June 15, 2015

A Guide to Visiting Religious Sites


Whether you are planning a pilgrimage for personal reasons, or simply have a thirst for knowledge, visiting areas of religious significance can be an incredibly enriching experience. Religious tourism is one of the oldest forms of travelling, with places all over the world dedicated to preserving religious history and accommodating pilgrims. From Jerusalem to Mecca to Lourdes to the Vatican City, there are sites of all religions and denominations to see.

Israel
The original home to the three Abrahamic religions - Christianity, Judaism, Islam - Israel is steeped in religious significance, painstakingly preserved by locals and religious groups. Tours of Israel, encompassing visits to Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem with their religious and cultural sites, are an absolute must for the faithful and adventurous.

Italy
The home of Catholicism, Christianity remains deeply ingrained in Italian culture, providing interesting contrasts with its ancient Roman history. The Vatican City in Rome boasts the fantastic Sistine Chapel, with Catholic mass services conducted daily in a variety of languages. Beautiful Loreto is a famed pilgrimage spot, as the home of Basilica de Santa Casa, having brought visitors for centuries.

India
Fraught with conflicts resulting from English colonialism, contemporary India as a country is rich with its own religious histories of Islam, Sikhism, and Hinduism, though many minority religions remain active. New Delhi alone has the Jama Masjid, a famed pilgrimage spot for Muslims with a preserved deerskin Qu’aran, in addition to the famed Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, a Sikh place of worship open to all religions. It is also home to Swaminarayan Akshardham, the world’s largest Hindu temple complex, which also showcases the religion’s history and art.

Southeast Asia
Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, and the Indonesian islands remain home to a strong Buddhist history, with many preserved and active temples. More rural areas, such as Myanmar (previously known as Burma) have several active monasteries, with the majority of the population being practising Buddhists – they are largely welcoming of the pilgrims and tourists who flock to see the many shrines.

Mecca and Medina

Mecca is the holiest site in Islam, as the birthplace of the prophet Mohammed, and is the spiritual centre of the religion. Strictly off-limits to non-Muslims, the pillars of Islam state that those practicing must make the Hajj pilgrimage once in their lifetime in order to visit the Grand Mosque, a spectacular structure dating from 622AD.