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.

Historic Old Cairo in Egypt

One of the things that we truly enjoyed when we visited Egypt was taking time to tour Old Cairo, also known as Coptic Cairo. We actually visited the area on two separate days, one focusing on the historic churches and synagogues and the second focusing on Islamic Cairo. The juxtaposition of the two was really fascinating. As with many locations in the Middle East, the area has historic references that are important to many different religions with a history that goes back thousands of years. We visited with two different Egyptologists during our time there, which was also interesting as they both provided a different perspective on the history and the culture of the area. These are some of our favorite memories of our time in Old Cairo.

Inside of the Mosque and Madrassa of the Sultan Hasan
Entrance to the Mosque

Mosque and Madrassa of the Sultan Hasan – We wouldn’t recommend visiting without a guide unless you are familiar Sunni Islam, the history of Cairo , and the influences of the surrounding countries. Also, it is not currently a working mosque, so without someone to provide clarity on the features, it might not be as easily understood. We learned about the four wings of the Madrassa, which are Muslim schools, that were located on the site. We also visited the Mosque of Al_Rifai, which is located right next door and is equally as interesting as the Mosque and Madrassa of the Sultan Hasan.

Cavern Where the Holy Family Stayed
View of the Church

Abu Serga Church – Also known as the Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church as well as the Cavern Church, the Abu Serga Church is an important historical and religious landmark in Cairo, Egypt. The church is supposed to be built on the spot where Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus rested at the end of their journey into Egypt. The reason it is known as the cave church is because the church is built around the cave where the Holy Family rested and you are able to descend down to see the cave when you tour the church. The church is dedicated to Sergius and Bacchus who were soldiers in the 4th century that were killed by the Roman Emperor Maximian and achieved martyrdom and sainthood. Two other sites that are located nearby are Ben Ezra, the oldest synagogue in Cairo as well as the Hanging Church, which should also be visited when touring the area.

Ancient Babylon Fortress
Fortress Wall

The Babylon Fortress – There are many reasons to visit the section of Cairo known as Coptic Cairo and seeing the ancient Babylon Fortress is certainly one of them. The fortress originally sat on the banks of the Nile, long before the dams in Aswan were built to control the water levels of the river. At the time that it was constructed, some time around 500 BC, it served as the boundary between Lower and Middle Egypt and was the location where boats paid tolls to either ascend or descend the Nile.

Coffee House in a Market
Many, Many Items for Sale

Khan el-Khalili Bazaar – Visiting markets wherever you visit is certainly worthwhile, but there is something very special about the bazaars in the middle east. Khan el-Khalili Bazaar in the Old Town Center of Cairo, Egypt, also known as Old Cairo, is certainly one of them. They can be quite busy and you need to be aware of your circumstances to avoid pickpockets or those who might want to take advantage of you. In most bazaars it is usually customary to bargain over the prices and the vendors don’t take offense to it. In fact, to get the best price, you might even start to walk away before the vendor offers a lower price that seems reasonable to you. Haggling, though, does not mean offering a ridiculously low price that might be viewed as an insult.

Courtyard of Historic Ottoman House
Sitting in the House

Bayt Al-Suhaymi – If you are looking for something of a hidden gem while visiting Cairo, then we would suggest putting Bayt Al-Suhaymi on your list of places to visit. On our final day in Cairo, we made a last minute decision to book an “Islamic Cairo” tour through our hotel and we were certainly not disappointed. We saw several ancient mosques, but just as interesting was wandering the narrow streets of the Old City of Cairo. Just wandering the streets is quite exhilarating, but the highlight was taking a tour of an Ottoman era house that was built in 1648 and is in excellent condition as it was refurbished in 1997 as part of restoration project for the entire area.

Stairs Leading to the Church
Different Angle of the Dome of the Church in Cairo

Church of St. George –  The Church of St. George is a Greek Orthodox church that dates back to the 10th century, although the current church buildings were built in 1909 after being destroyed in a fire in 1904. Sitting on top of a hill with a steep set of stairs, the architecture of the church is definitely interesting and impressive. As you approach the church, there is no doubt as to who it is dedicated as there are several murals with images of St. George defeating the dragon, including the large relief on the front of the church itself. The church tower also has a wind-vane that features a dragon that hovers over the church. The church itself is a round building with a large dome over the center, which is quite stunning and dramatic.

If you have any questions about the places we visited above, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

Walking Tour of the Temples of Vientiane, Laos

When we visited Vientiane in Laos last November, we spent the majority of our first full day visiting the temples that are literally almost on every corner of the downtown area. Known as Wats, these temples are very beautiful and each of them is unique. Most are active Buddhist temples with monks living and working in them and you need to be respectful when visiting them.

Drum Tower
Offerings and Golden Statues
Ancient Buddha Statues on Display
Walking the Grounds of Wat Si Saket

Wat Si Saket – Wat Si Saket was built in the Siamese style of Buddhist architecture, making it different than a lot of the other wats that we visited during our tour. The architecture and artwork were definitely fascinating with so many different details on the various buildings. Built in 1818, it might be the oldest wat as many of the wats have been destroyed and rebuilt due to the many wars and invasions of Laos. Because it is a museum as well as a temple, there are many ancient Buddhist statues on display within the temple grounds.

Walking Around the Temple
Standing at the Door to the Temple
Statue of Buddha
Wat Ho Phra Keo

Wat Ho Phra Keo – Built in 1565, Wat Ho Phra Keo (also known as Haw Phra Kaew) is quite beautiful. Although several of the temples have gardens, the garden that leads to the entrance of this temple was very well groomed and colorful making it very serene. It was also the one temple where we saw the most tourists during our visit to Vientiane. There is a nominal entrance fee in order get into the temple grounds, but it was included with our tour.

Reclining Buddha at the Temple
Colorful Paintings
Visually Stunning Temple
Ceremonial Items Inside the Temple

Wat That Luang Neua – Of the many temples that we visited during our time in Vientiane, Wat That Luang Neua was one of the most interesting. From the reclining Buddha statue to the colorful images depicting the life of Buddha, it is truly a beautiful temple. The golden statues are all quite interesting as you walk around the temple grounds. The temple itself is very open and has paintings depicting the life of Buddha all over the ceiling. The colors are so vibrant and the paintings are so interesting that one could spend hours looking at them. Located near the famous Pha That Luang, it is certainly worth taking the time to visit during a walking tour of Vientiane.