The Most Spiritual Places on Earth
When it premiered, History 's "The Bible" (the latest crowd-pleaser from "Survivor" creator Mark Burnett) plunged some 13 million viewers into the world of the Old Testament. The first installment of the 10-episode miniseries—the most watched show of 2013 thus far—opened with the story of Noah's Ark and concluded with Moses' proclamation of the Ten Commandments. While critics haven't exactly been charitable in their reviews—especially with regards to writing and character development—many have complimented the show's visualization of its primeval Holy Land setting. We turn our attention to other world destinations of great religious importance. From Bodh Gaya to Mount Kailash, these cities and pilgrimage sites stun with their long history as well their beauty, and are worth considering as you plan your summer getaway.
One of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem serves as a holy center for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In "Jerusalem: The Biography," historian Simon Sebag Montefiore brings together thousands of years' worth of documentation and literature on the city, including writings from historical figures such as Caligula, Rasputin and Abraham Lincoln. In telling the story of the Jerusalem, he weaves in the experiences of his own family argues that the city holds the "key to peace" in the Middle East today.
Varanasi, India (also known as "Banaras" or "Benaras") is a holy city to Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, and one of the oldest metropolises in the world (legend holds that Lord Shiva, the major deity of Hinduism, founded the city himself). In "Banaras: City of Light," Diana L. Eck delivers the history the ancient pilgrimage site, providing detailed glossaries and addenda to help Western readers better understand its traditions, beliefs and mythologies.
The Vatican has been home to a near-constant flurry of public scandal over the past few years, but the papacy still remains a rigorously private establishment. In "The Vatican," Michael Collins--a priest, historian and Vatican insider--presents a behind-the-scenes look at the world's smallest nation and epicenter of the Catholic Church. He takes readers through daily life in the papacy, recounts the 2,000-year history of the nation and papacy and offers a peek at the Church's lavish art collection, complete with photographs and illustrations.
Some 2,000 years ago Siddhartha Guatama (aka Buddha) meditated under a Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, India, and attained enlightenment. Today, the city remains a sacred pilgrimage center for Buddhists. In "Bodh Gaya," South Asian art specialist Frederick M. Asher gives readers a tour of the city and charts the way it has changed over the centuries.
Ilchi Lee is one of many spiritual leaders who have founded retreats in the red mountain landscape of Sedona, Arizona. In "The Call of Sedona: Journey of the Heart," he explains why the area attracts so many spiritual tourists each year. While New Age groups have been drawn to the area's perceived sacred "vortexes" (nodes of concentrated spiritual energy), Lee attests that the region--with its relaxing atmosphere and stunning landscape--is conducive to simpler pursuits, such as self-discovery and mental healing. His book includes some of the meditation tactics he teaches in Sedona that readers can practice from anywhere.
Reaching 22,000 feet, Mount Kailash in Tibet is a crucial sacred center for four religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Bon (an ancient Tibetan religion that precedes Buddhism). The mountain is of particular importance to Hindus, who believe that Lord Shiva resides at its summit. In "Tibet's Sacred Mountain: The Extraordinary Pilgrimage to Mount Kailas," photographer Russell Johnson and writer Kerry Morgan record their journey to the popular pilgrimage site. The authors give eyewitness accounts of worship practices--which include prayer wheels and mantra chanting--with photographs of the striking mountain landscape.
Every Muslim must attempt to make the journey to Mecca at least once in a lifetime, according to the Five Pillars of Islam. In "One Thousand Roads to Mecca: Ten Centuries of Travelers Writing about the Muslim Pilgrimage," Michael Wolfe presents highlights from 1,000 years of writing about the Hajj (the Muslim term for the journey), from prominent figures within Islamic history to Sir Richard Burton and Malcolm X. With its diversity and historical span, the collection testifies to Mecca's power as a unifying force in Islam and shows how the journey and city have evolved over the centuries.