The motives for abandoning churches vary. Structural damage and dwindling congregations are just two possibilities. And in some cases, the buildings are set to be reclaimed and used for alternative purposes – like housing or retail. That said, the churches on this list are all unused, splendidly decaying, and wonderfully eerie – which makes them perfect for a spot of photographic urban exploration.
7. Church of the Transfiguration – New York, NY (USA)
“A beautiful, abandoned church on Buffalo’s East Side signals the decline of industry and subsequent population decline of a once prosperous city,” says photographer Scott Haefner, who took these pictures of the Church of the Transfiguration. Although the church is in ruins and somewhat forbidding, it’s easy to see that it was once a magnificent construction.
The long aisle
This wonderful building was commissioned in 1893, primarily to serve the immigrant Polish population of the East Side of Buffalo. It started out as a wooden building, before it was rebuilt in the redbrick Gothic style that you see here lending something of a creepy atmosphere to the place. This version of the church was finished in 1897.
A very elaborate ceiling
This shot gives us a look at the fantastic detail of the old church ceiling, with its arches and stained glass windows. Unfortunately, plundering has taken a toll on the building. “The day we visited, scrappers were stealing metal vestiges in broad daylight; nobody seemed to care,” said Haefner in 2010. Now, repairs and renovations are scheduled for the church, which closed in 1991.
6. St. Boniface Church – Chicago, IL (USA)
We love the beautiful blue colors in this shot.
This stunning if slightly ethereal looking Romanesque Revival-style church was built in 1904, to replace the initial, smaller structure, which was established in 1865. The original congregation was made up of German immigrants, and the church is named after the patron saint of Germany, St. Boniface. The wonderful architecture is the design of Henry J. Schlacks, who became known as “the master of Catholic church architecture in Chicago.”
As you can see from this peeling panel, St. Boniface has been neglected for some time. The church was first closed in 1990. Then, in 1999, protestors managed to stop a planned demolition of the building, which has much historical significance for the population. The original site once served as a refuge for people displaced by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and over the years, the church has been intertwined with the lives of the different immigrant populations of the area.
A beautiful example of the Romanesque style
The Romanesque style of the church was utilized because it was cheaper than Gothic or Renaissance designs, but St. Boniface is still a beautifully crafted structure. Indeed, Schlacks was lauded for his skill in “recombining the traditional architectural vocabulary in bold and subtle permutations of older styles.” Fortunately, his work will now be preserved for future generations to admire – although after dark we’re not sure we’d be able to appreciate it so much!
5. First Methodist Church – Gary, IN (USA)
Not a place to visit after dark
If this photograph sends a chill up your spine, it could be because you remember it from the 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, which was partially shot here. When the film crew were scouting around for creepy locations, they were drawn to the nine-story abandoned church, and we can certainly see why. It’s not hard to picture Freddy Krueger getting ready to leap out from behind one of those pillars!
You go on, we’ll just wait out here
This photograph of side rooms on the ground floor of the church is even spookier than the previous image. Photographer Scott Haefner lit this shot by combining a flashlight and daylight, and the results are pretty scary. We certainly wouldn’t want to find out what’s inside.
We bet those floorboards are creaky.
Here’s another ominous looking part of the church building, this time taken in the Education Wing. “In addition to the cathedral, the church also boasted a lively community center, complete with classrooms, an auditorium, a gymnasium, a banquet hall and kitchen, plus a large meeting hall and a rooftop garden,” says Haefner. Sadly, the church was affected by the decline of the local steel industry that once supported it, and it has been left to fall apart.
4. Young’s Chapel Methodist Church – Rebecca, GA (USA)
As these photographs illustrate, abandoned churches don’t have to be large brick or stone structures to be intriguing – and slightly ghostly. This small church in Georgia is full of character. Young’s Chapel Methodist Church started off in a brush arbor, where the local congregation first used to meet in 1875. About a year later, the congregation moved three miles away to the present site.
