Churches are constantly repurposed. In Istanbul, Turkey, St. Sophia’s began as a Christian Church, morphed into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in 1453, became an historical structure in 1934 and is once again a mosque as of 2020. Even in Paris, we’ve seen churches change their allegiance from one denomination to another and commercial buildings become churches. It’s a different way to track a country’s history, spiritual path and changing culture. We experienced this on a recent trip to Finland and Norway.

The first church on our Helsinki tour was Finnish Orthodox, the Uspenski Cathedral, built in 1864 when Finland was a Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire. Perched on a hill overlooking Helsinki and its surrounding waters, the church easily looks it part as the largest orthodox church in Western Europe. Reflecting its past, the cathedral’s golden cupolas and redbrick façade give notice of the strong Russian feel inside. We climbed the steep steps past two gypsy beggars, pushed through heavy wooden doors, and came into a dimly lit space glittering with a decorative gold leaf altar. Russian dedications remain on the walls.

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