Category Archive : Europe

A church upon a hill – Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja is one of the most recognizable landmarks of Iceland. This church in Reykjavik is located on top of Skólavörðuholtið hill, which makes it easily noticeable on Reykjavik’s skyline.

Astonishing height of Hallgrímskirkja 

The most conspicuous feature of this church is its height of 74.5 meters. This makes it the tallest building in Reykjavik and the second tallest building in the country. Iceland’s tallest building is an office tower in Kópavogur, south of Reykjavík, called the Smáratorg tower, which is only 3.1 meters taller than Hallgrímskirkja.  

 Hallgrímskirkja is also very close in height to the fourth tallest structure in Iceland, which is a 78-meter tall smokestack on a smelter in Reyðarfjörður in East Iceland. The only other structures that are taller than Hallgrímskirkja are radio antennas, so the difference in height is more significant. These are the 220-meter tall radio antenna at Eiðar, East Iceland, 244-meter tall Naval Radio Transmitter facility in Grindavík, and 412-meter tall Longwave radio mast at Gufuskálar. 

The construction of Hallgrímskirkja

The church was named after Hallgrímur Pétursson, who was one of the better-known Iceland’s poets from the 17th century. 

Hallgrímskirkja was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson and it took around 41 years to be built. First, its construction was delayed for a few years due to a lot of discussions about where it should be built, and then, the construction was postponed because of the war, so it finally began in 1945. The construction work was slow since a church on top of a hill was not among the country’s priorities. 

The first part finished was the crypt beneath the church’s choir, around 1948. Hallgrímskirkja’s wings and steeple were declared sacred in 1974, and the building of the nave was completed in 1986. Unfortunately, Samúelsson, the architect of Hallgrímskirkja, did not live to see his best work completed because he died in 1950.

Negative reactions of the construction of Hallgrímskirkja

The building of Hallgrímskirkja stirred up a lot of controversy. Icelanders did not appreciate the fact that another building was being constructed. In fact, Icelanders tended to turn any big construction project into a problem to be talked about at that time. What’s more, the construction was quite expensive and there were a lot of major repairs requiring additional funds. Not only were its critics concerned with the cost, but also complained that the church was too big and not pleasing to the eye.   

Visiting Hallgrímskirkja

Although Hallgrímskirkja is often thought to be Reykjavík’s cathedral due to its size and large numbers of foreign visitors coming every year, the actual cathedral of Reykjavik is Domkirkja cathedral church (Dómkirkjan í Reykjavík in Icelandic). This fact certainly doesn’t make it any less worth visiting. In fact, this church is also used as an observation tower, so if you go to the deck, you can enjoy a spectacular view of the whole city. The visiting hours differ in summer and winter, so keep this in mind when planning your visit to this breathtaking church. 

Should You Visit St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican?

When you think about Italy, countless examples of the finest Renaissance art come to mind. The incredibly sophisticated work of the old masters, unparalleled to this day, has survived in the form of thousands of enchantingly beautiful paintings and statues. The architecture that this historical period has left behind should not be forgotten, either –incredibly intricate designs and monumental buildings leave you amazed by the wonders people’s persistence and skill has created. One of the most beautiful examples of all things previously mentioned is St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. The very sight of this place of worship leaves tourists and believers breathless. This monumental building is something that is worth visiting, not only for its value in religion but also for its art and architecture. Let us get into more detail about why this basilica is such an important sight to see when visiting Italy.

About the building

As mentioned, this is a Renaissance building –its construction was started in 1506, on the location of the old basilica; it was finished in 1626, and worked on by various architects, and numerous sculptors and painters, most notably Michelangelo, whose work can be found inside the basilica. The basilica is said to be located on the spot where Saint Peter, one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, was buried. Thus, we can see that this is a very important building for the Catholic Church; the Pope conducts service here during most of the year.

