Few things are as spooky and evocative as breathtaking abandoned places. Churches, in particular, offer a kind of haunting beauty, from their soaring ceilings to their sometimes-shattered stained-glass windows. Abandoned places of worship pepper the globe – some that welcome tourists and others that are fenced off due to their dangerous condition.
From an eerily pristine church that was evacuated after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster to an Old West-style church still standing in a California ghost town that looks like it's stuck in time, here’s a look at 25 abandoned churches that are both striking and somber.
Drink up to the fascinating history of Aulne Abbey in Gozée, Belgium. The monastery was founded in about 657 by the later canonized Saint Landelin. The abbey, also known as Abbaye d’Aulne, was badly damaged by French revolutionary troops around 1794, but the last monk remained until 1859. The picturesque ruins still stand, and a brewery built in the remains of the stables makes craft beers.
Bannack was once the first territorial capital of Montana and a busy gold mining camp. Now, it’s a ghost town and a state park that features numerous buildings, including the Methodist church believed to have been built in the 1870s. A festival held every summer celebrates its pioneer history.
One of the most famous ghost towns in the United States, Bodie, California, is home to a well-preserved old wooden church as well as almost 200 other buildings in the beautiful state historic park. Back in the late 1800s, Bodie residents needed a place to pray: The town was infamous for its lawlessness, with frequent shootouts in the Western streets and a thriving red-light district.
The once-thriving village of Monterano, Italy, about 25 miles northwest of Rome, was sacked by the French army near the end of the 18th century. Among the most famous of its ruins include the Church of San Bonaventura and a baroque-style fountain with a lion statue, both designed by famed Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Only about half of the Church of the Holy Redeemer in the ruined medieval city of Ani, Turkey, is still standing. But according to the World Monuments Fund, this impressive structure, completed in 1035, is a hidden gem of the medieval period. Its interesting design features 19 external sides and a dome, all made from local volcanic basalt. The church is believed to once have held a relic from the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. Its entire eastern half collapsed after a lightning strike in 1930.
Thousands of Methodists once worshipped at the breathtaking City Methodist Church in Gary, Indiana, which was one of the Midwest’s largest Methodist churches. Opened in 1925, closed in 1975 and partially burned in a fire in 1997, the church has seen better days. But you can see it on screen in numerous films, including the 2010 “Nightmare on Elm Street” remake, 2011’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” and the Netflix sci-fi series “Sense8.”
The tiny town of Dorothy in the province of Alberta, Canada, was named for the daughter of an early rancher around 1900. Its Catholic church was in use from about 1944 to 1967 and still stands — a mysterious prairie ghost and a reminder of times gone by.
This crumbling white marble church, built around 1830, sits in the village of Dunlewey, with scenic Mount Errigal in the background. The area even has a spooky name — it’s known as the Poisoned Glen, thanks to an eerie legend involving a princess whose father killed her abductor and then saw poison seep from his “evil eye.”
There’s a sad story behind the village of Geamana in western Romania and its lonely spire. According to Radio Free Europe, in 1977, dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu’s government told the population to relocate and flooded the area with slurry from a copper mine. Now only the church’s spire peeks out from the disturbingly rusty waters in a frightening sight.
Katherine Gaffney Photo/Shutterstock
The unpretentious hominess of this tiny Grass Valley Methodist church makes it look like a stark museum painting. The church, located two hours east of Portland, Oregon, is a place only West Coasters know about. It was built around the end of the 19th century and held services until just after World War II.
The double-domed Kazan Theotokos church in Yaropolec, Russia, dates to the 1100s and sits on land once owned by Count Grigory Petrovich Chernyshev. Photos show its pale blue and white interior color scheme has held up, though it's now dotted with graffiti, and littered with crumbling debris.
Not much is left of the Lincluden Collegiate Church near Dumfries, Scotland, but its crumbling arches hint at a long history. The church was built around 1400, an example of the fine Gothic architecture of Scotland. It survived the reformation of 1560 and saw its final Mass in the 1580s. Part of the church was transformed into living quarters before being abandoned by the late 1600s.
