Places of Worship in Caves Around the World

Caves have provided shelter and safety since the beginning of mankind, so it isn’t surprising that they have also served as places of worship over the centuries. Sometimes they are revered for the historical impact of the location and then become a place where people come to visit in the future based on their faith. Other places serve as actual places of worship just like any traditional temple or church. We have seen several different locations during our travels and each of them was unique and interesting in their own ways. There are so many fascinating places to discover when traveling and finding these caves that inspire people are certainly among them.

Cavern Where the Holy Family Stayed
Well Where the Family Drank
Crowds Enjoying the Church

Abu Serga Church (The Cavern Church) in Cairo, Egypt – Located in Old Cairo, also known as Coptic Cairo, the Abu Serga Church (also called the Cavern Church and officially the Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church) was built over the cavern where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were supposed to have rested at the end of their journey in Egypt. Even during the offseason when we visited, there were long lines to make your way down to the cave and see the altar housed within. The church itself is also very interesting with many historical relics on display.

Altar Within Cave Church
Main Altar
Walking into Cave Church from the Entrance

The Cave Church in Budapest, Hungary – Located at the base of Gellert Hill, the hill that the Citadella (fortress) sits atop, is a system of caves. One of the caves was converted into a chapel in the 1920’s and even served as a hospital for the Germans during WWII. The atmosphere within Cave Church is interesting due to the lack of natural light and the rugged cavern walls. After its conversion to a hospital by the NAZI army during the war, it returned to serving as a church until 1951 when the Soviet Union had it shut down. The chapel was raided by the Soviet Army, the monks arrested, and the cave sealed up until Budapest regained their freedom in 1989. Today, the monks of the Pauline Order continue to operate the church and hold religious functions on the site as well as maintain it as a tourist attraction.

Temple Inside Huong Tich Cave
Marker Within the Cave
Exiting Huong Tich Cave

Huong Tich Cave at Perfume Pagoda in Vietnam – Perfume Pagoda is a complex of Buddhist temples located about a couple of hours outside of Hanoi in Vietnam. At the heart of the complex is Huong Tich Cave and within the cave is Chua Trong or the Inner Temple. During the festival time, from late January through early March, thousands of people visit the temple and the 2.5 km (1.5 mile) path that takes you up to the cave is lined with vendor stalls selling food, gifts, and objects to use as an offering. In order to reach the Perfume Pagoda complex, you need to take an almost hour long boat ride (less if you take a motorized boat) through the beautiful countryside.

Shrine Inside of the Saint Thomas Cave
Handprint Worn into the Rock
Bleeding Cross

Saint Thomas Cathedral Basilica in Chennai, India – After going to several Hindu temples during our stay in Chennai, going to the Saint Thomas Cathedral Basilica was a unique experience. The church is built over the tomb of Saint Thomas, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, which is one of only three churches in the world to be built over the tomb of a disciple. For a small donation, you are able to enter the cave where Saint Thomas hid and there is even a rock that is supposed to have been worn down by his hand. There is also a spring that is just outside of the cave called the Saint Thomas Fountain, which supposed provided healing powers to those that came to listen to him and people still drink from it today in order to be cured. There is a cross carved into a rock that was believed to be carved by Saint Thomas and many believers report that it continues to bleed to this very day.

Regardless of your beliefs, seeing such unique places of worship is certainly interesting for a variety of reasons. The backdrop of the caves and caverns, some of them natural and some of them man-made add to the uniqueness of these locations.

Caves of Hercules in Morocco

One of the interesting sites that we visited during our tour of Tangier, Morocco, was the Caves of Hercules (Grottes d’Hercule). Although the cave itself isn’t particularly fascinating compared to many other caves we have explored, its history makes it worth taking time to visit. It is located on the coast of the Strait of Gibralter and the drive from Tangier to Cape Spartel where the cave sits on the beach is quite beautiful. The cave is partially natural and partially man-made as the Berber people cut stone from the walls of the cave to use to make millstones.

Shape of Africa in Reverse from Within the Cave

You Can Still See Where the Stone Was Cut Away

View from Cape Spartel

Natural Cave Features

There are two openings to the cave, one from the sea and one from land, but the one from one land is the actual entrance to the cave. The opening to the sea was believed to have been carved by the Phoenicians and when viewed from the sea is in the shape of Africa. There are a couple of interesting legends associated with the cave. First is the belief that Hercules, the Roman god, stayed and slept in the cave during the 11th of his 12 labours that were given to him by King Eurystheus of Tiryns. This myth is obviously the source of the current name of the cave complex. Perhaps even more interesting is the legend that the cave was believed to be the entrance of a tunnel underneath the Strait of Gibralter that led to St. Michael’s Cave in Gibraltar. That same legend has the famous Barbary Macaque Monkeys that inhabit Gibraltar having used this tunnel to get from Africa to Europe.

