I am drawn to the most spiritual places in the world like a moth to a flame. Probably because I have found myself lacking in faith many a time, I am always curious to see people who truly believe all the time no matter what. When you traipse around as many cultural places as we visit, you do come across a fair few holy places in the world important to the world’s different religions. My kids learn about world religions in school. Experiencing world religions in context though highlights for them both the similarities and the differences of these various beliefs. In these spiritual places to visit, it is fascinating to see the devotion to ritual and to tradition by people the world over, despite the actual specifics of each religion being different.
Holy Places of Christianity
As the world’s largest religion, with approximately a 1/3 of the world as believers, you would expect there to be many holy places of Christianity. Some of the holy sites of Christianity overlap with the holy places of Judaism in Israel, such as notably Jerusalem.
Although tiny in size, Vatican City is the spiritual home of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics. Historically, the Pope and Catholicism wielded much more power over Europe. A tour of the Vatican will show you some of the most amazing artifacts from that time, so you can only imagine how many cool things they have stored away not available to the public.
There was even a period in the 14th century where the Popes lived in Avignon instead of Rome. Between the famous churches such as Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle in Paris or the Imperial Chapel in Vienna and the celebrated shrines such as Lourdes or Fatima, you will no doubt find yourself somewhere near the holy sites of Christianity in Europe. Barring that, there are bound to be some relic stored in a church somewhere related to a random saint or possibly even Jesus.
One of the places I have always wanted to visit (but never will) are the monasteries of the Greek Orthodox Church at Mt. Athos. There has been religious communities at Mount Athos for thousands of years. The Emperor Constantine issued an edict in A.D. 1060 banning women from staying at or even visiting Mt Athos. So Visiting Mount Athos isn’t happening for me!
Holy City of Judaism
Judaism is the world’s oldest monotheistic (believing in one God) religion. The holy city of Judaism is undoubtedly Jerusalem. The most holy places of Judaism in Jerusalem are the Temple Mount and the Western Wall (about as close as you can get to the sacred area of the Temple Mount).
Other important Jewish holy places in Jerusalem include the Mount of Olives, the tomb of King David, the tomb of the prophet Samuel and the Ramban Synagogue (the oldest active synagogue in Jerusalem).
Holy Places of Sikhism
In 2012, there was estimated to be 30 million followers of Sikhism. The 5 most revered places of worship in Sikhism are all located in India spread among several states including Punjab and Bihar. At the pinnacle of Sikhism holy sites is the Golden Temple in Amritsar. This Amritsar temple is the most visited of Sikh pilgrimage places.
Sacred Sites of Hinduism
There are over 1 billion followers of Hinduism, most of them concentrated in South East Asia. Needless to say you can come across quite a few sacred sites of Hinduism in India. Varanasi is the holiest of the seven sacred cities of Hinduism. A Hinduism holy place for thousands of years, people come from far and wide to bathe on the city’s steps that line the River Ganges
Another Hinduism holy place is Allahabad which is believed to be religiously signifcant because it is placed at the convergence of the three sacred rivers, Ganges, Yamuna and the Sarasvati.
Holy Places of Buddhism
We had planned to go to Tibet during Easter break. Unfortunately, we didn’t realise that late March time overlapped with one of the holiest times for Tibetan Buddhist monks. These monks has a habit of ritual self-immolation during this time in protest of the Chinese government. Needless to say, the Chinese government were not issuing permits to visit Tibet then.
There are 8 holy places of Buddhism located among India and Nepal. For example, Lumbini in Nepal is venerated as a holy place in Buddhism because that is where the Buddha was born as a prince. Kushinagar in India is another holy place in Buddhism because that is where the Buddha attained nirvana after his death.
With sites sacred to both Hinduism and Buddhism, you can see why many people travel to India for spiritual transformation. In one of the most commercially successful book and movie combos in recent years, Eat Pray Love, right after the main character stuffed herself silly with food in scenes filmed in Rome, she headed off to India for some spiritual nourishment.
With the widespread influence of Buddhism in Asia, many countries have local holy places of Buddhism for their particular tradition. For example, the acred places of Buddhism for Tibet are located in Lhasa. The Buddhist temple and UNESCO world heritage site, Todaiji in Nara in Japan, has one of the world’s largest bronze statues (of Buddha) in the world.
Taoism Holy Places
Taoism is considered a traditional Chinese religion which has four sacred sites located in four different provinces of China. We visited one of the Taoism sacred sites (Mount QingCheng in Dujiangyan in the Sichuan Province) because we were in the area to see the Giant Panda Breeding Center. The other three mountains considered to be a part of Taoism holy places are the Wudang Mountains (considered to be the Tao counterpart to the famous Buddhist Shaolin temple), and Mount Longhu with its cliffside temples and Mount Qiyun in Anhui Province.
Mount QingCheng is considered the birthplace of Taoism. As one of the Taoism holy sites, this mountain has many temples located on it. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site. We were surrounded by Chinese people who had travelled from across the country with the specific aim of one of the Taoism sacred places.
Shintoism Sacred Places
Shintoism is the traditional religion of Japan. The Ise Grand Shrine in the province of Mie is one of the most holy places of Shintoism because it is dedicated to the sun goddess. The only person who can enter the Ise Grand Shrine is a member of the Royal Family, who are believed to be descended from the sun goddess.
Other holy places of Shintoism include the Kasuga Grand Shrine in Nara first built in the 8th century and the Izumo Grand Shrine, widely believed to be Japan’s oldest shrine.
Other famous shrines in Japan include the Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima which seems to float in the water during high tide, the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko which is dedicated to the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for 250 years. In Tokyo, one of the most famous shrines in Japan is the Meiji Jinju Shrine dedicated to the deified spirit of the Emperor Meiji who took over from the Tokugawa Shogunate and ushered Japan out of feudal times.
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