Stephen Travels

And he's ready to take you with him.


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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 >


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Faith and Fun in Helsinki’s Finest Churches

Karuna Church, Helsinki, FinlandStrong incense emanating from censers in a Russian Orthodox cathedral. An organ concert in an iconic Lutheran cathedral. Utter silence in a modern chapel in a busy area of Helsinki. A wedding in a church built into a rock. A chorale by Finland’s most famous composer ringing from the bell tower of an Art Nouveau church. My experiences in the city’s churches continually surprised me, surpassing mere architecture, history, and religious tradition (although all of those abound in Helsinki’s houses or worship), and visiting them became one long series of unexpected delights. Read about the top five churches in Helsinki >


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The Churches of Pittsburgh: Very Diverse, All Beautiful

From the top of Mount Washington, I took in the fantastic view of the skyline of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, one of the best urban views in the United States. Connected to the land across the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers by its iconic yellow bridges, this pie-shaped section of the city rises heavenward with its shiny skyscrapers, which (unfortunately) effectively hide one of the city’s lower-rise assets: its gorgeous houses of worship. Read about the top five churches in Pittsburgh >


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Edinburgh’s Ecclesiastical Highlights

St. Paul's and St. George's Church, Edinburgh, ScotlandEdinburgh, Scotland, was built to last. I’ve never seen a sturdier-looking city, as if nothing could ever destroy it (even though the Vikings, English, and Germans have all tried). Woven into its architectural fabric, I found a tremendous collection of some of the most beautiful bank buildings in Scotland as well as many stunning churches. These houses of worship date back centuries, and many of their towers and spires still serve as both a call to worship and a helpful visual orientation to this city’s wonderful skyline, in both New Town and Old Town. Read about the top five churches in Edinburgh >


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A Baroque Masterpiece in the Center of Ljubljana, Slovenia

St. Nicholas Cathedral, Ljubljana, SloveniaThe city of Ljubljana seems to have been created for its residents and visitors to spend a lot of time outside. Whether you’re kayaking down the lazy Ljubljanica River, exploring lovely Prešeren Square and one of the top five bridges in the world, climbing the hill up to the castle, or romping around some fantastic parks, Ljubljana inevitably draws you outdoors for long stretches at a time. But the capital of Slovenia is also one of the wettest cities in Europe, which means you’ll be spending some time indoors as well. And one of the best places to do that is the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, a truly spectacular Baroque house of worship in the heart of the city. Read more about it >