7 Cave churches

Christianity has a long history of constructing temples in caves. Cave churches are the most successful expression of sacred architecture that seeks to blend into nature. Here are 7 examples of famous European cave churches.


Cave Church, Hungary

The church of the cave, or 'Saint-Ivan's Cave' (after a hermit who lived there) was founded in 1926 by Pauline monks, inspired by the sanctuary of Lourdes. A refuge during the Second World War, it was closed by the communist regime, to be reopened in 1991. The neo-Romanesque church, visible from the Danube, is an addition dating from 1934.

Cave Church

Orheiul Vechi, Moldavia

Orheiul Vechi (Old Orhei), is an archaeological and ecclesiastical complex at about 50km north of Chişinău, Moldova. Its most well-known attraction is the Cave Monastery, a complex of rooms and tunnels dug into a remote, rocky ridge over the Răut River. The UNESCO world heritage site includes a 1905 Orthodox church dedicated to the Ascension of St Mary as well as ruins from different eras, from the times of the Dacian tribes (2000 years ago) to those of the Mongol and Tatar invasions. The entire site can be visited in half a day and is a hidden pearl of natural beauty, spirituality and historical relevance.

Orheiul Vechi
Wikimedia Commons

St. Kinga's Chapel, Poland

St. Kinga's Chapel is located 101 metres underground and is one of the biggest attractions of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The chapel is an example of a ‘travelling chapel’ whose furniture could be moved by miners to other rooms or cave chambers closer to their workplace. The room in which the chapel was placed dates back to the 19th century. Inside the chapel are two 17th century wooden baroque saints’ figures.

St. Kinga's Chapel

Church of Piedigrotta, Italy

The church of Piedigrotta was constructed in the 18th century by sailors in order to house a painting of the Virgin Mary they found on a shipwreck. First a fishermen's chapel, the cave became a church at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, under the impetus of Angelo Barone, a local who undertook the expansion of the site. Inside are several groups of sculptures, carved from volcanic tuff.

Church of Piedigrotta

Pirot Cave Church, Serbia

The Cave Church, also known as the Cave Church of Sts. Peter and Paul was built in the 13th century, possibly by Orthodox monks returning from the Sinai to Egypt. The particularity of this small church lies in its fresco, also dating from the 13th century: it contains a unique representation of a bald Jesus Christ. The site has been classified as a Serbian national cultural heritage site since 1981.

Pirot Cave Church

Sanctuary of Sainte-Baume, France

The sanctuary of Sainte-Baume, also known as the Sainte-Marie-Madeleine cave, was erected in a cave in the Sainte-Baume massif. It is an important pilgrimage site for the cult of Saint Mary Magdalene, evangeliser of Provence. As early as the 5th century, Saint John Cassian founded the first priory there. Throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, popes, kings and princes made pilgrimages to the cave sanctuary, one of the most famous in Christianity. The Revolution initiated a period of uncertainty, as it changed owners quite frequently, eventually becoming the property of the municipality of Plan d'Aups in 1910. A community of four Dominican friars was re-established in the summer of 2002.

Sanctuary of Sainte-Baume

Rock-hewn Churches, Bulgaria

The Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo are a complex of small medieval rock churches, chapels and cells, carved at different heights in the cliffs of the picturesque canyon of the river Rusenski Lom. These caves were dug as hermitages during a period running from the 10th century to the 15th century, turning the river valley and its tributaries into a Bulgarian spiritual centre. The Churches of Ivanovo, with their extremely well-preserved murals, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Rock-hewn Churches