Sightseeing churches, monasteries, and shrines

Sacre Coeur of Brussels

Counting to the European top 10 as per size, one of the two biggest churches in Belgium – the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Brussels. The Basilica is located a bit aside from the city center in the north-western part of Brussels on the Koekelberg hill.

My feelings were quite mixed while I was inside. The Basilica seems to be following a consistent architectural concept. Still, it is constructed of the mixture of reinforced concrete, dimension stone, yellow bricks, and terracotta. To be frank, I needed some time to get accustomed to the variety of building materials and colors. Yellow bricks on the outside, today covered with much dirt, and the yellow-green lightening of the terracotta pillars inside seemed a bit odd to me. Only after I dug some Internet resources, I understood the idea behind its style. The contradictions I was noticing were typical of the Art Deco style. The style was perceived to be modern in the first half of the XXth century and was short-lived …


Hardly accessible, still visited by thousands a day. Mt. St. Michel

Mont St. Michel and St. Michel Abbey. Located in Normandy, one of the most famous European buildings. Being of interest as well for its unusual location on a tidal island. Or the other way round. The whole structure, the fortifications, the monastery, and the small village at its foot were erected there because of the unusual location. Hardly accessible at high tide the Mont St. Michel has a fleur of seclusion but simultaneously has always been a very well defendable spot.

For the most part, the buildings of the Mont St. Michel are thousand-year-old, with many elements in a Roman style. As through history much happened, the buildings were reconstructed and rebuild a couple of times, some other styles appear, too. From outside you may have the impression the structure is very coherent, but inside you can easily see the additions.


Nara is a small town but also a province quite close to Kyoto. For centuries it was a location of seven temples famous for the Japanese Buddhist teachings. That time the province was the official seat of the Japanese emperors. In later periods the actual power was with the shogun, who was the chief military, whereas the emperor had a symbolic role instead. And all of these happened already one thousand and two hundred years ago in the VIII century.

For different reasons that may be altogether summed up as a desire for divine protection, a big statue of Buddha was cast. The process took years, was labor-intensive and costly, and depleted the country’s bronze resources. The statue was partially recast a couple of times, but still, much of its structure is older than the oldest Gothic cathedrals in Europe! And it is told to be the biggest bronze statue of Buddha in the world. The statue was placed in a big wooden hall in the Tōdai-Ji temple, the so-called Great Buddha Hall. As in Japan, many old wooden buildings were destroyed by fire, earthquakes, or other disasters, the current structure, like many others, is not the original one. But still, it is more than three hundred years old.

Traveling France. Saint Thegonnec enclos (enclosure)

Traveling France. The inside of the Saint Thegonnec church. Look at the wooden ceiling.

Travel memories on Good Friday

The Saint-Thégonnec enclosure is probably not a mass tourist attraction. But it is a particular and symbolic place, worth to stop for a while. The church (with the name Notre Dame) interior is totally different from the Gothic-style cathedrals and churches that one usually visits in Northern France. It is full of smaller and bigger figures. Of things I found interesting was the wooden ceiling. It was already the second time during our trip that we saw a ceiling like that. (The first time it was the day before in the Mount St. Michel main church and chapels). Below some other of the few photos, I made that day in the Saint-Thégonnec enclosure.

The unfinished … Cathedral of Beauvais

It looks very impressive when you approach it, especially if seen from the historical streets at its Northside. It is dominating the perspective. From far away, you can clearly see the enormous Gothic apse. And you cannot wait till you see how its whole structure is looking like. 


Located in Kyoto, Kiyomizudera, otherwise called the Pure Water Temple is one of the most famous temples in Japan. The name derives from the Otowa Waterfall, at which it is located. Kiyomizudera is an independent Buddhist temple (since 1965) and belongs to the Kita Hosso sect. The complex is enormous and consists of wooden buildings, of which some, including the Jishu Shrine at the entrance, are covered with vermilion (characteristic orange paint). The temple is located in the Eastern parts of Kyoto. Walking the quarters (very picturesque by the way) located beneath the temple, you will finally get to Gion (the Kyoto geisha district).

Our Lady of Antwerp

Looking from far away, already, at first sight, one can see the discrepancy between the two towers. The question you ask yourself is, then, was it the original design or the construction works were ceased for some reason. Indeed, a Gothic Cathedral usually consists of two belfries of equal height. And so was the original design. The construction works started in the mid-XIV century and without completion, were ceased 170 years later. Several years after, the Cathedral caught fire. It was saved, but the construction works had been postponed. As it turned out, for good. Water used during the firefighting efforts destroyed the ceilings and the Gothic carpentry.

Further damage, as in the case of many Catholic cathedrals in the region, came with the Reformation as Antwerp became a Protestant city and later with the French revolution. The Cathedral was plundered and severely devastated. The French revolutionary government intended even its demolition, but ultimately the Cathedral was saved. The restoration works began in XIX and ended with a complex revival in the late XX century.