How it was built

This monumental basilica replaced the old one, today known as Old St. Peter’s Basilica, a 4th-century church built by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. The original plans included rebuilding and reconstructing the old basilica, but due to its state, it was later decided that it should be completely torn down and replaced by a new one. During its long period of construction, various plans have been enforced in order to create the church as it is today. Most notable contributors to the architecture of the church were Bramante, Raphael, and Michelangelo, each of whom had their own visions of how the church should look. Owing to their efforts, this church still attracts thousands of visitors each day.

What is stored inside?

If you do not visit St. Peter’s basilica only for the aesthetic appeal, i.e. if there is an element of pilgrimage in your visit, you will certainly look for more than just architecture or paintings in this church. You should definitely do so, as this church stores some of the most famous relics in Christianity, the most famous ones being Longinus’ spear, the Veil of Veronica, and a fragment of the True Cross upon which Jesus was crucified. Although the Vatican makes no official statement regarding the authenticity of these relics, they are stored and displayed each year, at precise times. Each of these objects is greatly valued by Christians around the world, and it should come as no surprise that they are kept in a monumental and significant church such as this.

To summarize, St. Peter’s Basilica is a place worth visiting. Whether you are a believer, or just interested in the intricate artwork, one thing is certain –you will never forget the experience.

St John’s Co-Cathedral – Valletta

Built by the Order of St. John and commissioned by Grand Master of the Order, Jean de la Cassière, St John’s Co-Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral situated in Valletta, the beautiful capital city of Malta. It was dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and is now Malta’s most attractive and most important place of worship, as well as the most significant place when it comes to art and culture.


Girolamo Cassar, a Maltese architect who also designed numerous famous buildings in Valletta, is the one responsible for the majestic look of the St John’s Co-Cathedral. As soon as it was finished in 1577, it became the main church in Valletta, surpassing St. Lawrence’s Church. During World War ll, the church was slightly damaged, but thankfully, all pieces of art were transferred to a safe place before that. Since then, it has undergone several reconstructions, with the last one being in 2017. Today, this majestic church is included in the National Inventory of the Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands.


The church is known for its dual nature as it has a very plain exterior and incredibly luxurious interior. Although it is plain, St John’s Co-Cathedral still looks beautiful from the outside, too. The most prominent are two large bell towers on both sides of the church as well as the open balcony from which Grand Master was able to address the people. 


The church was built with a relatively modest and plain interior; however, in the 1660s, Grand Master Raphael Cotoner wanted the church to be redecorated so that it would parallel those in Rome. The renovation of St John’s Co-Cathedral was the work of artist Mattia Preti in a very luxurious and splendid style characteristic of Baroque. This is something the majority of the visitors remember the church by, and thanks to its interior, it is often praised as the most beautiful church in Malta. The two features that stand out the most are two-dimensional paintings done in such a way that to a human eye they look completely three-dimensional, as well as the floor which is a series of tombs where important knights were buried. This adds a very strong and impressive note to the church as it brings the feeling of rich history and power.


The most notable piece of art in the church is Caravaggio’s masterpiece, The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. It was painted for the Oratory, and that is exactly where it stands today. Moreover, St John’s Co-Cathedral holds another one of Caravaggio’s works,  Saint Jerome Writing, which is also placed in the Oratory. There is also a museum right next to the church which holds numerous art pieces, including the paintings done by several Grand Masters. 


It is situated in the heart of Valletta, St. John’s Co-Cathedral is very easy to find. It opens on weekdays from 09:30 to 16:30 and on Saturdays between 09:30 and 12:30. It is better to visit it earlier in the day so that you can avoid huge crowds and be able to fully experience and appreciate the beauty of this church.

As a student of sociology, I find religion to be an amazing force in our society because it has the power to shape minds and personal experiences, connect people but also affect the way we interact with each other and understand ourselves. This blog is dedicated to observing religion from an objective point of view, with the focus on the most interesting religious places of worship. Regardless of the religion they belong to, they have significant importance to all members of that faith as they connect and bring people closer together. Whether it is churches, synagogues, mosques, or temples, I find that there are so many fascinating things about these sacred places and the way people are invested in them. If you share my interest in religion, you can expect many examples of captivating stories about places of worship from all around the globe and from numerous different religions.