You can almost see the preacher strutting up and down on the stage.
Not much remains of the old upright piano in the corner, but somehow you can still imagine it belting out hymns for the congregation to sing along to. The ghosts of the past seem to linger. The name “Young’s Chapel” comes from the church’s long association with the local Young family. It started with John Thomas Young, who donated the land for the church to be built on. Another Young, Emma, played the church piano for many years; and a lot of well-known local Youngs made up the rest of the congregation.
There aren’t any fancy stained glass windows, but the old church has a charm of its own.
“Something about these old churches calms and quiets the spirit,” says the photographer who took these fantastic shots. “I don’t know what it is, nor can I put it into words very well. These forgotten churches are a wonderful part of our past.” Young’s Chapel closed its doors for the last time in 1974, at which point there were only eight members of its congregation left.
3. St. Stephen’s Church – Chicago, IL (USA)
Looks like an ancient ruin
This photograph was taken under the dome of the once regal St. Stephen’s Church in Hyde Park, Chicago. Even emptied and decaying, this church looks impressive – if a little creepy – so we can only imagine how imposing it must have been in its heyday. These days, it has become a “prime symbol of urban decay,” as one journalist put it.
Somewhere to sit and contemplate
Built in 1915, the original name for the building was the Tenth Church of Christ, Scientist. The architecture is said to be a typical Christian Scientist design and is modeled on the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston.
Someone’s old reading spot
The building has been vacant since the 1990s, when a developer who hoped to turn it into condos bought the old church. That plan was shelved after neighbors expressed concerns about parking. And since then, there has been debate about how best to use the space, although nothing has been decided. In the meantime, it’s a beacon for urban explorers, who are drawn to its crumbling plaster and mysterious atmosphere.
2. St. Joseph’s Church – San Francisco, CA (USA)
Evening sunlight through the windows of the bell tower
This abandoned church in San Francisco could well be converted from an almost 100-year-old place of worship into an office for technology startups and retail space. Here, we see inside the bell tower. Interestingly, the San Francisco earthquake of 1989 caused structural damage to the building, which led to its closure.
A window in the main room, somehow not cracked by the earthquake
Although the exterior of the building looks relatively intact, over the years, the interior has been trashed by squatters and drug addicts. Even so, the architectural features remain, and after some restorations and renovations, developers hope that new tech occupants will be drawn to this amazing site.
Evidence of the earthquake
The damage to the church is clearly visible in this photograph, which shows a gaping hole in the ceiling, traces of decay, and debris all over the stairs. When it was built, the church served a predominantly Irish congregation, but by the 1980s, most of the parishioners were Filipinos. Hopefully, this San Francisco landmark will soon be restored and re-used – albeit for a very different purpose – in the near future.
1. 17th-Century Church – Quintanello, Vigone (Italy)
Part church, part garden
Located in Quintanello, in the Italian municipality of Vigone, this stunning abandoned church is a striking example of Baroque architecture. Built in the 17th century, the church must have been a beautiful place of worship. While the worshippers are long gone, the loveliness remains, perhaps even enhanced by the vegetation that now grows over the church.
Mind your head!
As you can see, the interior of the building is just as neglected-looking as the exterior. Wooden beams have fallen over and nature has begun its invasion. Although most of the paint has completely faded, you can still just make out a pink wall and a yellow doorframe. Question: would you care to venture in there on your own at night?
A tree cathedral
Here’s another exterior shot, showing that not just creepers but entire trees have made this church their home. The old church tower can be seen peeping out from behind the branches. The combination of crumbling brickwork and foliage makes this an enchanting picture-book style ruin, and one that we’re sure the photographer had lots of fun exploring – while dodging ghosts older than most!
No way out at St. Boniface
These old churches are wonderful examples of the architecture of their time and historic landmarks in their own right. We hope you’ve enjoyed exploring them with us – and didn’t find the tour too unnerving! Thank you to all the photographers who have allowed us to use their amazing photographs.