Read Time 4 Minutes
Continuing Bham Now’s series of “Birmingham’s oldest” in celebration of the Magic City’s 150th birthday, we’re talking about the oldest houses of worship across six major world religions. Keep reading to learn more about Birmingham’s oldest faith centers and as part of it, the area’s religious history.
1. First Presbyterian Church
Founded in 1872, First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham is almost as old as the city itself, and the congregation is older. The original church was built in 1858 in what is now the west end of Birmingham (previously called Elyton). The first structure was dismantled and rebuilt on the church’s current site at the corner of 21st Street and 4th Avenue North.
In 1938, there was an offer for Birmingham’s oldest house of worship to move outside of downtown and merge with another congregation, but First Presbyterian Church chose to stay at its current location. In the 1950s the gorgeous stained-glass windows were installed.
2. The Cathedral of St. Paul
Also first constructed in 1872, The Cathedral of St. Paul is tied with First Presbyterian as the oldest congregation in Birmingham. The current cathedral, with its iconic twin spires, was built from 1890-1893, under the leadership of the church’s second pastor. The stunning neo-gothic architecture is hard to miss in downtown Birmingham.
3. 16th Street Baptist Church
16th Street Baptist Church is the oldest Black church in Birmingham. The church began in 1873, making it just two years younger than the Magic City itself. Originally, the church stood on the corner of 12th Street North and 4th Avenue, but it later moved to 3rd Avenue North. 16th Street Baptist Church moved to its current location on 16th Street in 1880.
W.E.B. Dubois, Mary McLeod Bethune, Paul Robeson and more visited the church in its early years. But the most famous, and heartbreaking, moment in church history occurred on Sunday, September 15, 1963. It was that morning that a bomb exploded inside the building, killing four little girls and wounding 20 people. Now, 16th Street Baptist Church is known across the US as a tragic moment during the Civil Rights Movement, and the house of worship is now part of the Alabama African American Civil Rights Consortium.
4. Temple Emanu-El
The oldest synagogue in Birmingham, Temple Emanu-El began in 1882. Early Jewish settlers in the area founded this house of worship, and was the first synagogue in Jefferson County. Temple Emanu-El was originally on the corner of 5th Avenue North and 17th Street. Now, it is located on Highland Avenue.
Since 1895, Temple Emanu-El has three rabbis who have served upwards of 25 years each. Morris Newfield served for 45 years, Milton Grafman served for 34 years, and most recently Jonathan Miller served for 27 years.
5. Homewood Masjid
Built in 1996, the Homewood Masjid is the oldest mosque in the Birmingham area. Its founding organization, Birmingham Islamic Society, began in 1990, making it the oldest Islamic organization in the state.
While the Birmingham Islamic Society relocated to a larger facility in Hoover, the Homewood Masjid is currently home to the Islamic Academic of Alabama.
6. The Hindu Temple and Cultural Center of Birmingham
Birmingham’s first and oldest Hindu house of worship, the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center of Birmingham, began in 1993. The current building, designed to provide a peaceful feeling for the community, is located in Pelham and can hold around 300 worshippers.
According to the Hindu Temple’s website regarding the architecture, “our mandir in Birmingham will be a three-dimensional representation of a mandala or, in other words, it will be a representation of cosmos in miniature.”
7. Alabama Buddhist Vihara
The Alabama Buddhist Vihara was built in 2017 as the first Buddhist house of worship in the Birmingham area. It’s located in the McDonald Chapel area of the Magic City and focuses on Theravada Buddhist meditation, according to Magic City Religion.
8. Sikh Temple of Alabama
The Sikh Temple of Alabama is located in a former Protestant church, which was converted into its current form in 2018. This house of worship is not just the first Sikh Temple (and thus the oldest) in Birmingham but in the entire state of Alabama.
Sikhism is one of the youngest major world religions, and the Sikh Temple of Alabama is the youngest house of worship on our list (but the oldest of its kind in the state).
A note: thanks to Magic City Religion, a resource put together by Samford University religious studies students to educate the greater Birmingham community about the many houses of worship in our area. It was the basis of my research for this guide.