Top 10 Churches in the Holy Land.

When I initially saw the itinerary for the trip, I couldn’t help but salivate at the sheer number of churches we were going to check out.  As anyone who really knows me can attest, I’m a huge fan of anything old, so much more if they are ancient.

In Manila, Intramuros would be the closest thing to fit this description with San Agustin Church being the favorite.

So you can imagine how it felt to see all these awesome churches in the Holy Land.. I felt like I was in freakin’ Disney Land!!

While I make it a point to say a prayer at every location, the bulk of my time is spent reading up on the history of the place (thank you Wikipedia), admiring the facade of the churches and the stories the mosaics, sculptures, paintings and stained glass tell.

I am a fan of anything that is created and hand-made (may it be novels, music, art, monuments or tourist traps), and these churches are indeed products of people who were not only masters of their craft but also passionate followers of the faith who probably dedicated their lives to creating this masterpiece.

Making this kind of list was very hard.  (We went to around 25 churches)

So while a few of my personal favorites (like the Greek Orthodox Chapel of St. Gabriel) were left out, in the end I based this list on 3 criteria:

a.  WOW factor upon seeing the place for the first time
b.  Architecture and art (sculptures, mosaics, religious iconography)
c.  Ambiance and feel of the place


10.  Church of St. John The Baptist (Jerusalem)

A beautiful church filled with mosaics and statues depicting the life and works of John the Baptist.  For some reason, the interior walls look like they were made out of the Chinese vases my lolo used to have in his house.  Very porcelain-like. A small grotto to the left side of the altar with a seal on the floor marks the birth site of the Baptist.
Church of John The Baptist

9.  Church of the Visitation (Jerusalem)

Built by Empress Helena of Constantinople (Mother of Constantine the Great) and later fortified by the Crusaders, this church marks the site where the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth took place to confirm each other’s miraculous pregnancy.  It is also where Mary recited her song of praise, the Magnificat.  Because of these, the church is primarily Marian themed, with all the paintings, sculptures and stained glass attributed to her.

Church of the Visitation

8.  Wedding Church of Cana (Cana)

Though it looks modern and kind of resembles a lot of the churches we have here in the Philippines, the wedding church is on its list due to its ambiance.  It has a very warm, happy feel to it (unlike the other churches who can feel imposing / awe-inspiring and even depressing); maybe its because of the hundreds of marriage and renewal ceremonies that happen here every year or maybe it’s because of the presence of a number of wine-tasting shops right outside the church.

Special Award:  The most chill church in the Holy Land!  And the Cana wine is AWESOME!

Wedding Church of Cana

7.  Basilica of the Annunciation (Nazareth)

This massive, Byzantine and Crusader-era, three-layered Basilica marks the spot where, according to Roman Catholics, the Annunciation took place.  Behind the first-level altar, is a grotto where the Angel Gabriel supposedly appeared to Mary to inform her of her pregnancy.  The church is so huge that it is said to be the largest Christian sanctuary in the whole of the Middle East.

Basilica of the Annunciation

6. Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu (Mt. Zion)

A Byzantine-era church which was later rebuilt during the Crusades, this spot is believed to be the location of High Priest Caiaphas’ palace, where Jesus was judged by the Pharisees and imprisoned.  Outside was where Peter was said to have denied Jesus with the rooster crowing on the third time.  Hands-down this church has the most beautiful stained glass design of all (in the shape of the cross and directly on the ceiling).  There are a series of caves underground with the lowest containing the blood-stained wall where Jesus was supposedly scourged.

Special Award: Most impressive stained glass for a ninja to come crashing down from above.

Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu

5.  Church of Dormition (Mt. Zion)

Also known as the Hagia Maria Sion Abbey, this imposing church is one of my favorites as it looks like a Crusader citadel.  The walls look like they can survive a beating from the catapults and trebuchets of yore.  This church is notable as it is supposedly the site where Mary ascended into heaven (The Assumption).  There is a crypt on the bottom which contains the eerie yet beautiful sarcophagus of Mary, who according to tradition didn’t die, but the sarcophagus was built anyway to symbolize that she was a mortal who went through all the pains and suffering that we all have to go through.

