When you arrive in Europe, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the history of all the beautiful and old buildings suddenly surrounding you, and you are guaranteed to see a plethora of churches and cathedrals. The amount of time and intricacy that was put into these buildings is unfathomable, and sometimes it’s hard to truly realize just how special these building are, regardless of your religious affiliation. I will warn you that you will see so many churches and cathedrals that you may not be able to identify the different ones in the many pictures you are bound to take. This is why I’m giving you my top 4 churches and cathedrals that I saw while abroad, so you can see the best of the best!
Starting from the bottom, we’re now here in Évora, Portugal. Through an included trip to Lisbon and Évora with ISA, we were able to tour some amazing places, while checking another country off the list. We were warned there was a unique experience waiting for us in Évora, but had no idea what, and as typical study abroad students we were all secretly hoping it was some sort of dessert. While, there was no dessert, there was something much more interesting. In Évora there is a chapel that is made of human bones, called Capela Dos Ossos. It was built from bones of surrounding cemeteries that were using valuable land. The monks used the bones to build the chapel as a way to honor the dead and remind people to think of them. It had a haunting feel to it, but was unlike any church or cathedral I had ever seen, and provided a change to the elaborate and fancy churches often seen in Europe.
Hop back on over to Spain and we’re on another ISA sponsored trip to Córdoba and Granada. In Córdoba we saw the Mezquita de Córdoba, which has one of the most interesting histories I have heard. It began as a Catholic Cathedral, but when Muslims later conquered it, the cathedral had both Christian and Muslim halves. It then became solely a Muslim mosque for a few hundred years before finally returning to a Catholic Cathedral, which is how it remains today. You can see both the Muslim and Catholic influences in the church, which makes it fascinating to look at.
Sevilla was not only my home for the last 3.5 months, but also has been home to La Catedral Santa María de la Sede for the last 508 years! I walked by this cathedral countless times, but there was still always something special to me about seeing it lit up at night from the backside. During the day, go on a quick field trip with ISA to hear about the history, then climb the 35 floors to the top for one of the best views of Sevilla I have seen.
Did you even study abroad in Spain if you didn’t visit Barcelona? While, it is possible, I recommend going because it is home to the famous Sagrada Familia Basilica. Nothing really compares to this in the same way. As I was approaching it with my friends, it hit us just how intricate and jaw-dropping it truly was. Any beautifully filtered Instagrams do not do justice of actually seeing the full 360º view of it! I suggest going in the late afternoon (we were there around 4 pm in November) because the way the sun shone through the stained glass, providing a beautiful combination of colors, that were precisely chosen to work with the sun. Make sure to book your tickets ahead of time to avoid waiting in line! Maybe even book a ticket in advance for 2026, which is the anticipated completion of the basilica after beginning construction in 1882. All I have to say is props to you Gaudí, you made me speechless about a church!