The Catholic Church is truly universal: the southernmost place of worship in the world is a cave chapel carved out of ice in Antarctica.
Antarctica is Earth’s southernmost continent, containing the South Pole and 5.4 million square miles of ice over a mile thick. At any time, 1000 people during the winter and up to 4000 people during the summer brave temperatures of -100 degrees Fahrenheit. Attending to their spiritual needs are eight churches that span the icy continent, the southernmost of which chapel is a Catholic church carved in pure ice.
The Chapel of Our Lady of the Snows is the southernmost place of worship in the world, 800 miles from the South Pole. It serves as a permanent Catholic church for those that reside on the Belgrano II base throughout the year. Although it’s located in Antarctica, it falls under the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Bahía Blanca in Buenos Aires, Argentina with Guillermo José Garlatti as their Archbishop.
In 1955, Belgrano I, was built by the Argentinians and included a chapel. However, the ice that the base was built on was unstable forcing them to relocate. Despite Antarctica being covered almost 98% by ice, they found ice-free land close to the original to construct a new base: Belgrano II in 1979.
Nearby the newly built Belgrano II base, a system of tunnels and caves was dug out of ice that eventually included the new chapel that remains today in permanent ice. When they moved, they brought a cross from the former base that today is a historic monument under the Antarctic Treaty. In January of 2007, the chapel was used to wed two researchers there, a Chilean and a Russian.
There are eight other churches on the continent, a total of four being Catholic.
Chapel of Our Lady of the Snows – Belgrano II Base, Bertrab Nunatak, built 1979
San Francisco de Asis Chapel – Esperanza Base, Hope Bay, built 1976
Chapel of Santisima Virgen de Lujan – Marambio Base, Marambio Island, built 1996
Chapel of Santa María Reina de la Paz – Villa Las Estrellas, King George Island
The San Francisco de Asis Chapel is notable for being the first Catholic chapel on the continent. Also among its firsts are the first wedding, first Eucharistic service, and first baptism of the first person born on the Antarctic continent.
A fifth church exists at the most populous Antarctic base at McMurdo Station, the Chapel of the Snows. Mass is held there, but because the chapel serves a large population of multiple religions, it is not strictly Catholic.
Built south of the Antarctic Convergence but north of the 60th parallel south is the Notre-Dame des Vents, “Our Lady of the Winds,” the southernmost French Catholic place of worship. Not on Antarctica proper, it was built in the 1950s on the island of Port-aux-Français.
Take a look below inside the Chapel of Our Lady of the Snows.