From the Middle Ages until the advent of the skyscraper, Christian churches were often the world’s tallest buildings. Starting in 1311, when the spire of Lincoln Cathedral surpassed the height of the Great Pyramid of Giza, until the Washington Monument was constructed in 1884, a succession of churches held this title. If it is completed, Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia will become the tallest church in the world, at 170 m (558 ft) tall.
Ulm Münster 161.5 m (530 ft)
Ulm Minster is a Lutheran church located in Ulm, Germany. Although sometimes referred to as Ulm Cathedral because of its great size, the church is not a cathedral as it has never been the seat of a bishop.
Ulm Minster is a famous example of Gothic ecclesiastical architecture. Like Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom), also begun in the Gothic era, Ulm Minster was not completed until the 19th century. It is the tallest church in the world, with a steeple measuring 160.9 metres (528 ft) and containing 768 steps. From the top level at 143 metres (469 ft) there is a panoramic view of Ulm in Baden-Württemberg and Neu-Ulm in Bavaria and, in clear weather, a vista of the Alps from Säntis to the Zugspitze. The final stairwell to the top (known as the third Gallery) is a tall, spiraling staircase that has barely enough room for one person.
Lincoln Cathedral 159.7 m (524 ft)
Lincoln Cathedral (in full The Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln, or sometimes St. Mary’s Cathedral) is an historic Anglican cathedral in Lincoln in England and seat of the Bishop of Lincoln in the Church of England.
It was reputedly the tallest building in the world for 249 years (1300–1549). The central spire collapsed in 1549 and was not rebuilt. It is highly regarded by architectural scholars; the eminent Victorian writer John Ruskin declared, “I have always held… that the cathedral of Lincoln is out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles and roughly speaking worth any two other cathedrals we have.” According to the cathedral website, over £1 million a year is spent on keeping the cathedral in shape; the most recent project completed has been the restoration of the West Front in 2000. About ten years ago it was discovered that the flying buttresses on the east end were no longer connected to the adjoining stonework, and repairs were made to prevent collapse.
St. Olaf 159 m (521.6 ft)
St. Olaf’s church or St. Olav’s church (Estonian: Oleviste kirik) in Tallinn, Estonia, is believed to have been built in the 12th century and to have been the centre for old Tallinn’s Scandinavian community prior to the conquest of Tallinn by Denmark in 1219. Its dedication relates to King Olaf II of Norway (a.k.a. Saint Olaf, 995-1030). The first known written records referring to the church date back to 1267, and it was extensively rebuilt during the 14th century.
Around 1500, the building reached a height of 159 meters. The motivation for building such an immensely tall steeple must have been to use it as a maritime signpost, which made the trading city of Tallinn visible from far out at sea. Between 1549 and 1625, when the spire burnt down after a lightning strike, it was the tallest building in the world. The steeple of St. Olav has been hit by lightning at least eight times, and the whole church has burned down three times throughout its known existence. Following several rebuildings, its overall height is now 123.7 meters.
Our Lady of Peace Basilica 158.0 m (518 ft)
The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro (French: Basilique de Notre Dame de la Paix de Yamoussoukro) is a Roman Catholic minor basilica dedicated to Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, the administrative capital of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). The basilica was constructed between 1985 and 1989 at a cost of $300 million. The design of the dome and encircled plaza are clearly inspired by those of the Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican City, although it is not an outright replica. The cornerstone was laid on August 10, 1985, and it was consecrated on September 10, 1990, by Pope John Paul II.
It has an area of 30,000 sq metres (322,917 sq ft) and is 158m (518ft) high. However, it also includes a rectory and a villa (counted in the overall area), which are not strictly part of the church, and it can accommodate 18,000 worshippers, compared to 60,000 for St. Peter’s.
Cologne Cathedral 157.4 m (516 ft)
Cologne Cathedral (German: Kölner Dom, officially Hohe Domkirche St. Peter und Maria) is a Roman Catholic church in Cologne, Germany. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne (currently Cardinal Joachim Meisner), and is under the administration of the archdiocese of Cologne. It is renowned as a monument of Christianity, of German Catholicism in particular, of Gothic architecture and of the continuing faith and perseverance of the people of the city in which it stands. It is dedicated to Saint Peter and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Construction of Cologne Cathedral began in 1248 and took, with interruptions, until 1880 to complete. It is 144.5 metres long, 86.5 m wide and its towers are approximately 157 m tall. The cathedral is one of the world’s largest churches and the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. For four years, 1880-84, it was the tallest structure in the world, until the completion of the Washington Monument. It has the second-tallest church spires, only surpassed by the single spire of Ulm Minster, completed 10 years later in 1890.