We really enjoy seeing historic churches throughout the world and most of them can be found in the old town areas of the cities. There are times, though, when modern cities with skyscrapers surround the old churches and the images can be just as striking. Seeing the bell towers reaching towards the sky in parallel with the glass towers is quite a juxtaposition of images. Obviously it goes in direct opposition to the desire to have the churches and cathedrals be the tallest buildings in a city where people could see them from all of the surrounding areas as they ventured towards the city. Here are some of our favorite examples of churches and skyscrapers.
We took a day trip from Sofia to visit the Rila Monastery, which is located about two hours away in the Rila Mountains southwest of the capital of Bulgaria. The monastery was first founded in the 10th century and gets its name, as does the mountainous region, from the hermit Ivan of Rila who founded it. Although the monastery bears some resemblance to the fortified churches that we saw in Romania a few years back, it did not serve the same purpose as the mountains were fortification enough. The Rila Monastery is considered to be one of Bulgaria’s most important cultural, historical and architectural sites and therefore does attract a fair number of visitors every year.
The main church of the monastery was built in the middle of the 19th century and is still in use today. The paintings on the exterior walls are quite dramatic and tell a variety of biblical stories. Next to the main church is the clock tower, which is more of a fortress tower than an actual clock tower, but it is quite dramatic to see as it looks over the entire monastery complex. Surrounding the church in the walls are the quarters where the monks of the monastery would live and work when not at the church for prayers. There are only two gated entrances to the Rila Monastery, one near the parking area where visitors arrive and the other that leads to a small village with a restaurant that is on the opposite side of the main entrance.
When visiting Sofia, taking a day trip to the Rila Monastery is certainly worthwhile and can be combined with a wine tasting in the same region. For those who enjoy hiking, there are also several hiking trails in the area and many local people visit the mountains simply to enjoy the natural surroundings and beautiful scenery. Just like visiting any other religious site, dressing appropriately is always recommended and women should have their knees and shoulders covered. We definitely enjoyed our time at the monastery as well as lunch at a local restaurant on the river in a village along the road to and from the monastery.
We decided to spend time in Lower Manhattan during our recent visit to New York City. One of the places that enjoyed seeing was Trinity Church, which is located at Broadway and Wall Street and is surrounded by towering skyscrapers. The fact that the church is located in the heart of the city does not diminish the beauty of the church, but it is different that a lot of cathedrals and churches in Europe where the church dominates the skyline. The church is an active church that received its first charter from King William III in 1697 when the America’s were in their infancy.
The first thing that strikes out to you as you visit Trinity Church is the historic cemetery with its oldest headstone dating back to 1861. The headstone is for Richard Churcher, the 5-year-old son of William Churcher. The cemetery is also the gravesite of Alexander Hamilton and there are also many different monuments in the graveyard. It is a peaceful spot in an otherwise very busy part of the city.
The facade of the building is quite stunning with its huge steeple reaching toward the sky. Within the steeple are 12 change-ringing bells that rotate 360 degrees making a rich and complex sound. It is the only set of these types of bells in the United States. We did not enter the church during our visit, but just walking around the grounds was quite interesting. With such an amazing history and architecture, Trinity Church is quite fascinating, especially considering the juxtaposition between the church and the surrounding modern buildings.