As with cultures across the globe, religion has always been important in the South. In fact, in many Southern communities a church or cathedral might have through the years taken center stage, its spires plainly visible from all corners, its bells ringing out masses, marriages, deaths, and alarm. More than simply a place for gathered worship, these churches of the South are believed to be by those who build them acts of worship themselves, oftentimes extravagant and elaborate offerings of stone and stained glass, marble and arches, domes and crosses, towers and steeples, to the praise of an extravagant Creator. There are a thousand such edifices, but here are sixteen of the most beautiful, one from each state in the region.
- Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Mobile, Alabama Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Mobile, Alabama
Built in 1850, the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile, Alabama, houses the oldest Christian congregation in the state. The classic basilica designed by architect Claude Beroujon is stunning, with its massive portico, gold-leafed columns, and vaulted ceiling displaying alternate fleur-de-lis and shamrock emblems. German-made Franz Mayer stained glass windows were added early in the twentieth century, and 100 years later the enduring structure has undergone extensive restoration to enhance and preserve its inherent beauty, making it still, as one Alabama historian put it a century and a half ago, “the most imposing church edifice of the state.” Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Mobile, Alabama, interior (photo courtesy of Scot Terry)
- Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock, ArkansasCathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock, Arkansas (photo courtesy of Snup’s View from the Back Pew)
Dedicated three days before the Feast of St. Andrew in 1881, Little Rock’s premier Catholic Cathedral was named for the first apostle to follow Christ and subsequently has sought to maintain a place of eminency in both architectural beauty and religious community. Constructed entirely of native Arkansas granite, the English Gothic structure reaches to a height of 231 feet and boasts the largest bell in the city at over two and a half tons (used for fifty-four years as a city fire alarm). The church’s interior is finished also with native Arkansas materials, the Southern yellow pine ceiling still bearing its original gold stenciling from over a century ago. Bronze doors displaying images of the Twelve Apostles, Cathedral of St. Andrew, Little Rock, Arkansas (photo courtesy of Snup’s View from the Back Pew)
- Memorial Presbyterian Church, St. Augustine, FloridaMemorial Presbyterian Church, Saint Augustine, Florida
Nineteenth-century millionaire Henry M. Flagler was responsible for much outstanding architecture on Florida’s east coast, and the Memorial Presbyterian Church in Saint Augustine is among his greatest achievements. Erected in 1890 in memory of Flagler’s recently deceased and much-loved daughter, the structure’s copper dome with its Greek cross extends 170 feet into the air, while its interior—including pews, paneling, and doors—is richly finished in delicately-carved mahogany. The magnificent marble font is a rarity, and the columns at both rear and front entrances to the building are constructed from remnants of Saint Augustine’s original Presbyterian church built in 1830.
- St. Joseph Catholic Church, Macon, GeorgiaSt. Joseph Catholic Church, Macon, Georgia (photo courtesy of St. Joseph Catholic Church, Macon, Georgia)
When Macon’s newest Catholic church was completed in November 1903, one Georgian journalist declared, “If architecture may be fittingly described as frozen music, St. Joseph’s Church, to be dedicated today, is a symphony.” Over sixty Bavarian-made stained glass windows depict Bible scenes and saints, while native-stone columns reach eighty feet to find roof. The structure’s massive dome and towers have long been one of the most dominant features of the skyline for miles around. In one of these towers hang three bronze “Jesus,” “Mary,” and “Joseph” bells, rung every morning, noon, and evening since 1903 to celebrate daily the Incarnation of Christ.
- St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, Covington, KentuckySt. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, Covington, Kentucky
Although construction of this cathedral ceased a full century ago (1915) and remains unfinished to this day, there is little question St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington stands out impressively among Kentucky churches. Boasting the world’s largest hand-made stained glass church window, St. Mary’s also sports no less than twenty-six Italian-made gargoyles to stand guard over the deeply Gothic structure designed by artist/architect Leon Coquard. Judging by European standards, 100 years is a short time in the life (or even construction) of a cathedral—what will this beautiful Southern basilica look like at her bicentennial? World’s largest hand-made stained glass church window, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Covington, KentuckyTwenty-six gargoyles stand watch over St. Mary’s Cathedral in Covington, Kentucky
- Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis King of France, New Orleans, LouisianaCathedral Basilica of St. Louis King of France, New Orleans, Louisiana
Looking as much like a romanticized European castle as it does a church, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis King of France in the old part of New Orleans is actually the oldest continuously active Roman Catholic Cathedral in the nation, although the current building was constructed in the mid-1800’s. There is hardly a more photographed or artist-haunted spot in the South than Jackson Square looking on the perfect symmetry of the three spires of St. Louis Cathedral, with the equally impressive Cabildo and Presbytere on either side. The church’s interior is just as beautiful, however, with its hand-painted ceiling, stained glass windows, and spectacular gilded Rococo-style altar. Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis King of France, New Orleans, Louisiana, interior