Since the 4th Century when worship moved from private “house churches” to central houses of worship, churches across the globe have been exquisite works of craftsmanship, reverent passion, and artistic vision both inside and out. Idaho’s rural frontier background leaves no room for the expansive, ornamented churches of Eastern America or Europe, but we do boast a large number of churches throughout the state that represent our own unique history. Some are small, modest steeples that quietly stand in quaint beauty; others are large and glorious pieces of architecture that feature unique details and awe-inspiring interiors. All are beautiful.
Below is just a sample of Idaho’s lovely churches, both old and new, grand and humble, historic and thriving.
1. Bear Lake Stake Tabernacle, Paris
Designed by one of Brigham Young's sons around 1884, this Romanesque tabernacle was built by skilled locals and currently stands at nearly 110 feet tall. The design was inspired by the hulls of English sailing ships, which makes the intricate wood and stone carvings inside and out quite spectacular.
2. Our Lady of Tears Catholic Church, Silver City
The history of this iconic church in Silver City, Idaho goes back to the days of the Idaho Territory. Originally named St. Andrew's, Silver City's church on a hill was re-dedicated in 1868 as Our Lady of Sorrows. As mining declined in the early 1900s, the building fell into disrepair and to save the church from a roadside tourist fate, was donated and dedicated once more as Our Lady of Tears Catholic Church.
3. St. Edward's Catholic Church, Twin Falls
The history of St.Edward's dates back to the early 1900's, but the current building did not exist until the 1920's after Twin Falls outgrew its previous parish. Marble alters, Mosaics of the Sacred Heart, and Our Lady of Guadalupe have all since been added over the years.
4. St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Weiser
The cornerstone of this quaint, rural church was laid in 1892, front and center to travelers entering downtown from the train station. The building was moved in 1930 to its current location on Weiser's Liberty St. church row, but its original open-trussed ceiling and arched chancel remains intact, as well as its open belfry and caved triangular stained glass window.
5. Immauel Lutheran Church, Boise
Originally built under Swedish influence, Immanuel Lutheran's Augustana Chapel is one of only two Boise churches built in a Gothic revival style. Pointed towers, large stained-glass windows, and shallow transepts are all packed into a compact sandstone structure, which is uniquely topped with a gabled roof, finials, and iron three-dimensional crosses. Simply magnificent.
6. Mission of the Sacred Heart, Cataldo
Idaho's oldest building is also one of its most impressive. With wooden alters painted to look like marble and Italian chandeliers fashioned from tin cans, this Cataldo church was a primitive labor of love, designed to evoke the grandeur of European churches. Here, the Jesuits and Coeur d'Alene Indians worshiped side-by-side; today, the building remains in near pristine condition with an accompanying museum next door to walk visitors through the Mission's unique historical significance.
7. Capitol City Christian Church, Boise
Designed by New York architect George W. Kramer, Capitol City's broad building features four sides of stained glass windows, heavy wood pews and doors, and four floors of domed cupulas. The church's most impressive feature is no doubt the windows, each of which tells a vivid Biblical story.
8. Shelton LDS Ward Chapel, Ririe
Yet another compact Gothic revival structure, this LDS chapel is built from locally sourced sandstone in a Gothic revival style. Pointed arches, Gothic windows and naves, and shingled dormers all add up to a unique, but slightly less intricate, design that stands apart from the buildings that remain in the area.
9. St. James Episcopal Church, Payette
This cozy painted-brick church dates back to 1904. It has the largest stained glass square footage of nearly any other church in the state.
10. Fort Sherman, Coeur d'Alene
Built in 1880, Fort Sherman was once a church, school, library, and meeting hall that was eventually abandoned in 1900. Centered in an idyllic Northern Idaho location, the fort was meant as a station to protect the border with Canada, as well as receive and disperse supplies to railroad and telegraph crews. Restoration to its former glory gives it its modern, storybook-like appearance.
11. St. John's Cathedral, Boise
Finished in 1921 after construction was suspended during WWI, this Romanesque church has 3-foot thick walls to support its heavy slate roof. Intricately painted ceilings, looping corbels, and an impressive pipe-lined balcony beneath the rose window all make St.John's one of Boise's grandest architectural beauties.
12. First United Methodist Church, Moscow
The most unique part of this stunning 1902 church is its use of locally-mined basalt, rather than sandstone to face the exterior. First United also houses a Seth Thomas clock and a 5-foot bell in its central tower, both of which are still in use. Gorgeous.
13. St. Thomas Catholic Church, Coeur d'Alene
St. Thomas was established in 1890 to serve the miners and lumber workers of Coeur d'Alene.
14. LDS Temple, Idaho Falls
Arguably one of Idaho's most photographed buildings due to its idyllic location near the city's namesake waterfalls, this gleaming white church is also unique in that it was the first LDS temple to be built in Idaho. At over 92,000 square feet, it is also Idaho's largest church building.
15. Still Water Hollow Chapel, Nampa
This quaint, romantic chapel was originally built in 1899 before being moved to its current picturesque location. The 50-pound bell in the steeple rings out the good news whenever betrothed couples say their "I do's."
Whether you attend or not, no one can deny the beauty of these incredible buildings. Of course, Idaho has one of the largest amount of churches per capita in the US, so there are many more that could not be included in this list. Please share your favorites and what is so special about the church you love in the comments below!