Sacred Sites and Sacred Spaces

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The largest of the at least 30 and upward of religions based around Joseph Smith, Jr.

Due to the way that the early Saints were driven from Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, their property has fallen into other hands. Despite a rocky beginning, the Church and the Community of Christ share the area with joint services during special times of the year. The Community of Christ allows the Church to hold meetings in the building, and in return, the Church has funded a replacement roof. Other than a small temple built on the edge of the lot, the area is just a large expanse of lawn.


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All religions that trace their lineage through the Old Testament—Christianity, Islam, and Judaism—consider this a holy place. Both a Greek Orthodox church and a mosque sit on the site of divine revelation. The Temple Mount, the purpose for centuries of crusades, is also where these three faiths intersect.

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The Jewish religious traditions extend back the furthest on the Temple Mount. Hindus believe that Lord Shiva founded the city. In order to explore the spiritual dimension of these sites, the paper first examines the conceptualisation of spirituality, particularly in relation to healing. Particular emphasis is placed on the work of Gesler This is the focus of the main section of the paper in which I explore the history of these sites and their significance as sites of healing in a spiritual context.

The 19 Most Stunning Sacred Places Around the World

The spiritual dimension of therapeutic sites involves teasing out understandings of spirituality. In examining therapeutic landscapes of spiritual significance, this paper defines spirituality as person- and place-centred, a means of interdependence, mutuality and connection. Such imaginations are contingent upon connection. Spiritual experience is not necessarily religious nor is it always faith-based, and what we might call spiritual experiences of place are often perceived as traversing body and land.

Spiritual dimensions of human experience range across faith-based systems of belief, ethical and moral beliefs in standards of human behaviour and heightened sense of purpose. This may also include cultural understandings of what constitutes goodness and strong feelings of compassion and love. Spiritual experience can also include momentary levels of heightened awareness of well-being induced by a variety of physical and non-physical actions, from meditation to evangelical, performative acts of prayer.

It is possible for a strongly religious person to have a spiritual experience that does not directly involve any faith-based activity. Similarly, those with no faith-based practices or beliefs may be moved by participation in religious activity. Tanyi examines understandings of spirituality through a discussion of nursing practice and the spiritual needs of patients. Her conclusions are that spirituality:.

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It entails connection to self-chosen religious beliefs, values and practices that give meaning to life, thereby inspiring and motivating individuals to achieve their optimal being. This connection brings faith, hope, peace and empowerment… and the ability to transcend beyond the infirmities of existence. Although the above definition is largely based on religious experience, the concept of spirituality as a personal search for meaning and purpose in life is useful in that it connects with ideas about hope and the value of life beyond mere existence. Those who seek greater meaning in life may look for this by engaging in practices that promote ethical behaviour, compassion-focused volunteering, environmental campaigning and physical labour used to improve the lives of others or the natural environment Muirhead ; Gesler Such activities, beliefs and values encompass a spiritual and spatial dimension, a desire to move beyond the everyday, to live those values in particular ways that may be of benefit to other humans, animals or the environment.

None of these practices may be connected at all with religious beliefs, but they have a spiritual dimension. The environmental volunteers experienced spiritual awareness through their physical labour and emotional engagement with particular sites. The performative nature of pilgrimage and the spiritual practice of seeking a sacred space beyond the everyday Stump , allow for an expression of spiritual practice that gives access to spaces beyond the limits of daily life. Travel to particular sites in a quest for healing can also involve action as a belief or hope in the value of that site.

Motivations and lived experience are expressed in multiple ways from spiritual or medical need to the recreational aspects of the journey Williams Anne de Beaupre in Canada examines the multiple connections and outcomes for pilgrims to the shrine. Williams identifies the complexity of the material, symbolic and social aspects of the therapeutic experiences of the pilgrims.

The landscape itself offers retreat from daily routine in similar ways to the experiences of the environmental volunteers described above. Spiritually significant experiences can occur in a number of ways, then, as identified in the literature and in many different forms and settings.

