America’s top 10 religious attractions
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Throughout the United States, travelers will find landmarks associated with the nation's religious heritage. Given, however, that the U.S. is a country still in its relative youth, it may not enjoy the reputation of such grand religious landmarks as Jerusalem, the ornate cathedrals of Europe or the glittering temples of Asia.
Nonetheless, there are quite a number of noteworthy edifices of special interest to the faith traveler or those simply seeking inspiration. Among these are museums dedicated to religion, historic churches, mosques and temples — and even a theme park based on religion.
Here's our take on the top 10 American religious attractions.
St. Patrick's Cathedral
New York, New York
Inspired by the great cathedrals of Europe, St. Patrick's possesses an Old World grandeur that's rather rare in the Big Apple. Its neo-Gothic design features soaring spires, an elaborate marble facade and colorful stained-glass windows.
Replacing a church of the same name, St. Patrick's Cathedral opened its doors in 1879 to help accommodate the city's burgeoning Catholic population. The cathedral is an iconic oasis of quiet amid the frenetic surroundings of midtown Manhattan. The church welcomes visitors, and free guided group tours can be arranged during weekdays.
New York, New York
Manhattan is home to another important religious landmark — the 1929 Temple Emanu-El — one of the largest Jewish temples in the world. With a cavernous sanctuary that stands 103 feet tall, 100 feet wide and 175 feet long, the temple can accommodate 2,500 worshipers.
Temple Emanu-El's interior is nothing short of stunning. The ceiling is colorfully gilded and painted, its arches are lined with glass and marble mosaics, and there are some 60 stained glass windows. The temple, located at 5th Avenue and 65th Street, is open to visitors, free of charge, from Sunday through Thursday.
Billy Graham Library
Charlotte, North Carolina
The Rev. Billy Graham's recent passing at age 99, followed by his burial at the 20-acre library site, will no doubt result in a dramatic increase in visitation to this pastoral setting near Charlotte where Graham grew up. Styled after a dairy barn and featuring an entrance shaped like a cross, the library is a testament to the evangelistic work of Graham — whose preaching spanned more than 50 years and spread the gospel to hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Library visitors can retrace Graham's ministerial mission through multimedia presentations, exhibits and photos. They also will gain some understanding of Graham's roots by touring the carefully restored home where he lived as a boy.
Shambhala Mountain Center
Red Feather Lakes, Colorado
A magnificent 108-foot-tall stupa decorated with gold leaf stands at the center of this 600-acre Buddhist retreat in the mountains 50 miles northwest of Fort Collins a rare site to be sure in this remote Colorado mountain setting.
Founded by a Tibetan monk in 1971, Shambhala hosts retreats, meditation classes and programs led by some of Buddhism’s leading teachers. The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, designed to promote harmony and convey blessings, features a large golden statue of a Buddha along with some exquisite paintings and symbolic decorations.
Guests can stay overnight at the center's retreat campus where accommodations range from lodge rooms with private baths to economically priced seasonal tents. Meals, with vegetarian options, are included. The stupa is usually open to day visitors, but call or check the center's website before arriving.
Museum of the Bible
Following its debut in November 2017, the Museum of the Bible has taken its place at the heart of the nation's largest concentration of museums. Founded by Hobby Lobby CEO Steve Green at a cost of more than $500 million, the impressive new edifice covers 430,000 square feet on eight floors.
A diverse set of exhibits include both high-tech — 20 video theaters and a number of interactive exhibits — and ancient, including the world's second-largest private collection of Dead Sea Scroll fragments, first editions of the King James Bible and an early copy of Psalms translated into Greek. The complex also features a ballroom, a garden, restaurants, a gift shop and a 427-seat performing arts hall.
Although seen by some as a bit overzealous in pursuit of his evangelical beliefs, Green insists the museum is nonsectarian in presenting "evidence that the Bible is true," and that its goal is to make it accessible and engaging to all people, regardless of their religious beliefs.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Logging nearly 5 million visitors annually, Temple Square is not only the number one visitor attraction in Utah — but it also is America's most visited religious site. Occupying three square blocks in downtown Salt Lake City, Temple Square is world headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — in short, the Mormons.
Far more than a religious icon, it is a collage of fascinating history, dramatic architecture and family entertainment. Open free of charge every day of the year and staffed by hundreds of volunteers and missionaries, the square hosts guided tours and presentations featuring historic sites, art displays and special exhibits in a setting replete with parks and gardens.
Main attractions include the Family Search Center, home to the world's largest genealogical library, and performances by the celebrated Grammy and Emmy award-winning Mormon Tabernacle Choir & Orchestra.
Islamic Center of America
Dearborn's Islamic Center of America is North America's largest mosque, and it's the oldest Shia mosque in the United States. The sprawling 65,000-square-foot complex serves nearly 5,000 families in a city with one of the largest Arab-Muslim populations in the country.
The mosque's distinct design was inspired by venerable houses of worship in Turkey and India and features an intricately carved stone facade topped by a 10-story-tall minaret. Inside, visitors marvel at its crystal chandeliers, a prayer room decorated with Islamic motifs and calligraphy of Quranic verses created by a Lebanese artist.
Visitors are nearly always impressed by the mosque’s beauty — and most are surprised by its openness. The center is open daily to visitors of all faiths, and free tours can be scheduled on its website.
El Santuario de Chimayó
Chimayó, New Mexico
This simple 200-year-old adobe church ensconced behind a walled courtyard and wooden gates in a tiny village near Santa Fe is sometimes described as the Lourdes of North America. Attracting nearly 300,000 visitors per year, many of whom come seeking healing, Chimayó is the most important Catholic pilgrimage site in the United States. As such, it is registered as a National Historic Landmark.
Pilgrims come to collect soil said to have curative powers from a spot in a small room called el pocito (the little well) that is associated with the miraculous discovery of a crucifix in 1810. The walls are covered with crutches, photographs and other tokens left by those crediting the shrine for cures. There’s a small museum on site featuring art exhibits and displays depicting the shrine's history.
A good time to visit Chimayó is during Easter Week when thousands of foot-weary pilgrims converge at the shrine.
Holy Land Experience
Located at the epicenter of theme parks, here's one with a really different theme. At Holy Land, visitors are enveloped in the sights and sounds of a biblical world — swept away to ancient Jerusalem — some 7,000 miles afar and 2,000 years back in time. The park's buildings and exhibits reflect — with a fair degree of accuracy — the architecture, setting and way of life of the Holy City at the time of Jesus.
Detailed reproductions of the Garden Tomb, Qumran Dead Sea Caves, Wilderness Tabernacle and the Great Temple and Plaza help visitors understand their biblical significance. Holy Land's most outstanding feature is the gleaming, white-and-gold, six-story Grand Temple, which was the center of religious life in Jerusalem. The Temple Plaza out front hosts musical performances, presentations and other events.
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