You might be surprised that the largest desert in the world isn't the Sahara-- it's Antarctica. And in the middle of this barren, freezing landscape that is, on average, the coldest, driest and windiest with the highest elevations, its inhabitants still find the time for their religion. These churches are the southernmost in the whole world.
1. Chapel of the Snows
After this church burned down in an accidental fire from the heater room, this church was rebuilt... for a second time. The original church also caught fire during a severe storm. Chapel of the Snows serves an American science station on Ross Island.
The church hosts approximately 200 people and up to 1,000 seasonal visitors. It's non-denominational and caters to worshippers of all faiths.
2. Trinity Chapel
Built with Siberian pine, this orthodox church was built in Russia, back when it was still the Soviet Union, and transported on a supply ship to its current location. Two monks from the Russian monastery started the church as a volunteer service, manning it year-round. The priests, who now rotate annually, pray for the souls of the 64 Russians lost to various expeditions in the harsh climate.
It can hold up to 30 visitors and welcomes parishioners from Russian, Chilean, Polish and Korean stations, even holding some services in Spanish.
3. The Ice Cave Catholic Chapel at Belgrano II Base
With walls made out of ice, this Catholic church is the southernmost church in the entire world. It serves the Argentinian base and research station from Coat's Island. Because of its latitude, it sees four-month-long days and nights and has frequent aurora australis sightings.
4. San Francisco de Asis Chapel
The Esperanza Base Station is considered the southernmost city, although with a population of 55, it's actually closer to a hamlet. The church serves the permanent year-round research base, one of Argentina's 13 bases in the desert. Esperanza boasts a church, museum, and hospital.
In case the researchers need to unwind a bit, they've also got a bar and a casino in their community center.
5. St. Ivan Rilski Chapel, Livingston Island
This church was founded in 1988 by the four-member strong Bulgarian team of the St. Lkiment Ohridski base. The chapel bell was donated by Bulgaria's ex-Vice Premiere after a stint as the base doctor in 1993.
6. Chilian Chapel of Santa Maria Reina de la Paz
Made out of shipping containers, this church has a striking mix of modern utility and cheerful decoration. It serves Antarctica's largest civilian settlement with a whopping population of 120 in the summer months and 80 in the winter. Villas las Estrellas mainly serves the personnel's families from the nearby Chilean military base of King George's Island. The town has a permanent school, hostel, post office and bank.
7. Catholic Chapel of Santisima Virgen de Lujan at Marambio Base
This fairly new church was built by Father Nicholas Daniel Julian (pictured here) on Argentina's year-round base. During its construction, it was Antarctica's first airfield and is one of the most often used for wheeled landing. It's been nicknamed "Antarctica's Entrance Door".
Subantarctic Church to Mention: The Whaler’s Church
Built in 1913 for a whaling station, this Neo-Gothic church serves a South Georgian settlement, Grytviken. It gets its nickname from its Norwegian sea captain founder and is the only building in Grytviken that's retained its original purpose since the station was abandoned in 1966.
The settlement brought in 195 whales during its first year in 1904, and prided itself on using every part of the whale. The operation hired 300 men for the season from October through March.
What's left of Grytviken's cinema.
The whale population in the seas around the island was substantially reduced over the following sixty years until the station closed, by which time the whale stocks were so low that their continued exploitation was unviable. Even now, the shore around Grytviken is littered with whale bones, the rusting remains of whale oil processing plants and abandoned whaling ships.
Over 60 years, the whale population was so greatly reduced that the station closed. You can see whale bones scattered around the abandoned town, a haunting reminder of its history.
The Whaler's Church was renovated by the museum keepers of the South Georgia Museum. It's rarely used except for the occasional wedding ceremony for the descendants of whalers. The church and whaling station had a cameo appearance in the Oscar-winning film, "Happy Feet".
Credit: MessyNessy Chic