Common threads among spiritual experiences are the recognition of some greater meaning or dimension to life, emotional engagement at some deeper level, even if momentary, a sense of purpose and the connection of all of these elements with well-being, whether physical, emotional or both. That such experiences are often connected to place and indeed, particular places, are of interest to a spatially sensitive medical humanities. That such connection may also be related to an experience of physical or emotional trauma such as illness, bereavement or disruption in some way has led humans to ascribe meaning to particular places for the possibilities they may promise in alleviating these problems: places are significant in the search for healing, hope, retreat and resolution of one form or another Gesler , It became a well-established concept for geographers and social science researchers Williams , ; Rose ; Foley In these circumstances, the fictional therapeutic landscapes are a conduit for writers, a quest for healing that is served by developing imagined worlds.

For some writers, their fictional therapeutic landscapes are retreats from emotional and psychological difficulty, and their landscapes, while therapeutic, may also be landscapes of turmoil. They may be imaginary landscapes, but they are no less complicated than actual, physical landscapes Philo The nature of the therapeutic landscapes may vary, but the performative nature of the quest in each case has some similarity. Just as the pilgrim sets out on a journey, reaching particular stages leaving behind, setting out and return writers, too, journey through differing stages, performing different acts.

Writers leave behind and set out as they commence their work, journeying and arriving at their new world, their created place and returning once the work is complete Schmidt There is, then, a range of ways we can understand therapeutic landscapes. It is spirituality, however, that Williams identifies as the most challenging aspect of therapeutic landscapes, owing to the subjective nature of spirituality and the need for critical reflection on it. As the concept of the therapeutic landscape has extended beyond mainstream health settings such as hospitals so has the concept of what constitutes healing.

Those associated with the cult of sainthood offer healing attributed to particular historical figures. Healing can also be sought in alleviation, not only of bodily symptoms but also of grief. Memorials and shrines offer comfort and sites of meaning-making to the bereaved. Miller and Crabtree ; Maddrell All of these examples are ones bound up with spirituality of some form or another. Sacredness, spirituality, faith, religion and belief are all terms that jostle about in work by geographers.

It is hard to separate these out when puzzling through the significance of such concepts in relation to healing and place. Spiritual beliefs need not necessarily have formation under the umbrella of organised religion, but they may do so or may have their derivation from personal experience of faith-based communal worship in a number of ways, from attendance at various communal rituals to a loose, childhood connection with church-going.

It is impossible to separate the strands of individual belief and worship from communal practice and institutionalised ritual. At therapeutic sites of spiritual significance, even for those who have no particular belief or adherence to a faith tradition, they may see spiritual benefit from the site or from the activities enacted there. Meaning-making and place in the form of religion, particularly organised religion, is another aspect of belief that has led to renewed investigation by geographers. And while the study of religion is not necessarily the study of spirituality or of the sacred or the divine, it is nonetheless an important aspect of geographical enquiry and the same could be said of spirituality.

While these concepts belief, spirituality, religion are not interchangeable, they are relational. For Kong, sacred places are also contested spaces, where it is the making of a particular place into a sacred space that is worth investigation. Assumptions about spirituality and particular faiths may not stand up to the evidence to be found at particular sites or practices. As Brace, Bailey, and Harvey explain, the taken-for-grantedness about the interplay of power and religion as tools of the state is often in evidence without deeper exploration of the complexities of individual and collective spirituality and ideas about sacred space.

It is the locational and relational interplay of such meanings that contribute to the significance of a site. Such webs of meaning allow for complex and nuanced responses to the landscapes. Spiritual landscapes, as Dewsbury and Cloke identify them, are slightly different from sacred spaces. For the authors, spiritual landscapes have the capacity to develop a sense of community while not necessarily being sites regarded as sacred.

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The use of a term such as spiritual landscapes in this paper is envisaged as a broad vista in which unbelief and perplexity share space with past and present practices, with wider manifestations of what it means to experience spirituality. Sacred spaces are part of the spiritual landscape. The spiritual landscape of a monastery, for example, or a place of retreat, such as the Bield, introduced below, may be religious in derivation and even sacred but the response of visitors may vary.

While they might relish the stillness and peace, visitors may not be particularly touched by the sacred in these settings. What follows is an attempt to provide a framework for perspectives on therapeutic landscapes of spiritual significance.


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Using participant observation over two to three days in summer , two sites in Perthshire were visited. The two sites are introduced and described with the subsequent section a summary discussion of key emergent themes from both. The sites explored for this paper are both in Perthshire. The first site, Killin, has a long history of healing associated with Saint Fillan and the second site, the Bield, is a contemporary venue, an older house and environs recently developed as a site of retreat. Both sites attract visitors and guests and both are associated with both spirituality and with healing.

