Greater Phoenix Places of Worship
A glimpse at the architecture, history and community of these religious landmarks
Greater Phoenix is home to a wide variety of distinctly unique places of worship and spirituality. Faiths are as diverse as these sacred spaces, where locals still gather regularly (in most cases) or welcome visitors today.
Phoenix, now the country’s fifth-largest city, didn’t become incorporated until 1881. Of course, there were communities of townsfolk looking to establish more permanent structures for gathering and worshiping well before this milestone in the region's history. However, there's a definite correlation between this period and the boom in chapels and cathedrals, followed by synagogues and temples, that occurred right around the turn of the century.
Today, most of these buildings are still intact, and have quite a story to tell — not to mention eye-catching architecture layered with history and meaning for faith devotees as well as community, photographers, historians and casual enthusiasts, too.
Here are some of the must-see churches in Greater Phoenix, and a little bit about what makes them important landmarks today.
Located on the Pioneer Living History Museum grounds — an open-air attraction that invites visitors to experience 19th-century Arizona and the Wild West — this church is a copy of the St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church which stood in Globe, Ariz., from 1880 through 1927 (and in still in operation today as St. Paul’s United Methodist Church).
Located within a village of historical buildings that have been rescued from different parts of the (then) Arizona Territory, the painstakingly and authentically reconstructed church was based upon church records, original photos, newspaper clippings, personal interviews and more than 1,500 hours of research.
Now referred to as the Community Church, it is used for Sunday worship, and is available to rent out throughout the year.
Officially named The Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, St. Mary's Basilica is the oldest Catholic parish in Phoenix and was the only Catholic parish in Phoenix until 1924.
On Sept. 2, 1985, Pope John Paul II solemnly proclaimed the Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary to be a Minor Basilica. At that time, for historical, cultural, artistic and spiritual reasons, St. Mary’s became the 32nd basilica in the United States. On Sept. 14, 1987, His Holiness visited St. Mary’s knelt in prayer in the center aisle and then spoke to the crowd from the balcony.
Today, Holy Mass takes place at 12:05 p.m., Monday through Friday and is accompanied by the basilica pipe organ; Saturday (vigil) at 5 p.m. with the basilica choir; and at 9 and 11 a.m. with the basilica choir Sunday.
The Old Adobe Mission — originally Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church — was hand-built by Mexicans who first settled in Scottsdale in the late 1910s. Upon completion in 1933, this was the first Catholic parish in Scottsdale. Designed by Robert T. Evans, it features beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and handcrafted stained-glass windows. In 1949, it became a parish, and it served its community until 1956 when the parish outgrew the building and moved into a larger church
Today it stands as a historic monument, as both the oldest standing church in Scottsdale and as one of only three remaining adobe structures in downtown Scottsdale. The mission host a variety of annual events, including Dia del los Muertos and a live nativity. For all who visit it provides a one-of-a-kind setting for historical reflection and spiritual solitude.
The mission is open daily, and offers private tours for groups of four to 20.
Temple Beth Israel, 1921
Phoenix's first Jewish synagogue, (then) Temple Beth Israel, was built in 1921, and served as both a synagogue and community center. When congregation Beth Israel outgrew the building, it was sold to the Southern Baptist Convention in 1949. Later, it became Phoenix’s first Chinese-speaking Christian church. In 1981, the First Chinese Baptist Church sold the building to a Mexican Baptist Church, Iglesia Bautistia Central.
Today, the oldest Jewish building central Phoenix is home to the Arizona Jewish Historical Society's Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center, which regularly hosts faith- and community-related activities and events. In addition, visitors can tour the historic building and spend time in the museum gallery, which hosts artwork and exhibits. In 2021, the building celebrated 100 years.
Located just east of the original Mesa Townsite, which was settled by pioneers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mesa Arizona Temple was the first temple built in Arizona and the seventh dedicated temple in operation. Additionally, this was the first temple to present the endowment in a language other than English.
Located on a 20-acre site, the temple anchors a historic district, which has predominantly retained its residential character. A public visitors' center shares the meticulously manicured grounds of the temple, which feature a cactus garden and large reflection pools.
The Easter season brings thousands of guests to the temple grounds each year to watch Jesus the Christ, the largest annual outdoor Easter pageant in the world. At Christmas time, the grounds are converted into an exquisite Nativity display accented by hundreds of thousands of Christmas lights.
Following the temple's first public open house since 1975, it was rededicated Dec. 12 2021.
