For millions of Americans
, the holiday season isn’t just about roast turkey, Christmas trees, and piles of presents. It’s also still very much a religious affair. For those people, the holiday season just wouldn’t be complete without staples like holiday devotions, seasonal scripture readings, or midnight mass.
Even so, you don’t need to be particularly devout to appreciate the beauty and atmosphere of America’s many historic churches. Consider enriching your holiday season this year with a visit to one or more of the following places. You can even drop in to check out a service if you’re so inclined, as all of the following are still in operation.
- Christ Church – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Christ Church is also sometimes known as “the nation’s church” because it was well-frequented by several major revolutionary leaders during the late 17th
and early 18th
centuries. It also just so happens to be where the late, great Benjamin Franklin himself is buried. Four of the men who signed the original Declaration of Independence are buried here as well.
- St. Thomas Episcopal Church – Bath, North Carolina
First founded in 1734, St. Thomas was the home of the North Carolina colony’s very first public library. The library was started by Reverend Thomas Bray
, who also founded the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. Bray would ship over 1000 books to the church for use by American clergymen.
(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
- St. Mary of the Angels – Chicago, Illinois
St. Mary isn’t just any church. It’s been through the ringer and back. It struggled with material shortages during World War I. It also lost many of its parishioners when they left the area in 1960, the year the Kennedy Expressway was built. It even closed in 1988 and was marked for demolition. However, thanks to the parishioners who still remained, as well as the priests, the church was repaired, saved, and reopened.
- Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis King of France – New Orleans, Louisiana
Established in 1720, the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis King of France isn’t just one of our nation’s most beautiful historic churches. It’s also the oldest continually used Catholic cathedral in the entire country. It also saw the baptisms of countless colonists and slaves. Today, visitors will see a restored version of the original structure, as it was burned to the ground in 1788 when a candle set fire to some drapes. It’s also seen its share of famous visitors over the years, including Andrew Jackson in 1849 and Pope John Paul II in 1987.
- First Parish Church – Plymouth, Massachusetts
The First Parish Church of Plymouth got its humble start in 1606 when a band of Separatists got together in Scrooby, England to discuss their religious future. Several members of that band were on board the Mayflower in 1620, making plans to pursue their religious freedom in the New World. Eventually, the church would become a Unitarian Universalist establishment, and it remains so to this day.
(Image courtesy of Getty Images)
- Mission San Carlos Borromeo – Carmel, California
Also known as the Carmel Mission, San Carlos Borromeo is a Roman Catholic mission church and registered United States landmark. It was the headquarters of the Alta California missionaries, led by Junipero Serra from the year 1770 until his death in 1784. Serra was recently sainted by Pope Francis in September of 2015 and remains interred on the premises. The Carmel Mission is also notable for being the only one of the California Missions
to still have its original bell tower dome.
- Marble Collegiate Church – New York, New York
Founded in 1628, the Marble Collegiate Church is part of the Reformed Church of America (formerly the Dutch Reformed Church). It is also the oldest American Protestant church to have held continuous services since it was first established. The very first Marble Collegiate service was performed in a New York City gristmill located on South William Street. At the time, the city would have had a population of fewer than 300 citizens.
- Cathedral of Saint Paul – Saint Paul, Minnesota
Here we have a church that came about in 1907 when Archbishop John Ireland identified a growing need for a bigger place of worship in the area. Built in the Beaux Arts architectural style, Saint Paul is a major part of the city’s skyline and is widely considered to be one of the country’s most beautiful churches. It is also considered to have a “bond of spiritual affinity” with the Basilica of Saint Paul in Rome. For this reason, it’s a major site of spiritual pilgrimage for believers of all ages.