Saint Fillan is said to be the son of Saint Kentigerna and is often credited with bringing the two ethnic groups of the Picts and the Scots together through religious conversion. Perthshire abounds with places associated with Fillan Taylor who is thought to have founded a monastery in Strathfillan close to Kirkton Farm near the falls of Glen Dochart.

The site at Killin that is of particular focus in this research is the village of Killin. In Killin there is an ancient mill that houses the healing stones of Saint Fillan [see Fig. The mill is now the Breadalbane folklore centre, housing a display upstairs devoted to Saint Fillan and his life. The healing stones, located on the ground floor, are available for use upon request and comprise eight, river washed stones laid on a bed of river wrack and straw.

Traditionally the stones were selected by those seeking healing to match the particular part of the body that was ailing. Although use varies, staff at the centre have indicated that the stones are usually passed three times one way around the affected area and three times the other way. People continue to visit the centre to use the stones and come from abroad as well as from the village itself. One of the features of healing associated with Saint Fillan is the distinctiveness of its location. The site of Killin is for bodily ailments, and the Holy Pool near Glen Dochart is associated with illnesses that are psychological in nature.

Although both places form part of the cult of Saint Fillan in the area, their therapeutic value remains distinctive. Those who seek healing at either place need not necessarily profess Christian faith. The components of health performance are shaped here, as Foley has asserted in his work: by bodies, cultures, spaces and economics. While the site is small and the folklore centre struggles to stay open each year, the economics of Killin are intertwined with the mill and the presence of the healing stones.

Additionally, there is renewal enacted through repeated visits and a continuity of practice that is played out in the ritual use of the stones and in the particular rituals in place for caring for the stones. There is also the public element of healing as enacted in these spaces devoted to Saint Fillan for each location is open to the public. The mill site is embedded in the everyday. Staff routinely use the stones, as do local residents.

Sacred Sites, Sacred Places | Taylor & Francis Group

The geography of the area has played an important role in the continuity of the cult of Saint Fillan and the healing associated with his presence in the area. As Taylor points out, the medieval parish of Killin was on the main thoroughfare between the Western Highlands and the central belt. Travel through the area and endorsement from King Robert I ensured the continuation in seeking healing from the healing stones of Saint Fillan and the holy pool, as well as diffusing information about their presence in the area.

As a therapeutic landscape of spiritual significance, Killin demonstrates continuity of practice. The association with Saint Fillan and his ability as a healer as well as the cult of Saint Fillan in the wider area of Perthshire is embedded not only in the form of the healing stones and the cultural display at Breadalbane mill but also in the bodies of those who use the stones and those who visit the site. The openness with which the healing stones are displayed and allowed for use by visitors and local inhabitants is important to the experiences of healing at the mill.

As the tourist literature at the Mill suggests, people have been visiting the site for centuries in order to use the stones. Staff at the centre claim that they themselves use the stones regularly with frequent success, while they also recorded regular local visitors calling in to use the stones and reporting back a therapeutic outcome. When compiling information on the abandoned places, Joffe relied on extensive research in libraries and online. It's not always easy, he says, to discern the facts -- particularly about buildings from centuries gone by. He'd come across different dates and numbers, plus historical theories are constantly changing.

Once he'd confirmed the information, Joffe had to compile his findings into a concise and informative paragraph. It was abandoned in the 18th century and sliced in two by a storm in There are common themes in the history of the places -- such as regime changes rendering religious sites extraneous. In many Eastern European countries, for example, churches closed during the Communist era. The then-Communist government planned to repurpose the building, but it never happened -- instead, it was abandoned following the collapse of the Communist regime.

Another commonality was ancient religious sites acting as kinds of calendars, like Stonehenge:. Today we take that for granted, but the temple, the sacred place, was actually a marker of time as well. It's important, however, not to lump all the places into one category, says Joffe. Most of all, he wanted to go "beyond the generalities -- [into] each individual story of each building, in terms of architecture and the people who are there [ A year of the world's Best Beaches There's a perfect beach for every week of the year. Join us on a month journey to see them all Go to the best beaches.

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