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    Prayer on Ice: The Six Churches Giving Sermons to Scientists on Antarctica

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    Image: Wikimedia

    This how we know there will one day be churches on the Moon, and on Mars: There are at least six churches currently offering services on Antarctica. Over the weekend, this twilit photo of Trinity Church, a year-round Russian Orthodox Church hit the front page of Reddit. The church has a claim to being the southernmost orthodox church in the world. It's visited by personnel from nearby research stations, is staffed year-round by two specially trained priests, and even conducts the occasional marriage ceremony.

    But it's not alone, even in the barren expanse of the world's least populous, harshest continent. There are at least five other churches in Antarctica. That's a lot of churches, especially for a continent frequented only by scientists, engineers, and thrill-seeking tourists. Scientists, of course, are increasingly secular—so it's kind of striking that the two predominant kinds of non-domicile buildings on one of the world's seven continents are research stations and churches. Buildings like these.

    Image: FreeRepublic

    There's the Chapel of Santisima Virgen de Lujan, in Argentine Antarctica. The structure is steel, but according to the Free Republic, the walls are "made entirely of ice." 

    Image: IGVemdor

    Here's the Notre-Dame des Vents. It's a small cement chapel in Port aux-Francais. The Virgin-and-child statue is particularly haunting.

    Images: Wikimedia Commons

    There's the non-denominational Chapel of the Snows, which provides Protestant and Catholic services to the U.S. McMurdo Station on Ross Island, Antarctica.

    The original chapel was finished by 1966, but it burned down in 1978, and was replaced by a seemingly equally geometric house of worship.

    Image: Wikimedia

    Here's the Norwegian Lutheran church in Grytviken. This Neo-Gothic shed was assembled in Norway and shipped to Grytviken by whalers in 1912. Hence its nickname, 'Whaler's Church.' 

    Image: AntarcticaEdu

    And, finally, the St. Ivan Rilski Chapel, built at a Bulgarian base on Livingston Island in the South Shetlands. It is essentially a single room swaddled in snowy surroundings.

    We humans have gone to great lengths to build churches, mostly Catholic ones, in the most unforgiving climes on Earth. First came the expeditions, then the research institutions, then the churches. It's got to be a powerful comfort: the familiar idols, the symbology, the rituals, and the architecture, even for nonbelievers, when it's freezing, and comfort is otherwise elusive. 

    Progress has done little to diminish our faith—secularization has unfolded much more slowly than the techno-optimists once thought. Which is why it's quite likely that first structure humans will build on the moon—after the domiciles, after the research station, will be a church.

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