While this earthly life is important, the Christian life is ultimately directed toward God in heaven.
Building churches that are tall and upward pointed is one way that this fact has sometimes been conveyed in church architecture.
Here’s a list of the world’s top 10 tallest churches that still stand today, in descending order (you can click on any image to see it full size). Notice that all of them are in Europe, with one major exception.
[See also: 11 Beautiful Wooden Churches of Eastern Europe]
10) Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (New Cathedral) – Linz, Austria
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is a relatively new church as churches go on this list, having been built between 1862 and 1924. It stands at 134.8 m (440 ft).
9) St. Stephen’s Cathedral – Vienna, Austria
Construction on St. Stephen’s Cathedral began in 1147, but wasn’t fully completed until the mid-15th century. It rises to 136.7 m (448 ft).
Also, if you look closely in the picture above, you’ll see advertising on the church. In the last few years, the archdiocese has been renovating part of the church. This has required the use of scaffolding on the outside of the church, which has been covered in netting. To block the netting and help pay for the cost of the renovation, the diocese decided to sell advertising space on the netting. But the practice was controversial and soon discontinued.
8) St. Peter’s Basilica – Vatican City (Rome, Italy)
Given its importance and otherwise mammoth size (it’s the largest church in the world in terms of volume), it might come as a surprise that St. Peter’s Basilica is only 8th on this list. Constructed between 1506 and 1626, it stands at 136.6 m (448.1 ft).
7) Basilica of Our Lady of Licheń – Licheń Stary, Poland
The Basilica of Our Lady of Licheń is the newest church on this list, having been built between 1994 and 2004. Now a major pilgrimage site in Poland, it reaches to 141.5 m (464 ft).
6) Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg – Strasbourg, France
The construction of Strasbourg Cathedral dates back to 1015, though it wasn’t finished until 1439. The church became Protestant in the 16th century, but was returned to the Catholic Church in the 17th century. At a height of 142 m (466 ft), it was the world’s tallest building for 227 years from 1647 (when the world’s tallest church at the time burned down) until 1874, when it was surpassed by the church on our list.
5) St. Nicholas Church – Hamburg, Germany
Construction on the initial structure of the Church of St. Nicholas began in 1189 and was completed just seven years later. Over the next few centuries though, parts of it were rebuilt and expansions were made. In the 16th century, the church changed from being used as a Catholic church to a Lutheran church, which it remains to this day. In the 19th century, after a devastating fire, the church was rebuilt to new heights, and was briefly the world’s tallest building.
Unfortunately, the church was almost entirely destroyed by bombing in WWII. Today, all that remains is its main tower, which reaches to 147 m (482 ft).
4) Rouen Cathedral – Rouen, France
Construction began on the Rouen Cathedral in 1202 but wasn’t finished until 1880, due to lightning strikes, budget constraints, tower collapses, wars, and vandalism. Unfortunately, it also suffered damage from bombing in WW2. Yet it still stands today to a height of 151 m (495 ft).
3) Cologne Cathedral – Cologne, Germany
Construction of Cologne Cathedral began almost eight centuries ago in 1248 on a site that had been home to other churches and – a thousand years prior – a pagan Roman temple. However, construction was slow going and halted in 1473, leaving the church unfinished. The church remained in that state for centuries. In the 19th century, the original plans were rediscovered, and construction began, with the church being completed in 1880. It soars to 157.4 m (516 ft).
2) Basilica of Our Lady of Peace – Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire
Built very quickly between 1985 and 1989, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace is the tallest Catholic church in the world at 158 m (518 ft). It’s also the largest church in the world in terms of its footprint.
1) Ulm Muenster – Ulm, Germany
At 161.5 m (530 ft), Ulm Muenster is the world’s tallest church. Construction started in 1377 as a Catholic church, but stalled due to lack of funds. In the 16th century, the town converted to Lutheranism, and the church was finally completed as a Lutheran church in 1890. For the next 11 years until 1901, the church was the tallest building of any kind in the world.
[See also: QUIZ: Modernist Church or Communist Building?]