architecture of this 21st-century church (it opened last October) itself merits a visit, for the full experience be sure to spend a day or two here. There are cottages onsite and organic food is served. Also, on the grounds are an artificially created pond and lots of farm animals. All in all, it’s a perfect place for meditative introspection and nature walks.
Indian Catholic Matters
St. Lawrence Shrine Minor Basilica
WHERE: Attur, Karkala, Karnataka
Just outside Karkala stands this splendid church dedicated to St. Lawrence. It has been part of the town’s fabric for more than 260 years and this long history has included lots of twists and turns as the church evolved from a small parish into a minor basilica. The first church was erected in the area in 1759 but St. Lawrence Shrine as it stands today was constructed in 1900. Also known as Attur Church, attending a Novena mass or prayer service here is a bucket-list experience for those of the faith. Whether or not you’re religious, you can’t help but be impressed by the church’s majestic Gothic facade. The church is also stunning because of its setting, sitting amid rich greenery. Crowds are busiest at the church during Attur Fest, which is held over a five-day period in January each year; it features lots of lighthearted festivities.
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Basilica of Bom Jesus
WHERE: Old Goa, Goa
Pilgrims and architecture lovers flock to this 17th-century, UNESCO-inscribed basilica for two reasons: to marvel at the baroque architecture featuring ornate main altar and beautifully-carved statues and columns and to see its most-revered relic: the well-preserved corpse of Goa’s patron saint, Francis Xavier (one of the founders of the Society of Jesus who was responsible for spreading Christianity in the Portuguese colony). The saint’s body lies in a silver casket, which is exposed to the public once every decade. This will occur next in 2024. Also of note is the modern art gallery inside, featuring 20th-century paintings.
Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health
WHERE: Velankanni, Tamil Nadu
India’s version of Lourdes, Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health was constructed in tribute to the apparitions of the Mother Mary sighted in the coastal town of Velankanni. It started out as a thatched shrine in the 1500s and received several valuable additions through time, including the Gothic architecture details. It was consecrated as a minor basilica in the 20th century. Inside, the main altar is preserved in its original state and contains an image of sari-clad Virgin Mary with infant Jesus on one arm. Every year, from August 29 to September 8, hundreds of thousands of people from all faiths converge upon the basilica to honor the feast day of the Virgin Mary. Some approach by car or bus, while a good many arrive from hours away on foot.
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Sümi Baptist Church (SBCZ Church)
WHERE: Zunheboto, Nagaland
You might be mistaken at first. From a distance, the Sümi Baptist Church—said to be Asia’s largest church—has a certain “castle” feeling about it. Standing 166-feet tall atop a hill (elevation 6,118 feet), in the picturesque town of Zunheboto, this eight-story church is built in the shape of an egg and painted in pristine white, topped with blue turrets. There’s also a half-ton bell, imported from Poland, that can be heard from less than one mile away. While walking around the outside, take in the sweeping view of the town. Inside, you’ll find several rooms and halls, which can accommodate up to 8,500 people.
WHERE: Medak, Telangana
A fine specimen of Gothic Revival architecture, this 20th-century cathedral is the world’s second-largest diocese. Its interior is festooned with some beautiful stained-glass windows that depict episodes from the Bible. Visit in the morning when sunlight floods through the windows and brighten up the interior with vibrant colors—truly a sight to behold. Don’t forget to look down: the cathedral’s floor is made from colorful mosaic tiles imported from Britain. The soundproof vaulted roof and the 175-foot-high bell tower that can be heard for miles when rung are other highlights of the cathedral.
Muthyam Reddy Anthireddygari(CC BY-SA 4.0)/WikimediaCommons
St. Philomena’s Cathedral
WHERE: Mysore, Karnataka
The foundation of this neo-Gothic cathedral was first laid in the 20th century, but Christian churches have sat on this site since the 1840s. One of the exterior highlights is the twin steeples rising 175 feet—they look like the ones at Kolner Dom in Germany and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. The similarity smacks as soon as you lay eyes on it, though the Indian counterpart is smaller in height. Once you’ve snapped the obligatory pic in front of the facade, step inside to appreciate the intricately-crafted marble altar, below which is a crypt containing a statue of St. Philomena that was brought from France. Don’t leave without stopping to admire the lovely stained-glass windows that depict the various stages of Christ’s life.
St. John’s Metropolitan Cathedral
WHERE: Tiruvalla, Kerala
This cathedral—belonging to the Syro-Malankara Catholics (a Keralite religious community)—catches the eye with its distinct design. It has a circular floorplan and stylistically, possesses notable Kerala-style temple architecture with distinctive Syrian Christian nuances. From the outside, it looks like a tent. Definitely pop inside, as it has a profoundly sacred atmosphere with the detailed paintings of biblical scenes occupying the stained-glass windows across the hall. The present cathedral was consecrated in September 2005.
Pradeep Thomas(CC BY 3.0)/WikimediaCommons
St. Paul’s Cathedral
WHERE: Kolkata, West Bengal
St. Paul’s Cathedral is a tour fixture for almost every visitor to India’s City of Joy. Erected in the first half of the 1800s, it’s been refurbished at least twice following the effects of some devastating earthquakes in the city. Today, this Gothic Revival building stands out in Kolkata’s cityscape, easily recognizable by its steeple that is modeled after the one at Canterbury. In addition to appreciating and photographing the elaborate exterior, visitors can explore the cathedral’s historical interior, which features beautiful stained-glass creations, Florentine frescoes, and plastic art forms. This divine place of worship also houses a library that contains numerous books and valuable manuscripts. The lawns and the Parish Hall are a favorite venue for social functions.
St. Theresa’s Ship Church
WHERE: Eravu, Thrissur District, Kerala
St. Theresa’s Ship Church is notable for its unconventional look. As the name suggests, it has a ship-shaped exterior that is inspired by the story of Noah and his ark. The reference to Noah’s Ark may not be apparent when seeing this church as the ship is a more modern rendition. More precisely, it has a “Hybrid Modernist” architecture, a style that’s influenced by Modernism and became popular during the postcolonial era. However, the profound ideology pertains: the church was built to be the ark that will help people sail through the odds of life. Inside is a reflection of the outside—the main altar is also in the shape of a ship and the walls are adorned with biblical themed paintings and sculptures. There’s a little deck area too. The church belongs to the Syro-Malabar Catholics, a religious community in Kerala.
Mohan K(CC BY-SA 2.0)/WikimediaCommons