Celebrants of Christmas (or any other major Christian holiday) eager to remind themselves of yuletide’s roots in first-century Palestine may want to visit these churches and sacred places.
Nothing like a brisk drive through the rolling hills of Pacific, Missouri, to begin the day. This is where you’ll find the Black Madonna Shrine and Grottos, an extraordinary series of outdoor devotional grottos fashioned by the hand of Brother Bronislaus Luszcz of mosaics and multi-colored rock sculptures. The Black Madonna refers to a 2,000-year-old painting of Mary and Jesus that resides in the Polish town of Czestochowa in which the skin tones have darkened through age and exposure to smoke and to which many miracles have been attributed. Guided tours are available.
Back in St. Louis, take in a trio of beautiful downtown churches.
The Old Cathedral (1834)—also known as Basilica of Saint Louis, King—is the third Catholic church built on ground consecrated in 1764, and represents the fulfilled vision of Bishop Joseph Rosati. The cathedral, which has undergone extensive restoration in recent years, sits close by the Gateway Arch on the St. Louis riverfront and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is still an active place of worship with 200 parishioners.
Christ Church Cathedral (1867), an Episcopal church, ranks among America's finest examples of English Gothic Revival and features a beautifully carved stone reredos that was created at Exeter, England.
The Shrine of St. Joseph (1846-1881), located at the north edge of downtown, is the site of a miracle attributed to Jesuit missionary Peter Claver, the only authenticated miracle (by the Catholic Church) in the Midwest. In 1867 parishioners installed the splendid Altar of Answered Prayers in gratitude for deliverance from the raging cholera epidemic.
Then head out to the Central West End, where the gray granite Romanesque exterior of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis gives way to a Byzantine interior glowing with the largest collection of mosaics under one roof in the world, an awe-inspiring spectacle for visitors of any faith. Visitors willing to put in the time can find Bible stories, saints and church history depicted in a stunning cavalcade of galleries. Proceeds from the well stocked gift shop help support the upkeep of the building, and a season of concerts adds another level of splendor to the city's most spectacular interior space.