Special Award:  The most movie-genic of all the churches in the Holy Land. Imagine a movie with armies of Christians and Muslims. Or humans and orcs, your pick.

Church of the Dormition

4.  Church of the Transfiguration (Mt. Tabor)

High on top of chilly Mt. Tabor (and when I say high I mean ridiculously-damn high, like 2 different transpos to get there then you have to walk pa!), this church marks the Transfiguration of Christ, where Jesus met up with Moses and Elijah to chill for a bit.  Apart from the beautiful altar which I must say is definitely the work of a master artisan (with +10 in crafting level), there are two small chapels dedicated to both Moses and Elijah.

Special Award:  The nicest altar of all the churches in the Holy Land.

Church of the Transfiguration

3.  Church of the Gethsemane (Mt. of Olives)

Also known as the Church of All Nations / Basilica of the Agony, this church enshrines the rock (in front of the altar) where Jesus is said to have prayed before his arrest.  The thing that strikes you about this church is how dark and quiet it is upon entering; like they purposely tried to recreate the night of Jesus’ agony in the garden.  Seriously, no one talks in this church!  Because of this, the prayers here are definitely thorough, heartfelt and reflective.

Special Award:  Best church to pray in due to ambiance, mood and silence.

Church of Gethsemane

2.  Basilica and Grotto of the Nativity (Bethlehem)

One of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world (the first chapel was created from 100-165 AD) and shared by the Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostles, the Basilica marks the location of Christ’s birth spot and the manger beside it.  To access these two, you have to go underneath the Church but be forewarned, the line usually is more than an hour long due to the influx of pilgrims.  With a mixture of religious icons and lamps from all three Christian denominations, the altar can look confusing and chaotic, but in a good way.  Due to its old age, masses are no longer held inside the Basilica itself but in the Church next door.

Special Award:  Best place to sing Christmas songs in.  Though the other people might look at you funny, like they did with me.

Basilica of the Annunciation

1.  Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre (Jerusalem)

Ah.. the Mother of all Churches which without a doubt, tops all three criteria in this list (Wow factor, Archicture and Art, Ambiance).

All Christians (Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox) hold this to be the site of Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified.  Across the Basilica from the Crucifxion site, is said to be the actual tomb where Jesus was buried and resurrected from; and in the middle of the two is the plank of wood where He was cleaned and prepared for burial.

Due to its size, scope and importance, it doesn’t feel like one church.  In fact, there are about a dozen chapels all over the place, one for each of the Christian denominations who come here to worship.

With dozens of passage ways, hundreds of paintings, thousands of religious artifacts, and just the sense of history of the place, the church is so massive and incredible that it deserves its own future blog entry.

Special Award:  The greatest church of all time and holiest place in all of Christianity!!

Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre


Then of course, there are churches that didn’t make the list but I felt I had to include anyway as they struck me to be real meaningful and different.

1.  Church of the Primacy of Peter (Tabgha, Sea of Galilee)

The church where Christ commanded Peter to “Feed My Sheep” hereby making him the first Pope.

Special Award:  Coziest and best church to take a hypothetical nap in.

Church of the Primacy of Peter in Tabgha

2.  Church of the Beatitudes (Mt. of the Beatitudes)

This is the site where Christ delivered the Sermon on the Mount and the eight Beatitudes.  A rather ordinary and modern looking church, the church is on the list due to it’s breathtaking and picturesque view of the whole Sea of Galilee area including Tabgha, Nazareth and Capernaum.

Special Award: Best site for family picture-taking (with a view) outside of Jerusalem, for those Facebook cover photos and Christmas cards.

Church of the Beatitudes

3.  Ascension Chapel (Mount of Olives)

Said to be the site of Christ’s Ascension to Heaven, the chapel is on the list particularly because there is no decoration at all.  Nothing. It’s just a an octagonal room with nothing but the rock where Christ is said to have ascended from.  Like it seems to be saying, "yep, that’s me, take me as I am, don’t go to me for an altar or art, it’s just this rock."

Oh and did I mention that it’s located within a mosque? And yes, it’s Muslim controlled.

Special Award:  Badass and Diamond in the Rough award when compared to the other churches on the list.
Ascension Chapel


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