Divine architecture: Magnificent churches across the U.S.

These 13 sacred structures shelter one of the world’s largest and most diverse Christian populations.

The American church has come a long way in the 400 years since the first, San Miguel Mission, was molded from adobe in the heart of Santa Fe.

Today, the United States is home to a Christian population that’s not only the world’s largest but among its most diverse, with dozens of ethnic groups, hundreds of denominations, and more than 300,000 churches. This diversity results in stunning mosaic of spaces—from treehouse temples in the Ozarks to the smooth wooden pews of Philadelphia’s Mother Bethel to the buttresses and gargoyles of Washington’s National Cathedral.

Though relatively young compared with Europe’s millennium-old cathedrals and Ethiopia’s ancient rock-hewn chapels, American churches take the stage as the world’s biggest, brightest, and most resounding. Like their international counterparts, they’re well worth the trip. Not only do these sacred spaces provide common ground for local congregations and communities, they also serve as sanctuaries for travelers—inspiring places where we can take some time to marvel and reflect.

Cait Etherton is a Virginia-based writer and frequent contributor to National Geographic Travel. Follow her journey on Twitter.