The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic church in North America, has incredible Byzantine-Romanesque architecture, the world’s largest collection of contemporary ecclesiastical art, and Catholic and American heritage and history. Referred to as “America’s Catholic Church”, it houses over 70 chapels and oratories. The basilica welcomes about one million people a year, and past visitors have included Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II and Mother Theresa. Pilgrimages and tours are available.
At the National Cathedral, religious travel groups climb 333 steps to the 300-foot-tall bell tower. The guided climb features a demonstration of the bells, information regarding the cathedral’s architecture and a view of Washington from one of the highest places in the city. From the Pilgrim Observation Gallery, see flying buttresses and other architectural features. Take the “Highlights Tour” and spend 30 minutes observing the cathedral’s art and Gothic architecture.
The Baltimore Basilica, referred to as America’s first cathedral, offers tours from 45 minutes to one hour, including the upper church, undercroft, crypt, museum, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel and upon request the John Paul II Prayer Garden. Each person is asked to donate at least $2. It was the first cathedral built after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. The museum has hundreds of antiques and artifacts that date back to the 17th century, including letters between presidents and archbishops. While in Baltimore, stop in First Unitarian Church, Lovely Lane Methodist Church, which is the mother church of American Methodism, and Jewish Museum of Maryland.
At Temple Emanu-El, religious travel groups can tour the sanctuaries and see the historic Judaica collection in the Herbert & Eileen Bernard Museum. All visitors are welcome to attend Sabbath services. Tours are available for groups of 10 or more at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Other notable destinations are Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue, Museum of Jewish Heritage, Shrine of Elizabeth Seton and Trinity Church.
Trinity Church, founded 1877, offers tours that spotlight the church’s history, the Back Bay area where the church is located, the murals and stained glass windows. There is a tour based on the stained glass windows alone, as the church has one of the finest collections in the nation and includes pieces from many of the major 19th century American and European glass studios.
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, also the Mother Church and world headquarters, offers tours that include The Extension, built in the Byzantine-Renaissance style, and has one of the largest pipe organs in the nation. Religious tours also learn about the founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy. Groups also can visit Old North Church, which played a key role in the American Revolution after church sexton Robert Newman placed two lanterns in its steeple to indicate the British were coming by sea. This was a signal from Paul Revere.
Religious tours are available at the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, about 40 minutes from Chicago. Religious tour groups will learn about the Baha’i faith and can choose to meditate. One of seven Baha’i temples in the world, it has nine sides, is circular and has gardens with walkways. The auditorium has lace-like décor on the walls and a dome 135 feet above the main floor.
In the heart of old New Orleans is St. Louis Cathedral with its triple steeple towers, established as a parish in 1720. Docent tours of the cathedral are available for groups. Stop in the Old Ursuline Convent in the French Quarter, the oldest building in the Mississippi River Valley and oldest example of the French colonial period. In the main building is a hand-crafted cypress staircase. In the main lodge are oil paintings of archbishops and bishops, plus religious statues. The smaller rooms indicate the convent’s previous functions as a convent, an orphanage, makeshift hospital and a residence for bishops. A courtyard has statues honoring the founding Ursuline sisters and an herb garden. Tours cost $5 for adults or $4 per person in groups of 20.
Salt Lake City
Temple Square encompassing 35 acres and three blocks, is surrounded by North Temple, South Temple, West Temple and Main streets. Important buildings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Seagull Monument and other memorials are located here. Guided 30-minutes-tours begin from the north and south ends of the square.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral started with Trinity Church, founded in 1865. The cathedral was founded in 1889
for less formal worship services and to accommodate the growing community. The congregation survived the Great Depression and temporary closing in the 1940s. The Flentrop organ has 3,944 pipes, ranging from less than one inch to 32 feet. Seattle also offers such unique religious travel locations as St. James Cathedral, Chapel of St. Ignatius, Betsuin Buddhist Temple and Sakya Monastery.
Founded in 1776, the Mission Dolores is the oldest remaining building in the city and saw much of the city’s history including the Gold Rush and the 1906 earthquake. The Mission Cemetery is the only one within the city and many California pioneers are buried there. The gardens have plants, trees, shrubs and flowers from the 1791 time period. There is an Ohlone Indian ethno-botanical garden and examples of Native-American artifacts and plants. Docent tours are available for groups of 10 or more.
At the Hsi Lai Temple, group tours for 15 or more cost $2 per person or $8 with lunch. Hsi Lai means “coming to the West.” With Ming dynasty architecture reminiscent of ancient Chinese monasteries, the temple has a floor area of 102,432 square feet and covers 15 acres. The temple is a spiritual center for people interested in Buddhism and Chinese culture. Also, stop and see the Church of Scientology and Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.