Many abandoned churches are too dangerous to visit, but the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha in Coimbra, Portugal, actually welcomes visitors now. Completed in 1330 near the Mondego River, its resident nuns were forced by constant flooding to leave for a new home on higher ground in 1677. It reopened in 2009 as an interpretive center complete with an auditorium and coffee shop.
While Ross Island is administered by India, it’s actually 800 miles from that country’s coast, perched in the Indian Ocean. For almost a century starting in 1857, a grim penal colony was located here, but the convicts were surrounded by opulent residences and luxuries enjoyed by the British rulers. The now-empty walls of this Presbyterian church once held dazzling stained-glass windows made in Italy.
Gothic-inspired St. Agnes Church in Detroit, Michigan, built in the 1920s, once even had its own Catholic girls’ school with nearly 200 students. But riots in 1967 destroyed much of its neighborhood, and, although the church still hosted a visit from Mother Teresa in 1981, it was sold in the 2000s and now sits elegantly empty.
The Church of St. Nicholas was built in Mavrovo, Macedonia, in 1850, but was submerged about a century later when the artificial Lake Mavrovo was created so a power plant could be built. Icons, books and other items were moved to another church, also named for St. Nicholas. Recent droughts have dried up the land around the original church, making it once again accessible.
In 1943, the Parícutin volcano buried the small Mexican village of San Juan Parangaricutiro under tons of ash and lava and continued to erupt for nine years. The townspeople evacuated in time, and today, the original San Juan Parangaricutiro church ruins still stand, half-buried under volcanic rock.
The ruins of St. Ivan Rilski church are all that remains of the town of Zapalnya, Bulgaria, which was submerged in the 1960s to create the Zhrebchevo reservoir, the country’s third-largest dam. The roof collapsed long ago, and plants now grow atop the church’s walls. The ruins are located about 175 miles east of the Bulgarian capital city, Sofia.
The ruins of Santiago Apóstol (St. James the Apostle) Parish in Cartago, Costa Rica, make for a popular stop on many organized tours of the area. An earthquake in 1910 forever halted the completion of the church at this warm-weather destination.
The worst nuclear disaster in the history of the world happened in 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, and a 1,000-square-mile area immediately surrounding the plant is now known as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church still stands in the chilling abandoned village of Krasne, about 5 miles from the Chernobyl plant.
The Temple of Santiago in Chiapas, Mexico, was built in the mid-1500s and reportedly abandoned after plagues hit the area 200 years later. It was submerged under nearly 100 feet of water in 1966 due to the opening of the Nezahualcoyotl reservoir, re-emerging when drought conditions drop the water level low enough.
A small, Spanish adobe church, Mission San José de Tumacácori, was built around 1757 as part of the very first mission in what is now Arizona. Construction later began on a larger church but was never completed, and apache raids in the 1840s eventually led to its abandonment in 1848. Now the ruins are preserved as part of Tumacácori National Historical Park, and include the ruins of a cemetery and a round mortuary chapel.
This unfinished gothic church in the town of St. George on the tropical island of Bermuda, usually known for some of the best beaches in the world, was built to replace another hurricane-damaged church. But numerous issues, including another bad storm and infighting among the parishioners, meant that the church was never finished. Now its incomplete, dramatic ruins are a tourist attraction.
Founded in the 12th century, Villers Abbey in Villers-la-Ville, Belgium, was once home to hundreds of monks and lay brothers, but was ransacked during the French Revolution and then abandoned in 1796. Today, the landmark boasts stunning gardens, a microbrewery and vineyard, and offers guided tours as well as music and theater events.
When you think of Dracula, you probably think of Transylvania, but that famed horror tale was inspired in part by the town of Whitby on England’s Yorkshire coast, home of the Whitby Abbey ruins. Author Bram Stoker visited Whitby in 1890 and took inspiration from a book in the town’s library that talked of terrifying prince Vlad Tepes, known by some as “Dracula.” The abbey itself was founded in 657, and some believe its spooky ruins and swooping bats helped Stoker build his book’s atmosphere. If that’s not enough for your Dracula fill, you’ll have to check out the most enchanting real-life castles around the world.
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