Antarctica learns its “Religious Tourism” options

Antarctica, a Continent of all of us who inhabit this planet, has temples surrounded by ice and snow that can also be visited. 60 cruise ships surround yearly the white Continent, some of those departures will offer the tourists to see its chapels. The women and men who are in Antarctica live their faith in a very special way in chapels belonging to the different installed bases.

Battered by climate change, the native organisms of this continent include a myriad of types of algae, bacteria, fungi, plants and animals, the true inhabitants of its landscape. However, decades of research around the latter, including its organisms, has established a more or less standard population scattered throughout many of its corners, and in order to make sense of the world, even there, and even among science, there is a need for faith, there is a need for religion, there is a need of prayer.
Among the ice in all its forms, in addition to more ice, there are some Churches. They are few, but each one more curious! One of the southernmost buildings in Antarctica is, curiously, a religious building. Let’s think about the St. Ivan Rilski Chapel, the first Eastern Orthodox edifice in Antarctica and the southernmost Eastern Orthodox building of worship in the world. Located at the Bulgarian Research Station, San Kliment Ohridski Base (WAP BUL-Ø1) on Livingston Island, in the South Shetland, it has been the first Orthodox temple on the Icy Continent and the southernmost until the construction of St. Vladimir’s Chapel at Ukraine’s Vernadsky Base (WAP UKR-Ø1) in 2011.

It is not only its location, but also its peculiar shape that catches the eye: St. Ivan Rilski Chapel it’s a small trapezoidal building measuring 3.5 meters by 12 meters made of red metal that rests on small pillars.

Built in 2003, among its features a bell donated by Nikola Vasilev, former deputy prime minister of Bulgaria, who worked as a doctor at the base between 1993 and 1994, also a cross donated by Bulgarian artist Dicho Kapushev, an icon of Jesus Christ betrothed by Bulgarian artist Georgi Dimov and an icon of St. John of Rila donated by Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov.

But, Did you know that Argentina built the first church in Antarctica?
Although it is not the site where the first mass of the “White Continent” was organized, it is the oldest Catholic temple. Touring the facilities of the huge Esperanza Base (WAP ARG-Ø4) which Argentina has managed since December 17, 1952, a visitor can’t avoid to see the structure of the first church in Antarctica. This small temple, known as “St. Francis of Assisi Chapel” has stood at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula for almost half a century and still surprises those who observe it for the first time. Currently, it is part of the small list of Catholic churches in Antarctica and preserves some very important religious objects, which were given as donations from Pope Francis in the last decade.

The first church in Antarctica is the colorful Chapel of St. Francis of Assisi, which opened its doors on February 18, 1976. At that time, its priest was the Jesuit Buenaventura De Filippis, who was born in Italy and spent an important part of his life at the Esperanza base in Argentina. And, curiously, this chapel was also the place where, two years after its inauguration, the first religious wedding in Antarctica was organized.

The first Mass in Antarctica was celebrated on February 20, 1946 and was organized by the Jesuit Felipe Lerida, in the Stella Maris Chapel of Argentina’s Orcadas Base (WAP ARG-15). After the Mass, the priest sent a telegram to Pope Pius XII: “First Mass celebrated. Cross erected”. But, for the next 30 years, the continent continued without Catholic temples on its territory.

Thanks and credit to:Las iglesias más australes del mundo están en la Antártida (  and ¿Sabías que Argentina construyó la primera iglesia de la Antártida? – Billiken