Historic Tanner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest African American Church in Arizona. The original structure was established during the pioneer days (1886, according to courthouse records). With the acquisition of another piece of property in 1899, the African Methodist Episcopal Mission was named Tanner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in honor of Bishop Benjamin T. Tanner. Years later, the property was sold, and the present site was purchased. The Tanner Chapel you see today was completed in 1929.
On June 3, 1964, during a visit to Phoenix, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in front of the chapel. According to Arizona State University archives, King spoke for about six minutes, saying the battle for racial justice was a “fight to save the soul of America.” His brief remarks came about nine months after his famous “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington. “People of goodwill all over the nation must come to see racial injustice as wrong and they must not rest until it is removed from every area of our society,” King told the congregants at Tanner.
On Dec. 15, 2010, the Phoenix City Council voted to approve the church as a historic landmark with both standard and landmark historic designations.
Weekly services, including worship and sermons, are currently taking place virtually.
Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel, Superstition Mountains Museum, 1969
Also known as the Elvis Chapel, this church was originally built as a movie prop for the 1969 Elvis Presley Western Charro!, at Apacheland Movie Ranch, a once-popular film location and attraction. After surviving two fires, one in 1969 and one in 2004 (which decimated the ranch), the chapel was donated to the Superstition Mountain Museum by Sue and Ed Birmingham, which required it to be disassembled, moved and reassembled.
Although this chapel was never home to a congregation of its own, it is a favorite attraction and wedding venue.
In 1949 the president of Phoenix’s Southwest Christian Seminary commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design a Classical University. In 1950, Wright’s completed drawings revealed his vision for an 80-acre campus, replete with a chapel, administrative buildings, seminar rooms, library, Greek theatre and faculty homes. However, the seminary ceased operation before the campus could be built.
In the early 1970s, the First Christian Church approached Wright’s widow, Olgivanna, who granted them permission to use Wright’s triangular chapel design. Meant to evoke the Holy Trinity and reflect an attitude of prayer, the chapel’s roof and spire rise seventy-seven feet, supported by the 23 slender triangular pillars. Light filters through the spire’s stained-glass insets onto the floor of the 1,000-seat diamond-shaped sanctuary. The addition of the baptistery and choir loft and the administrative wing, completed by Taliesin Architects, are the only modifications to the original design.
These days, Sunday services take place at 9 and 10:45 a.m.
Originally established as a nonprofit in 2000, the Maha Ganapati Temple of Arizona is the state's largest Hindu temple. Built in true Agamic traditions, the structure houses shrines to nearly a dozen presiding deities as well as interior and exterior sculptures, including its four richly decorated vimanas (towers). Additionally, the temple is part of Harvard University Pluralism Project, a project dedicated to cataloging all Religious bodies in the United States.
The temple hosts a variety of services, including daily pujas. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends and U.S. national holidays, and from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays — both accessible through a visitor pass system.
If you're looking to go beyond Phoenix to add one or both of Arizona's most-recognizable churches to your tour, hit the road heading either north or south from Phoenix, to check out one or both of these gems:
A National Historic Landmark, San Xavier Mission was founded as a Catholic mission by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692 and is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona today.
The current church dates from the late 1700's, when Southern Arizona was part of New Spain. In 1783, Franciscan missionary Fr. Juan Bautista Velderrain was able to begin construction on the present structure using money borrowed from a Sonoran rancher. He hired an architect, Ignacio Gaona, and a large workforce of O'odham to create the present church.
Following Mexican independence in 1821, San Xavier became part of Mexico. The last resident Franciscan of the 19th Century departed in 1837. With the Gadsden Purchase of 1854, the Mission joined the United States. In 1859, San Xavier became part of the Diocese of Santa Fe. In 1866, Tucson became an incipient diocese and regular services were held at the Mission once again.
The church is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with mass taking place Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays 10 and 11:30 a.m.
1950 W. San Xavier Road, Tucson (123 miles south of downtown Phoenix)
Sitting high atop the red rocks of Sedona, on Coconino National Forest land, this chapel was inspired and commissioned by local rancher and sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude. The late Senator Barry Goldwater assisted Staude in obtaining a special-use permit and the project's construction supervisor was Fred Coukos, who built the chapel in 18 months at a cost of $300,000.
Not only is the chapel itself a work of art, it's also known for the art within and also at the on-site gift shop.
The chapel is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and closed Christmas day and Easter. Each Friday, Adoration takes place from noon to 3 p.m.; Confession from 1 to 3 p.m.; and Mass begins at 3 p.m.
780 Chapel Road, Sedona (113 miles north of downtown Phoenix)