Walking Through the Cave Towards the Sea Opening

Exploring the Caves of Hercules

Cape Spartel Lighthouse

Walls of the Cave

The Africa shaped opening, carved walls, and fascinating legends make this a worthwhile stop when visiting Tangier, Morocco. We also stopped at the Cape Spartel Lighthouse to have a snack and enjoy the amazing views. We also rode camels on the beach nearby, but that was very touristy. The Caves of Hercules remains one of our favorite memories of our tour in Morocco.

Riding Camels on the Beach

Interesting Coloration (and Yes, We Were Leaning Over as We Took This Photograph)

Views from Cape Spartel Lighthouse

Waves Crashing on the Rocky Cave Entrance


Halong Bay Tour in Vietnam

One of the most popular tours to take when visiting Hanoi, Vietnam is to go to Halong Bay. It is certainly one of the most recognizable places in all of Vietnam with the mountains jutting up from the bay, which according to myth is the result of a dragons descending to earth. Halong Bay actually means “descending dragon” and even though the mountains are the result of natural forces over centuries of time, the result is still incredibly beautiful. Halong Bay was recently named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and was designated a World Heritage Site in 1994.

Upper Deck of the Cruise Ship

Absolutely Beautiful Views of Halong Bay

Although it is possible to visit Halong Bay in a single day, we’d recommend taking an overnight cruise to make the most of your time in this wonderous location. There are many different caves, beaches, and mountains that you can visit depending on your tour company. With so many cruise ships on Halong Bay, no matter which caves you explore or places that you stop, you can expect there to be large crowds joining you. We traveled to Vietnam in November, which is the offseason, and even then we were among hundreds of other visitors.

Ships Around Bo Hon Island

Sunset on Halong Bay

Based upon our research prior to visiting Halong Bay, the tour that we took is pretty typical of an overnight cruise on the turquoise waters. We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Halong Bay and it was one of our favorite memories of our time in Vietnam. Thanks to the new highway, it was only about an hour and a half to two hours from Hanoi to the docks where hundreds of cruise ships sit ready to take tourists out onto Halong Bay. Our tour consisted of the following highlights:

Hazy Scenery

Standing on the Observation Deck

  1. Titop Island – After enjoying lunch on our cruise ship as we made our way out into the heart of Halong Bay, we took a small boat to visit Titop Island. There is a beach where you can swim in the water to get a break from the heat, but the main reason for visiting Titop Island is for the incredible views of Halong Bay from the observation deck at the top of the mountain. It is certainly worth climbing the approximately 400 stairs in order to get to the covered deck at the summit. You may have to take turns to get to the rails, but you get views of the bay in all directions.

    Mystical Landscapes

    Relaxing on the Ship
  2.  Overnight on the Cruise Ship – Upon returning to the cruise ship, we went to the top deck where we watched the sun set and enjoyed cocktails and snacks during the ships happy hour. Prior to dinner, guests on the ship could enjoy a cooking demonstration, but having done an actual cooking class in Hanoi, we chose to stay on the upper deck and enjoy the incredible views. Since it was the offseason, our ship wasn’t full, but there were about 14 other guests with us on our tour. For those that wanted to, you could fish for squid at night before going to bed to get up early the next morning to do Tai Chi. We chose to skip both of those in order to get a good night sleep as we still had to be in the dining room by 7:00 am to eat breakfast while we watched the sun rise over the mountains. We had a busy day ahead of us.

    The Second Chamber, “Serene Castle”

    Inside of the First Chamber
  3.  Surprise Cave (Sung Sot Cave) – After finishing breakfast, we went to visit Surprise Cave as early as possible. Our guides told us that the later that you arrived at the island, the larger the crowds became. Surprise Cave is a large cavern in the mountain that has been carved out by water over hundreds of years. We saw many different caves during our time in Vietnam, but this was probably the most unique of all of the caves that we saw. With huge stalactites and stalagmites and other rock formations inside of the limestone mountain, it was truly spectacular.

    Monkey on the Rocks

    Luan Cave
  4.  Luan Cave – Whether you took a kayak or let a guide take you on a row boat, going through Luan Cave and going around the inlet with its beautiful water is amazing. There are monkeys that come down to the shore at different times of the day that are as fascinated with the tourists as we were with them. After touring the cave and getting up close to the cliffs, we returned to our cruise ship where we enjoyed lunch and then went back to the upper deck to enjoy the views as we headed back to the dock.

    Halong Bay

    Enjoying Our Time

It is a full, two-day tour that starts by being picked up at your hotel in Hanoi at 8:00 in the morning and drops you back at around 18:00 the following day. Without a doubt, a tour of Halong Bay should be on your itinerary when traveling to Hanoi. The sights and memories of our tour is definitely something that we will always treasure.