Stephen Travels

And he's ready to take you with him.


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Argentina’s Most Beautiful Churches

Cathedral of St. Francis, San Salvador de Jujuy, ArgentinaFour intranational flights in Argentina took me from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazú to Salta to Mendoza and back to the capital. It was a whirlwind trip around the northern part of the country during which I hiked around one of the world’s top waterfalls and around the tallest mountain in the Americas, experienced both Latin and Native American cultures, ate llama cutlets and sucked on coca leaves to stave off altitude sickness, and roamed through some of the country’s best cities, filled with beautiful (and often crumbling) architecture, including fantastic houses of worship. Read about the top five churches in Argentina >


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Denmark’s Five Best Churches

Holmen Church, Copenhagen, DenmarkWhen it comes to castles, Denmark is one of my favorite European nations, whether they’re watching over the coastline or dropped smack in the middle of the capital city. When it comes to churches, however, Denmark has some serious competition from its European neighbors. Despite that, this little nation of just under six million people has constructed some spectacular churches. Too bad only 3 percent of the population regularly attends services; they’re missing out on surrounding themselves with beauty. Read about the top five churches in Denmark >


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Crossing Paths With Swiss Crosses

Lausanne Cathedral, SwitzerlandAlthough freedom of religion is a fundamental right in Switzerland, enshrined in its constitution, the number of people employing that freedom continues to plummet. More than one-quarter of all Swiss have no religious affiliation (compared to a negligible 1 percent in 1970). Those who do, no matter what their denomination, have strayed from regularly attending services today. Yet they can still look back at what their more devout ancestors left behind—a legacy of beautiful churches that used to be the core of their societies. Read about the top five churches in Switzerland >


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Tiny Valletta’s Big Churches

Parish Church of St. Augustine, Valletta, MaltaOne of Europe’s smallest countries in terms of both size and population, the island nation of Malta has a disproportionately large abundance of everything from striking architecture to a complex and outstanding cuisine. Its deep history has seen a seemingly endless parade of foreign powers attacking, invading, and controlling it over the centuries. At its heart, the capital of Valletta houses only about 6,000 people. This fantastic walled peninsula city, surrounded on three sides by blue bays and harbors of the Mediterranean Sea, is crammed with a hefty number of gorgeous churches, maybe for all those who were trying to pray away the latest conquerors. Read about the top five churches in Valletta >


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The Eternally Beautiful Churches of Rome

Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles, RomeRome and religion are intrinsically intertwined. Completely surrounding the Catholic mini-state of the Vatican City, the Italian capital has been influenced by the church, and vice versa, for centuries. Italians still go pazzo for Il Papa, and a papal Mass in the Basilica of St. Peter is an unforgettable experience (at least, from what I’ve heard). Of course, getting into one takes a lot of doing, so most of us will have to be satisfied with just popping into a regular run-of-the-mill church that a pope may or may not have visited at some point. But in Rome, that means you inevitably step into a dazzling place that could stand on its own against most museums. Filled with long histories, incredible architecture, and art by some of Italy’s heavyweights, the churches of Rome — and there are many of them — rank among the most beautiful in the world. The first one I entered was so sublime that I needed no further motivation to visit every other one I came across. Read about the top five churches in Rome >


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Divinity in Providence

First Uniterian Church of ProvidenceI was attending a conference for editors in downtown Providence, and in between sessions I had ample opportunity to explore this historic American city. Settled in 1636 by Roger Williams, who named it in honor of “God’s merciful Providence,” the capital of Rhode Island has not always been under this divine protection. Through nearly four centuries of history, it has seen catastrophic floods, alarming crime rates, slavery, and cholera outbreaks. But it has also been an industrial powerhouse, one of the richest cities in the United States, the jewelry manufacturing capital of the world, an educational leader with such institutions as Brown University, Johnson & Wales University, and the Rhode Island School of Design, and a beacon for religious tolerance, still acknowledged in street names like Benefit, Benevolent, and Hope. That religious tradition can also be seen in its dozens and dozens of churches. Read about the top five churches in Providence >


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A Good Deed Portrayed in Art Around the World

St. Veronica, National Gallery of Art, Washington DCJuly 12 is the feast day of St. Veronica, one of the most identifiable saints in the Christian canon. Whereas so many saints can be hard to recognize by sight according to their symbols (for example, a lily is associated with at least 10 saints; a book accompanies more than 20), the veil with Jesus’ face is assigned only to Veronica. She was especially revered in the 14th and 15th centuries, but her simple act of kindness — offering to wipe Christ’s face — is just as relevant, and as necessary, today. Throughout the world, she has been portrayed in myriad ways and materials. Read about the top five depictions of St. Veronica >


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Kraków’s Divine Churches

Church of the Transfiguration, Krakow, PolandKraków, like most other major cities in Poland, has lived through a tumultuous history. From glory days as the nation’s capital to a widespread conflagration that burned it to the ground, from being shunted aside under the Austrian Empire to resurgent pride when its most famous resident, Karol Wojtyla, became Pope John Paul II, from intense air pollution from Soviet-built steelworks to its role as the country’s leading tourist destination, Kraków is a survivor. And, for centuries, its sturdy citizens have steadily found courage and hope in the city’s gorgeous houses of worship. Read about the top five churches in Kraków, Poland >


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Philadelphia’s Old Churches Always Offer Something New

Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion, Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaWith so many historic sites to see in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ranging from Benjamin Franklin’s gravesite to the massive food mecca inside Reading Terminal Market (one of the world’s best indoor markets) to the oldest residential street in the United States, it’s hard to pick which ones to head to when you have only three days in the city. My recommendation is to sprinkle visits to some beautiful churches into your itinerary; you’ll be rewarded with artistic beauty and some fascinating tales. Read about the top five churches in Philadelphia >


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The World’s Best Depictions of Adam and Eve

Original Sin, by Marco BenefialIn the Bible, the Book of Genesis describes how God created man on the sixth day. To keep him company in the Garden of Eden with all those plants and animals that he got to name, God granted him Eve, fashioning her from one of his ribs. They were free to frolic around Paradise without a care, as long as they didn’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Alas, the sly serpent proved too persuasive to Eve, who then dragged Adam down with her when she tempted him to partake as well. Things quickly went south: For disobeying God’s one command, an angel drove them out of Eden, stripped them of their athanasia, and forced Adam to work for a living and Eve to bear children in a spectacularly painful way. It’s quite a story, one of the most popular in the Bible, and it has been depicted in art for centuries. Read about the best of those renditions >