What happens to a sacred place when people no longer gather there to seek the divine?
A lot of things, actually.
As more people find spirituality outside of traditional church settings, some of the big, beautiful cathedrals, churches and synagogues that were once centers of community life are being repurposed into secular spaces. Their transformations are a reflection of the changes that have happened with religions in Western society.
Mainline Protestant Christian denominations, like the Anglican and Lutheran churches, once dominated the religious landscapes of both the United States and Northern Europe. But this tradition's share of the population has been declining sharply in recent decades. The Roman Catholic Church and Jewish synagogues have suffered losses as well, with attendance at religious services steadily declining.
In addition, secularism is on the rise. The number of religiously unaffiliated adults who say they rarely or seldom attend worship services has grown rapidly in America over the past decade. In both Europe and North America, the unaffiliated are expected to continuing growing.
While some of the defunct sacred buildings these denominations leave behind are shuttered and abandoned, many have found new life in unexpected ways -- from a church-turned-bar in Dublin, Ireland to a Lower East Side synagogue in New York City that has morphed into a townhouse that you can now rent on AirBnb.
Scroll down to see some of these remarkable transformations.
A Church-Turned-Bookstore in Maastricht, the Netherlands
This is the Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen
, a 13th century Catholic Church
that is now a spectacularly grand bookstore. But before it became a haven for readers, the old cathedral building was also reportedly used
as a warehouse, an archive, and even a bicycle shed.
The church was transformed by the Amsterdam-based architects Merkx+Girod
and now houses a three-storey bookshelf.Scroll down for images of Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen.
A Church-Turned-Bar in Dublin, Ireland
The Church is a bar, cafe, restaurant and nightclub in Dublin. Known formerly as St. Mary's Church, it was built in the early years of the 18th century.
The gorgeous Renatus Harris organ
inside The Church was once played by George Frederic Handel
, and Arthur Guinness, the founder of Guinness Brewery, was married
in this sacred space back in 1761.
Scroll down for images of The Church.
A Church-Turned-Marketplace (And Many Other Things) in New York, New York
This is the old Church of the Holy Communion, located in New York's Flatiron district. The 19th century Episcopal church has lived many lives since it stopped being used as a sacred space in 1976.
The building has been used
as a commune, a nightclub (whose opening-night party was hosted by Andy Warhol), an upscale urban mall called Limelight Shops, and recently
a Chinese restaurant.
Scroll down for images of this former Episcopal church.
A Church-Turned-Residential Home in Victoria, Australia
This is the Knox Church, a Gothic Revival
style building that was constructed in Brighton, Victoria in the 1870s
. The architects who turned the building into a family home, Williams Boag and Sonia Mangiapane, managed to keep much of its richly decorated interior, including its gorgeous stained glass windows.
Scroll down for images from inside the renovated Knox Church.
A Church-Turned-Apartment Complex in Brooklyn, New York
This is the former St. Mark's Protestant Episcopal Church
, a 1888 Gothic Revival church located at 232 Adelphi Street in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The building, which has been divided into 12 separate homes, still bears
signs of its former use as a sacred space -- with stained glass windows, domed ceilings, and exposed brick.Scroll down for images from inside the renovated St. Mark's Protestant Episcopal Church.
A Church-Turned-Home in Belfast, Maine
This Little Stone Church is located less than a mile away from Maine's Belfast Bay. It first opened
in 1907 as a Dutch Reform church before being purchased by Christian Scientists in the 1960s. There are three bedrooms inside this gem, according to Zillow
. The grounds around the church have been spruced up with a garden and shrubbery.Scroll down for images of the Little Stone Church.
A Church-Turned-Condominium in New York, New York
This West Village
Romanesque style building is the former home of the Washington Square United Methodist Church
. Built in the late 1850s, the church became known
as the "Peace Church" during the Vietnam War because of its activism. It also had a long history of welcoming LGBT Christians in New York. The building is now an eight unit condominium called Novare
.Scroll down for images from inside the renovated Washington Square United Methodist Church.
A Church-Turned-Apartment Complex in Brooklyn, New York
This Early Romanesque Revival church was built in 1857 in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn. When it first opened as the South Congregational Church, the neighborhood was home to immigrants from Scandinavia. By 1940
, the church was thriving and boasted a members list with 2,400 names. The building was granted
landmark status by New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission in the 1980s
, meaning that its exterior cannot be altered. The interior was remodeled
into a number of luxury apartments that feature cathedral ceilings and stained glass windows.Scroll down for images inside the Early Romanesque Revival church.
A Synagogue-Turned-Townhouse in New York, New York
This former synagogue, known as the 8th Street Shul
, once served
the Lower East Side's Jewish community. As Jews moved away from the neighborhood, the congregation dwindled down. The building has survived through two
fires, and, at one point, was occupied
by a East Village resident,
who protested the idea of it being used at anything but a synagogue.
The space is now a three-bedroom townhouse with three outdoor terraces and cathedral ceilings. It is reportedly available to rent on AirBnB.
Scroll down for more images from inside the 8th Street Shul.
The Stakes Have Never Been Higher