5 Crazy Real Churches You Had No Clue Existed
As a rule, places of worship generally try to evoke a feeling of peace and quiet. After all, even the most awe-inspiring cathedral in the world still wants visitors to shut up, sit down, and hear someone tell them how they're supposed to live their lives. But some religious buildings don't play by those boring rules. Their looks and vibes are bold, evocative, or even a little insane. These are the houses that the gods invite their really artsy friends to in order to impress them. Do gods even need to impress people? Well, why else would they have such cool and weird places of worship? Places like ...
Das Schneekirche Was Made Entirely Out Of Snow
As anyone who's caught a snowball to the ear can attest, the white stuff can be as tough as any stone. And that's what the people of one small town leaned on when they needed to build a church in the middle of winter with no money or building materials, but a lot of snow.
During the winter of 1911, the obviously German town of Mitterfirmiansreut was in dire religious straits. Because of the snow, people couldn't travel to the nearby town to worship at the only church in the area. So in order to not be fair-weather friends with the Lord, they asked the German State Church for funds to build their own church ... and were rudely refused. But instead of sulking, the people of Mitterfirmiansreut used their ingenuity and made do with what they had at hand -- which happened to be a metric ton of snow.
Das Schneekirche, or the Snow Church, was 46 feet long, 23 feet wide, and 13 feet high. More impressively, it wasn't just for show, or something Mitterfirmiansreut (it really does get more fun the more times you say it) could use to raise the middle finger to their stingy higher-ups. The Schneekirche started conducting weekly services on March 28, 1911 and did so for several months until attendance dropped heavily, on account of the structure melting. Fortunately, by then the protest had gone the 1910s equivalent of viral, and the village received enough donations to build a house of the Lord out of much more permanent stone.
But fast-forward a whole century, and in 2011, people decided to revive the old Mitterfirmiansreutian spirit and build a new 21st-century Snow Church. The modern Schneekirche was formed out of blocks of ice coated with snow, and was affectionately referred to as "God's Igloo" by the press.
The structure was bigger than the original, holding up to 200 visitors, and included a 55-foot tower. Oh, and the inside looked more like a neo-futuristic rave than any church we've ever been to.
Making it the only church on Earth where the Eucharist could reasonably be mistaken for ecstasy.
Taiwan's Lotus Lake Temple Is Like A Giant Theme Park Filled With Actual Giants
A religious district with entire city blocks full of giant statues of awe-inspiring gods, the Lotus Lake temple complex in Kaohsiung, Taiwan looks more like a Final Fantasy theme park than a solemn Taoist place of worship. Let's start with the Pei Chi Pavilion, because you literally can't miss it. The temple is housed within a 72-foot colossus of Xuantian Shangdi, Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven. And if your religion had a Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven, you wouldn't think it weird to build a Megazord-sized statue of him either.
But Xuantian Shangdi is only the beginning of the over-the-top aesthetic of Lotus Lake. Right past that final boss, you'll be faced with the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas, guarded by massive statues of both fearsome predators. And the kicker is that the only way in and out of the hallowed halls is through their mouths.
That's not some tactic to test every visitor's strength of faith (or bladder). In Taoism, going in through the dragon's mouth and leaving through the tiger's symbolizes turning bad luck into good. And the insides of the temples aren't any less mythologically hardcore, filled with carvings of great warriors fighting atop their tiger battle mounts. At least, we assume that's mythology, given that the planet isn't currently being ruled by a mighty cabal of Taoist Tiger Riders. Of course, seeing as balance is such an important part of the religion, Lotus Lake also has a giant statue of Kuanyin, the mellow Goddess of Mercy ... riding a massive dragon.
Legend says that the goddess herself appeared, riding on a dragon above the clouds, and directed the people of Kaohsiung to immortalize the image in between their pavilions of Summer and Autumn. And when we say "legend," of course, we mean "something concocted in a Taiwan Mad Men-style agency," considering the statue was built in 1951.
Poland's Chapel Of Skulls Is A Holy Place Fit For Any Necromancer
Aside from some occasional confessional gossip about the butcher's wife and the stable boy, life as a priest in a rural village has to get boring. So it's natural for parish priests to look for hobbies to keep busy, like collecting butterflies, or learning how to quilt, or in the case of Czech priest Vaclav Tomasek, gathering the bones of the dead and building a shrine to death itself. (Yes, there is more than one bone church.)
In 1776, with the help of a local gravedigger named J. Langer, Father Tomasek started a grim yet kindhearted project to unearth as many mass graves from past wars and epidemics as possible and collect the remaining, uh, remains. How exactly do you find unmarked graves? By spending all your free time stalking stray dogs to their favorite scavenging spots and stealing their juicy bones, duh.
