Chapter 14. Christian

Hagia Sophia

Finished in 537, Hagia Sophia was the largest church in the world for a thousand years. Its exterior was then clad in white marble and detailed in gold foil. Its interior was clad in green and white marbles, with purple porphyry and gold mosaics. Originally Greek Orthodox, Hagia Sophia has been Latin Catholic, Byzantine Christian, a mosque, and a museum. * Hagia Sophia has a section of floor beneath the main dome, featuring a large circle of gray marble surrounded by smaller circles of marble, granite, and porphyry in an asymmetrical array, known as the omphalion, the navel of the earth. For the conversion to a mosque in 2020, a turquoise carpet was laid on the floors, but the omphalion was left uncovered.

Notre-Dame de Paris

Completed in 1260 after 97 years of construction, this Gothic cathedral, with its six-part rib vaults, flying buttresses, rain spouts disguised as gargoyles, large rose windows, and immense bells, has survived revolution and fire as a symbol of France.

Saint Basil’s

Saint Basil’s the colorful church on Red Square in Moscow with nine swirling onion domes. Ivan the Terrible ordered it to be built in 1555. There’s nothing else like it in Russia, but its domes are widely copied for Orthodox churches worldwide. * When Marlene Dietrich played Catherine the Great for her wedding here, the air was so smoky from candles and incense that Josef von Sternberg didn’t need to put gauze on the camera lens for her closeups. * Yes, I made that up.


Sacré-Cœur Basilica is built on Montmartre, the highest point of Paris. Completed in 1914, it’s built of travertine and features symbols of nationalist pride. Officials and priests balance the interests of Catholics and tourists. Although the use of cameras is forbidden inside, trying to prevent tourists from looking at their phones during a service would be disruptive.