The Lichen Basilica

Looking at the picture below, and having no idea what premises these are precise, one would say … yet another church or basilica. Quite a big one. Indeed it is one of the largest European churches quite close or even within the top European ten as per size. For people who travel Europe accustomed to the huge and splendid cathedrals, it is nothing unusual. Yet another one. Let us visit it.

This would, however, not be that easy as it looks like. This huge basilica is located among fields and nature with only small villages surrounding it. The closest city, not even on a tourist itinerary, is located around twenty miles away. The other interesting fact is that it is practically brand new. The construction works ended just 2004.

Tomar, the Templars’ monastery

Portugal dissolved the religious orders in the XIX. But still, journeying in Portugal, you can visit the buildings of former monasteries. One of them is the Convent of Christ or merely the Templar’s order monastery in Tomar. To be precise, the Military Order of Christ was the Portuguese successor of the Knights Templar after the latter was dissolved by Pope Clement V in 1312. Unlike in other countries, where the Templars were persecuted and executed, the Portuguese king protected the former knights Templar.

Templars were quite a wealthy order. You can see that visiting the monks’ cells. Each of them, as well as each of the novices,  had a separate room. In winter, each room was heated thanks to a heating system pushing hot air between walls.

The path of torii

When sightseeing, we quite often visit sacred places, churches, monasteries, or shrines. After visiting many in a short period in our recollections, we usually confuse one with another. Unless we see something really unusual.If I had to make a recommendation of a place worth to visit, this one would be high on the shortlist. Oinari San, a sacred mountain you climb walking paths made of torii.

Oinari San or officially Fushimi Inari Taisha located in Fushimi-Ku in Kyoto (Japan) is the head shrine of Inari. He is the patron of prosperity, harvest, business, merchants, manufacturers, and so on.

The shrine consists of two parts: the lower one – pretty much similar to other shrines in layout and colours (mainly vermilion that is said to protect against evil forces), and the upper one – long corridors made of torii (vermilion, too) climbing a mountain, that in itself is a seat of deity.

There is approximately ten thousand large and small torii in Oinari SanThey were donated through ages by worshipers as a thank to Inari for successful businesses or transactions, or other life achievements the deity could have taken care of.

The giant torii form long corridors. The corridors of torii are broken from time to time either by smaller shrines or spots that look like cemeteries with much smaller torii spread all over them.

The Koyasan experience

Koyasan, otherwise called Mount Koya, is the main seat of the Shingon sect, one of the most important Buddhist sects in Japan. The place is visited by both Japanese pilgrims and foreign tourists, who usually stay there overnight to experience a Buddhist temple lodging (called shukubo in Japanese). The sect was set up more than a thousand years ago by Kōbō-Daishi, also called Kūkai (774–835), a Japanese monk. He was the one, who decided to locate the sect’s main seat on Mount Koya.

Traveling to Japan, you visit many shrines and temples. But it is something else to just visit and something else to stay overnight. So like many others, we booked an overnight stay in one of many Buddhist monasteries at Mount Koya. The place is genuinely secluded and very quiet. To get there, we needed to get into a special cable train that took us up onto the mount.

A devastating moment to see

While inside, you might have thought it was eternal. And it is. But on Monday night it was a devastating moment to watch it burn.

Somehow I heard the bad news around eight or nine in the evening. The spire was already collapsed and the fire quite extensive.

Today we live in the world, where news travels fast. The disaster was of that importance that basically all major TV stations around Europe and in the US (I cannot say anything about the other continents) were broadcasting live pictures till very late night hours. Changing channels you were able to observe the rescue efforts. They were extensive and made a modern way.

First I was thinking, how it was possible in the modern world that a fire like that appeared at all. I was sitting paralyzed in front of the TV set wondering whether I would be able to see the interior yet again in my lifetime. But later in the night and in the morning I was glad to see how professionally the rescue was carried out.

Enjoying the Notre Dame

Some time ago in February, I made time for a short three-day city break in Paris. Unlike a couple times in recent years, this time it was a fully guided tour of a kind ‘Paris for beginners’. And I enjoyed it quite much, even with temperatures around 0 grade Celsius. The Notre Dame interior was naturally on the list.

As in many places in Paris, we had to queue to enter. We were there around 1 pm, queued for half an hour, made the obligatory security check, and then spent another half hour inside. The interior is enormous, austere like in a typical Gothic cathedral. But somehow you feel warm inside – the light entering through colorful stain glass makes it very cozy and picturesque.

The Lateran Archbasilica

A small selection of photos from one of the most prominent and oldest (with origins back in IV century) churches in Rome, the Lateran Archbasilica (Archbasilica of St. John Lateran), a church or a cathedral that although located in the city of Rome is an extra-territorial Vatican property. In the past, the basilica and the adjacent palace were the official seat of popes. It lost its splendor as popes moved to Avignon. The modern interior is a combination of works that had been conducted mainly in XVI-XVIII centuries. In the hierarchy of basilicas of Rome, this one is preceding the St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican city.