Overview: churches, travel, art, scenery, photography. 

How many churches are there in the world? The estimated number is 37 million. Yes...MILLION.

And travelers are capturing the beauty of these churches from all angles.

Cathedral pics are all the rage for domestic and international travel. Just do an Instagram search for #churches and you'll see people across the globe capturing the aesthetics and architectural innovations of these sacred spaces. 

Some churches are known as historic or cultural landmarks - like the Spanish Missions in Texas or the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Alabama. 

Some churches are adorned for their distinct architectural flair - like The Church of Hallgrimur in Iceland, Las Lajas Sanctuary in Columbia, or the iconic Sagrada Familia in Spain.

But lately, many unheralded churches are appearing more frequently in social media posts as canvas or artistic backdrop for travel photographs. I can't tell you how many times I've stopped to take a photo of a small chapel on a quiet country road or a cathedral in the middle of a bustling town. I sometimes seek out churches. And other times I cross my fingers and hope that I stumble upon one, or that one finds me. And I'm not the only one either; there are people who pull up alongside me to take photos, and I'm sure there are people who pull up alongside them after I'm gone. 

A couple of things that are interesting to note with this church-pic trend: 

1) Many people I've talked to who share the same infatuation with church pics or with visiting churches have said that they are not religious. They do not attend church regularly but for some reason they are drawn to these sanctuaries for more than just the aesthetics. Yes, it's trendy to take a picture with a badass church in the background and get tons of likes on social media, but there's a feeling you get when you're standing in these churches - it's both haunting and comforting. It reminds you that you are very small piece of the universe. I'm not going to say it's "spiritual," but I will say it's emotionally "stirring."

2) Many churches have created social media accounts, especially smaller parishes and chapels, in order to reap the benefits of travelers who post and share their photos, and thereby the church can leverage the shared publicity through online marketing. This is a great business move for a lot of churches that are mainly wedding venues or have been transformed into other businesses (see pictures below). 

Wedding venue in Gruene, TX: 

Restaurant in San Antonio, TX: 

However, the way churches use images on their websites and other places has been a hot-button issue the past few years. The church can't use anyone's photographs without permission, and some photographers (amateur and professional) may be subject to sign a Photo Release Form acknowledging that the church can do whatever it wants with the photo. This mainly has to do with the legal impact of what you can do with pictures taken on public vs. private space. 

The church is technically considered private space. So even if the church is hosting a public event and hires a photographer to come and take pictures, those photos were ultimately taken in a place that is privately owned and are thereby subject to different rules for online posting and sharing. 

Who knew? 

No matter what type of traveler you are, and no matter what type of church - size, location, denomination - there's something magical about visiting a beautiful church on vacation, even if it's just to snap a quick pic. But if you have an account with thousands and thousands of followers and you're feeling generous, post a geotag for the church or tag them in your comments - let them know you came to visit. 

P.S.

My personal favorites are the abandoned churches.

If you're anything like me, you'll understand the haunting feeling that envelopes you the minute you see the church, step foot on the property, walk through the door, graze your fingers across the top of a dusty pew and watch the dust spiral in the rays of sunlight that pierce through the old dusty windows. That feeling is unparalleled. If you're an abandoned-church-fanatic and you're looking for your tribe, look no further because you have found your peoples. (We shall assemble soon in an abandoned church near you.)

Recommended Book: The Hunchback of Notre Dame