In a span of 19 years, Tomasek and Langer dug up close to 24,000 skeletons, giving most of them a respectful, proper burial in the catacombs underneath Tomasek's chapel (since then called Kaplica Czaszek, or "Chapel of Skulls") in the small Polish village of Czerma. That is, if stacking skeletons in 16-foot piles like you're playing the world's most overly complicated game of Jenga is your idea of respectful.
But even in the (we'll assume sunken) eyes of Father Tomasek, not all skeletons were created equally. Out of the massive pile, the priest chose 3,000 skeletons he found particularly fascinating, like those with bullet holes, the partly disintegrated skulls of syphilis victims, a skull belonging to a giant, one from a "Tartar warrior," and also that of the town's former mayor and his wife. These "special" skulls and bones were displayed topside, in a small chapel chamber Tomasek called his "sanctuary of silence." Boy, for a man who spent his life trying to do right by the dead, he sure made himself look like a villain from every third-rate fantasy novel ever written.
Appropriately, the collection of the "Chapel of Skulls" was only finished when it received two final skulls years later: those of Tomasek and Lang. May they serve the Dark Lord in peace.
Saint John Coltrane Church Worships God Through Hard Bop Jazz
In order to become a saint, you must perform a miracle. Or at least, you have to do something the Church can interpret as a miracle, like making a cape really big or finding a herring when everyone was like, "Whoa, there are no herrings around." So if those piddly excuses can be considered miracles, why not also accept the earth- (and hip-) shattering beauty that is John Coltrane's jazz as a gift straight from God?
To most, John Coltrane is one of the great American jazz legends of the 20th century. But in the African Orthodox Church of Saint John Coltrane in San Francisco, he's a bona fide holy man. In 1966, Reverend Franzo Wayne King heard a journalist ask Coltrane what he'd like to be in five years. Coltrane answered "a saint," and that sounded about right to King. The reverend took it upon himself to fulfill the prophecy, and so in 1971, the Church of St. Coltrane opened its groove doors and started worshiping God through the "sound praise" of his/His music. In fact, Reverend Franzo Wayne King sees it as his mission on Earth to help fellow Christians recognize sound as the preexisting wisdom of God -- a message that goes down as smoothly as what they're piping through their speakers.
Every Sunday at noon, the Ministers of Sound, the church's in-house band, performs "sound baptisms." For two hours, they play Coltrane's later albums mixed with prayers and confessions, followed by an hour-long sermon. But the highlight of the service is when the church choir recites Psalm 23 over Coltrane's song "Acknowledgment." Anyone can join in; in fact, people are encouraged to bring their own instruments and play along. Pretty big turn of events for what used to be described as "the Devil's music."
While the Church of Saint John Coltrane only has about 5,000 followers, it has become a beloved institution in the Bay Area. So much so that when its landlord evicted them in 2016, the church received a flurry of offers for new digs. The church eventually settled on sharing a space with the nearby Saint Cyprian's Episcopal Church, where they can fill the ears (and hearts) of even more Christians with the divine message of Coltrane.
Related: 15 Brilliant Uses of Jazz In Hip-Hop
Ruzica Church Is The Only Church Made Out Of Artillery
World War I was a tough time for Serbia. It was the first country to have war declared on it, the first to go into battle, and the first to be ripped to shreds like a pinata leading a charge on a German machine gun nest. After the war, the Serbian people had a lot to rebuild out of the remains of their old homes. But for one church, they figured: Why not build it out of the remains of the war instead?
Ruzica Church, located in Belgrade, was once, very appropriately, a munitions warehouse. It then became a Serbian Orthodox church in 1869, after which it served its military congregation proudly. But during WWI, the church got heavily damaged -- unavoidable when your building has a history of stashing ammunition in the back. The ruins of the church stood empty until 1925, when it was decided that not only should it be renovated, but it should also stand as a symbol for the horrors of war. And for some reason, the best way to do this was to make chandeliers of murder. (Murdeliers?)
In order to refurbish the church, the architect decided to use the very things that had destroyed it in the first place. Massive "magic" chandeliers called "polyeleos" were crafted out of cannonballs, military coffin handles, and the broken swords of fallen officers. The candle holders themselves were made of out bullet casings, so that these tiny brass messengers of death would be perpetually illuminated by the light of the candle, thus symbolizing the illuminating nature of faith ... somehow. We're not clear on how that works, exactly.
And to hammer the message home, they melted down a bunch of artillery shells and made them into two statues for the church, placed at either side of the entrance. One is a Serbian World War I infantryman, and the other is a medieval knight from the era of Emperor Dusan.
At some point, you'd think someone would have had mentioned that maybe the whole thing was starting to look kind of like a shrine to war rather than peace, but you try arguing the finer points of design to an architect carrying a few centuries' worth of instruments of death.
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