I confess... I'm addicted to churches.
In our wanderings we have visited thousands of churches of all denominations. Grand, ornate cathedrals through to quaint, one person chapels. I can't pass a small church without testing the doors and if possible having a look inside. There are never two the same.
The attraction is complex but come with me on a pictorial trip through a handful of the special places we have stumbled across.
Lets skip the well known places of worship and look beyond Notre Dame of Paris, the Cathedrals of London, Milan and Venice, the developing splendour of Segrada Familia and further afield than the Basilica of St Peter. The following are some gems that remain largely unknown but offer rich rewards to the determined traveller.
I'll begin with a favourite, the Cathedral of Lofoton:
Location, location, location.
The Lofoton Islands of Northern Norway have a legendary reputation for stunning scenery and with good reason. There are few locations that can match Norway for pure scenic wonder and the Lofoton Islands are a jewel in the crown.
The attraction to this church, otherwise known as the Church of Vagan is that it is constructed entirely of wood with a slate roof. Built in 1898 it is in mint condition and a testament to the craftsman who constructed this Scandinavian wonder.
The interior is decorated in restrained tones with fine painting used to highlight the beautiful timber work. Many of the parishioners would have been part of the traditional fishing industry which still flourishes, hence the model ships hanging inside the cathedral. There is a lovely lightness to the whole building.
By way of contrast we recently made the pilgrimage to the Monastery of St. John the Baptist, near Gortys, Greece. I say pilgrimage because the return trip was a strenuous and rewarding half day hike through the deep Lousios George.
Monastery of St John the Baptist
The monastery clings to a shelf of rock high above the Lousios River which provides a serene soundtrack to the experience. Embedded within the massive rock face and now surrounded by the ramshackle monastery is the atmospheric Church of St. John the Baptist. The chapel was founded by Manuel Comnenos in 1167.
The tiny church still functions for the resident Greek Orthodox monks and is lined with Byzantine frescos. The life here remains austere and all produce must be brought in by donkey.
The church is reached by following a narrow and tortuous stairway that weaves through the Monastery. The small entrance is adorned with wooden doors that conceal the treasures within.
Let's remain in the Peloponnese where we hunted down another oddity. Set in the mountains and only reached by narrow, twisting roads is the diminutive Church of St.Teodora. We had heard about this blend of church and nature and took the MoHo in search.
Trees sprouting from St Teodora's.
Numerous trees sprout from the stone church which remains defiant in the face this vegetative invasion. Despite the remoteness of the site near Vastas the church is a popular tourist attraction.
The interior has been damaged over the years by the ingression of moisture.
Set by a babbling brook of crystal water the area has the added attraction of a couple of restaurants and picnic sites. When we visited in the winter the only other person there was a Greek by the name of George who approached us where he recognised our Australian accents. It turns out he had lived in Perth for three months and like most Greeks has relatives in Melbourne.
Good fortune awaited us as the next town we came across was deemed passable in our MoHo after close reconnoiter. We managed to slip through with centimetres to spare despite the close walls and tight corners.
While many churches have fallen into disrepair in other places new architectural monuments are being built. In the contemporary genre it is hard to go past the Northern Lights Cathedral. The appropriately named church lays at latitude 69.9 degrees North in the town of Alta, Norway.
Cathedral of the Northern Lights
The external architecture is stunning but we were unprepared for the extraordinary interior made even more atmospheric with a spontaneous organ recital.
The Cathedral was designed by the architectural firm Link Architecture (Kolbjorn Jenssen) and was consecrated in 2016.
The towering carillon is just as striking from the inside. As you enter the body of the church you pass through a circular vestibule with a soaring ceiling in which gangs a golden ladder reaching towards the heavens.
One of the most architecturally bizarre buildings I have seen is situated across the road from the ancient ruins of Mantineia, Arcadia. Rather than being a Byzantine church as it appears at first glance is is actually a modern agglomeration of architectural styles.
Church of Agia Fotini
The temple was inaugurated in 1972 and was hand built by one man. Trained in architecture Constantine Papatheordorou sought to build a philosophical bridge between the ancient and the modern. The resulting structure is loaded with symbolic references to the world's religions but maintains a Byzantine heart.
The church is currently closed as it is undergoing restoration of the interior. As luck would have it we had "free camped" in sight of the building and in the morning a workman arrived. Seizing the opportunity we were able to take in the interior which reflected the extraordinary compilation of styles used in this remarkably creative tribute to the history of religious belief.
One thing about churches is that you are always welcome. If the door is unlocked there begins the adventure. We have never been made to feel unwelcome because we were not of the faith of a particular church.
Sometimes lovely interactions occur as a result of whatever common interest is present in the visitors.
It may be a conversation with the organist, nun, priest, cleaner or in the case of my visit to the Russian Orthodox church in Helsinki it was a group of visiting Buddhist Monks.
Russian Orthodox church, Helsinki
The church is magnificent and comes with all of the rich iconography, symbolism and charisma of an Orthodox Church. The warm familiarity that I now have with these interiors was broken by the presence of the orange robed monks and enhanced by their kindly response when a photo was requested.
For my final visitation I have saved the smallest and most inaccessible for last. Hiding on a vast cliff and only visible by virtue of it's painted rock doorway is an unnamed chapel on the island of Monemvisia.
If you want to experience the vertiginous view from this church and it's unique interior you can see the very brief film at:
Take the journey. You won't regret making the effort to visit another unique church.
Who knows you might become addicted too, if it isn't already too late.