Walk through the only Holy Door in North America, or visit the boyhood home of America’s Pastor. See the Nation’s Church, where the founders worshiped, or explore a church built 200 years ago on adobe ruins. Cities across North America offer plenty of opportunities for travelers to discover distinctive religious heritage.
Touring a historic church, cathedral or synagogue can give groups a special perspective on the culture and history of the places they’re visiting. It also helps travelers appreciate the spiritual foundations of modern society.
Consider including visits to some of these religious sites on your next itinerary. Some are still active places of worship, and not all have regular hours for tours. Check with the local convention and visitors bureau to see about setting up a time for your group to visit.
[ Philadelphia ]
Visitors to Philadelphia benefit from an embarrassment of religious heritage riches from a wide range of faith traditions. No one should miss Christ Church and Burial Ground, which is “known as the Nation’s Church,” said Christina Cassidy, tourism communications coordinator for Discover Philadelphia.
Christ Church has deep ties to the founding period. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross all worshiped there. At the burial ground, two blocks away, visitors will find the grave of Philadelphia’s own Franklin.
Situated on the oldest parcel of land legitimately owned by African Americans in the United States is Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The first A.M.E. church, Mother Bethel began in 1794 over a dispute with St. George’s Methodist concerning segregation during services. Groups can visit its exhibit highlighting the church’s role as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Philadelphia is also home to historic Mikveh Israel Synagogue and the National Museum of Jewish American History. The museum houses exhibits explaining the history and struggles of Jewish Americans. Among its new exhibits is “Chasing Dreams,” which highlights the careers of Jewish baseball players.
Religious heritage tours of Philadelphia can also include the National Shrine of St. John Neumann, the “priest of the working class,” at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church.
Pennsylvania founder William Penn’s experiment in religious liberty grew out of his own Quaker beliefs. It’s not surprising, then, that Philadelphia has the largest Quaker meetinghouse in the nation: the Arch Street Friends Meeting House. Still an active house of worship, the building dates to 1803 and is open to visitors.
[ Charlotte, North Carolina ]
The must-see religious heritage site in Charlotte is “definitely the Billy Graham Library,” said Laura Hill of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. “Graham is America’s Pastor.”
“It’s so much more than a library. It’s very interactive,” said Hill.
Located in south Charlotte, the library displays memorabilia from the American presidents Graham counseled, as well as from celebrities such as Bono. The library has even relocated the Billy Graham home place to the property. Graham’s late wife, Ruth Graham, is buried on the grounds.
Called the Queen City after its namesake, Queen Charlotte, Charlotte is “also known as the City of Churches locally,” Hill said.
One of the churches that contributes to that name is Charlotte’s First Presbyterian Church, which was first dedicated in 1823. The current structure was built in 1857.
It is “one of the most historic churches in Charlotte,” said Hill. “It’s located in a part of town characterized by Victorian homes original to the city, with architecture very centric to Charlotte.”
Next door to First Presbyterian Church is the city’s parklike Settler’s Cemetery, with graves dating to the 1770s.
Just north of the city is the suburb of Huntersville, which is home to several historic churches. Among the oldest is Hopewell Presbyterian Church, founded in 1762. The current brick building was built in 1833 and was remodeled in 1859 to its current style. The cemetery on-site contains graves dating to the mid-1770s.