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Top 10 Famous Churches In South America

Even though most of the most famous churches in the world are located in Europe, there are plenty of fascinating religious structures located all around the world.

One of the continents where you can find exceptional church buildings is in South America. Just about all countries here are devoutly Roman Catholic which has resulted in huge Roman Catholic churches being erected here.

In this article, you’ll discover some of the most famous churches in South America. Can these fascinating landmarks measure up to other counterparts in Europe? Let’s find out!

1. Las Lajas Sanctuary

Las Lajas Sanctuary is also referred to as “Las Lajas Shrine” because it features a shrine dedicated to the apparition of the Virgin Mary in the 18th century. Because this apparition presumably happened in a canyon of the Guáitara River, the church was built in a remarkable location.

The magnificent Gothic cathedral was built between 1916 and 1949 and it’s clear why it took such a long time to build this relatively small church. It’s located right inside a gorge in the southwest of Colombia and can be accessed by a bridge that stands 50 meters (160 meters) above the canyon floor.

Most famous churches in South america Las Lajas Sanctuary
Las Lajas Sanctuary / Diego Delso /

2. Basilica of Our Lady Aparecida

The Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida is officially known as the “Basílica do Santuário Nacional de Nossa Senhora Aparecida” and is located in the town of Aparecida in the state of São Paulo in Brazil. It’s a huge structure and the most prominent landmark in this relatively small town with a population of less than 40,000.

The church was dedicated to Our Lady of Aparecida, the patroness of Brazil according to Brazilian Roman Catholic tradition. With a length of 188 meters (617 feet), a width of 183 m (600 ft), and a maximum height of 109 m (358 ft), it’s the second-largest church in the world after St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida
Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida / Valter Campanato /

3. São Paulo Cathedral

São Paulo Cathedral is officially known as “Catedral Metropolitana de São Paulo” is the main church and seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of São Paulo, Brazil. The church was completed between 1913 and 1967 and was officially consecrated in the year 1954.

It’s the largest cathedral in the huge city of São Paulo and is relatively big as well. It has a length of 111 meters (364 feet), a width of 46 meters (151 ft), and two neo-Gothic towers which each stand 92 meters (302 feet). It also features a magnificent dome that was inspired by Renaissance architecture.

Sao Paulo Cathedral
São Paulo Cathedral / Webysther Nunes /

4. Primatial Cathedral of Bogotá

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The Primatial Cathedral of Bogotá is officially known as the “Cathedral Basilica Metropolitan & Primate of the Immaculate Conception & Saint Peter of Bogotá” and is the main church in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia. It’s the official seat of the Archbishop of the city.

The cathedral was completed between 1803 and 1823 and thoroughly renovated halfway through the 20th century. This wasn’t the first structure on this location though, because a church has been present here since the 16th century. The church is located at Bolívar Square, the central and most important square in the city.

Primary Cathedral of Bogota
Primatial Cathedral of Bogotá / William Neuheisel /

5. Rio de Janeiro Cathedral

Rio de Janeiro Cathedral is officially known as the “Cathedral of St. Sebastian of Rio de Janeiro” and is one of the most famous churches in South America because of its remarkable architecture. It was constructed between 1964 and 1979 and features a modernist design.

The church was dedicated to Saint Sebastian who is the patron saint of the city. The design of the cathedral was intended to resemble Mayan architecture, and more specifically the pyramids they built at places like Chichen Itza. It’s fair to conclude that this immense structure with an internal diameter of 96 meters (315 feet) and a maximum height of 75 meters (246 feet) is one of the most remarkable landmarks in the center of Rio de Janeiro.

RIo de Janeiro Cathedral
Rio de Janeiro Cathedral / Cyro A. Silva /

6. Shrine of St. Paulina

The Shrine of St. Paulina is also sometimes referred to as the Sanctuary of St. Paulina and is located in the town of Nova Trento. This town can be found in the state of Santa Catarina in the South Region of Brazil. The church complex was dedicated to St. Pauline of the Agonizing Heart of Jesus (1865-1942), the first Brazilian woman to be proclaimed a saint by the Catholic Church in 2002.

This immense structure resembles two hands in prayer and was constructed shortly after the saint was canonized in 2002. It only took 926 days to complete this building which covers an area of 9,616 square meters (103,510 square feet). It’s a popular attraction in the region and is visited by nearly a million people every year.

Shrine of St. Paulina
Shrine of St. Paulina / Vinicius Lannes Duering /

7. St. Ignatius Cathedral

The St. Ignatius Cathedral is also known as the San Ignacio de Velasco Cathedral, a reference to the city of San Ignacio de Velasco in Bolivia where it’s located. This is the capital of the Velasco province in the eastern part of the country.

The original version of the church was constructed in the 18th century between 1748 and 1761. This building was commissioned by the Jesuits living in the area and was unfortunately destroyed by fire in the year 1948. The church was rebuilt to its original design between 1998 and 2001.

St. Ignatius Cathedral
St. Ignatius Cathedral / Geoffrey Groesbeck /

8. Basílica del Voto Nacional

If we have to choose one structure in this list of the most famous churches in South American that resembles one of the magnificent Gothic Cathedrals in Europe then it would be the Basílica del Voto Nacional in Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

Its located in the historical heart of this sprawling city and is the largest neo-Gothic cathedral in the Americas. The cornerstone f the structure was laid in the year 1893 and the cathedral was consecrated nearly a century later in 1988. It remains technically unfinished like the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, and they better not hurry up to complete it because the word around the campfire is that the world will end whenever this happens.

Basílica del Voto Nacional
Basílica del Voto Nacional / Maros /

9. Cathedral of La Plata

The Cathedral of La Plata is located in the city with the same name in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area, the capital of Argentina. It’s one of the most remarkable Neo-Gothic churches in South America and was inspired by the cathedral of Amiens in France and the Cathedral of Cologne in Germany.

What’s remarkable about this church is that it was left unfinished after the initial construction phase between 1884 and 1932. Especially the unfinished spires made the structure look peculiar. The presumed foundation problem that halted the work was solved during the 1990s and the original plan was completed between 1996 and 1999.

Cathedral of La Plata
Cathedral of La Plata / Wiki Commons

10. Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral

Very few churches in the world resemble an ancient Greek or Roman temple unless they were such a structure, to begin with. This applies to, for example, the Pantheon in Rome. Another example that comes to mind is La Madeleine in Paris which also wasn’t initially constructed to serve as a Roman Catholic Church.

This makes the Neoclassical façacde of the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral unique in the world. The original church in this location was built in the 16th century and the dome and nave date back to the 18th century. The façade was completed in the 19th century and the interior is decorated with both Renaissance and Baroque elements, turning the main church in Buenos Aires into one of the most famous churches in South America.

Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral
Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral / The Cosmonaut /