Around the world, spiritual beliefs have inspired great architecture. Begin your journey here to celebrate some of the famous gathering places — synagogues, churches, cathedrals, temples, shrines, mosques, and other buildings designed for prayer, reflection, and religious worship.
The blue-domed Neue Synagogue, or New Synagogue, is in the Scheunenviertel District (Barn Quarter), in the heart of Berlin’s once large Jewish district. The new Neue Synagogue opened in May 1995.
The original Neue Synagogue, or New Synagogue, was built between 1859 and 1866. It was the main synagogue for the Berlin Jewish population in Oranienburger Strasse and the largest synagogue in Europe.
Architect Eduard Knoblauch borrowed Moorish ideas for the Neo-Byzantine design of Neue Synagogue. The synagogue is lavished with glazed bricks and terracotta details. The gilded dome is 50 meters high. Ornate and colorful, Neue Synagogue is often compared to the Moorish style Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Where is the author Jonathan Swift buried? Once a Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Swift was laid to rest here in 1745.
From a water well on this land, at this site somewhat removed from the City of Dublin, a 5th century British-born priest named “Patrick” baptized early Christian followers. Patrick’s religious experiences in Ireland led not only to his sainthood, but also ultimately to this Irish cathedral being named after him — Saint Patrick (c.385-461 AD), patron saint of Ireland.
Documented evidence of a sacred building on this spot dates back to 890 AD. The first church likely was a small, wooden structure, but the grand cathedral you see here was constructed with stone in the popular style of the day. Built from 1220 to 1260 AD, during what became known as the Gothic period in Western architecture, St. Patrick’s Cathedral takes the cruciform floor plan design similar to French Cathedrals like Chartres Cathedral.
Unity Temple by Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright’s revolutionary Unity Temple was one of the earliest public buildings constructed of poured concrete.
The project was one of Wright’s favorite commissions. He was asked to design the church in 1905 after a storm destroyed the wooden structure. At the time, the design plan for a cubist building made of concrete was revolutionary. The floorplan called for a temple area conncected to a “unity house” by an entrance and terraces.
Frank Lloyd Wright chose concrete because it was, in his words, “cheap,” and yet could be made as dignified as traditional masonry. He hoped that the building would express the powerful simplicity of ancient temples. Wright suggested that the building be called a “temple” instead of a church.
New Main Synagogue, Ohel Jakob
The modernist New Main Synagogue, or Ohel Jakob, in Munich, Germany was built to replace the old one destroyed during Kristallnacht.
Designed by architects Rena Wandel-Hoefer and Wolfgang Lorch, the New Main Synagogue, or Ohel Jakob, is a box-shaped travertine stone building with a glass cube on top. The glass is covered in what is called “a bronze mesh,” making the architectural temple appear like a biblical tent. The name Ohel Jakob means Jacob’s Tent in Hebrew. The building symbolizes the Israelites’ journey through the desert, with the Old Testament verse “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob!” inscribed at the synagogue’s entrance.
The original synagogues in Munich were destroyed by Nazis during Kristallnacht(Night of Broken Glass) in 1938. The New Main Synagogue was built between 2004 and 2006 and was inaugurated on the 68th anniversary of Kristallnacht in 2006. An underground tunnel between the synagogue and a Jewish museum houses a memorial to Jews killed in the Holocaust.
Notre-Dame de Chartres Cathedral is famous for its French Gothic character, including the soaring height built upon the cross floor plan, easily seen from overhead.
Originally, Chartres Cathedral was a Romanesque style church constructed in 1145. In 1194, all but the west front was destroyed by fire. Between 1205 and 1260, Chartres Cathedral was rebuilt on the foundation of the original church.
The reconstructed Chartres Cathedral was Gothic in style, displaying innovations that set the standard for thirteenth century architecture. The massive weight of its high clerestory windows meant that flying buttresses — external supports — had to be used in new ways. Each curved pier connects with an arch to a wall and extends (or “flies”) to the ground or a pier some distance away. Thus, the supporting power of the buttress was greatly increased.
Built of limestone, Chartres Cathedral is 112 feet (34 meters) high and 427 feet (130 meters) long.
According to Utzon, the genesis of the design went back to a time when he was teaching at the University of Hawaii and spent time on the beaches. One evening, he was struck by the regular passage of clouds, thinking they could be the basis for the ceiling of a church. His early sketches showed groups of people on the beach with clouds overhead. His sketches evolved with the people framed by columns on each side and billowing vaults above, and moving toward a cross.