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3 Tutorials that teach Holy Places
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Holy Places

Holy Places

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This lesson will discuss the importance of places and spaces seen as holy by a variety of religious traditions.

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Tutorial

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Welcome to this tutorial on holy places. In this tutorial, we will be looking at sites throughout the world that various religions look at as special places, places with religious significance, places that might be considered sacred. Usually, holy places are places of pilgrimage-- that is, places where believers go to renew their faith, to mark an important transition in their life, or to confirm their belief in a particular tradition. So we could say holy places are places of special religious significance. They're places of pilgrimage. They're important for bolstering faith. And they're often tied to historical events, events in the lives of a founding figure, for example.

Let's take a look at Christianity. What that comes to mind first of all in Christianity is the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, the way of sorrows, which is a route in Jerusalem's old city that traces the path where pilgrims believe that Jesus carried his cross. So they stop along the way to commemorate various different parts of the gospel crucifixion story.

Or Bethlehem, which is today in the Palestinian West Bank, the place of Jesus' birth and today the site of the Church of the Nativity. This is an important part of the economy in Palestine, because it's a major source of tourism.

Lots of other different shrines in Christianity. One of the ones that I find most interesting is the Chapel of the tablet, which is an Askum, Ethiopia. Ethiopian Christians maintain that this is where the Ark of the Covenant is held, that the queen of Sheba brought it back to Ethiopia after her liaison with King Solomon. So supposedly, the ark is still there and it's being guarded by a monk 24 hours a day. You can actually go in and see it, but lots of people go to just visit.

The most sacred places for Judaism are on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the site of the first and second temples. The Wailing Wall is the last remnant of that temple where Jews go to pray. And the Dome of the Rock, or more properly, the rock inside the dome inside of what is now a mosque. The rock is the place where Jews believe that Abraham was led by God to sacrifice Isaac-- or in the Muslim version of the story, it was Ishmail.

Of course, Abraham didn't go through with that sacrifice, because God provided a ram in the bush. At any rate, this is the place where God called Abraham to sacrifice Isaac or Ishmael, and at the last moment, just said, just kidding, you don't have to do that.

The most important sacred site in Islam-- I think Muslims would agree-- is the Kaaba. It's in Mecca in Saudi Arabia, where Muslim pilgrims go to circumambulate. At least one time in their life, they're supposed to walk around it seven times. And it is also the spot on the globe where Muslims are supposed to turn towards no matter where in the world they are. Muslims believe that the Kaaba is the site where Abraham and his sons built a temple for the worship of God, and that the stone itself actually came down from heaven.

Another important city which is also visited on the Hajj, the pilgrimage in Islam, is Medina, which just means the city. It used to be named Yathrib, but the prophet renamed it after the Hijra, which was when the prophet escaped from persecution in Mecca. He went to Medina. So Medina is the second city of Islam, and it is where some parts of the Koran were written. It is where the prophet died. And it is where some of the most important mosques in Islam are located.

So far, we have said that a holy place is a site that a religion considers to be especially important, and that frequently, holy places are places of pilgrimage for adherents of a particular religion. We examined some important places in Christianity, Islam, and in Judaism. In Christianity, we talked about the Via Dolorosa. We talked about Bethlehem. And we discussed the Chapel of the Tablet in Ethiopia. With Judaism, we talked about the Western Wall, or the Wailing Wall, and the Dome of the Rock, which is also a Muslim mosque. We discussed the Kaaba in Mecca, where Abraham, Isaac, and Ishmael worshipped God. We also talked about Medina, the second city that is very important to Islam.

We just have a few vocabulary terms-- Mecca, a holy city for Muslims, the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, the Hajj, pilgrimage that every Muslim who is able should take at least once in their lifetime. A pilgrimage is a sacred journey that can be either a physical journey to a particular place, or it could be a metaphorical journey. The Temple Mount is a significant place in Jerusalem for Jews, the location of the second temple. And the Kaaba is the most sacred house of worship located in Mecca, which is the most important place on earth for Muslims.

Notes on "Holy Places"

Terms to Know

Mecca

A holy city for Muslims; the birthplace of prophet Mohammed and the site where the Koran (Qur’an) was revealed. Muslims make a pilgrimage, or Hajj, to this city.

Hajj 

A pilgrimage, or journey, to the holy city of Mecca taken by Muslims to visit the Kaaba, a sacred shrine.

Pilgrimage

A sacred journey that may be completed physically seeking out a particular place, such as a shrine or important geographical location, or it could be a metaphorical journey.

Temple Mount

A significant place in Jerusalem for Jews.

Kaaba

In Islam, the most sacred house of worship, or mosque. Located in Mecca.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Kaaba

    In Islam, the most sacred house of worship, or mosque, located in Mecca.

  • Temple Mount

    A significant place in Jerusalem for Jews.

  • Pilgrimage

    A sacred journey that may be completed physically, seeking out a particular place, such as a shrine or important geographical location, or it could be a metaphorical journey.

  • Hajj

    A pilgrimage, or journey, to the holy city of Mecca taken by Muslims to visit the Kaaba, a sacred shrine.

  • Mecca

    A holy city for Muslims; the birthplace of prophet Mohammed and the site where the Koran was revealed. Muslims make pilgrimage, or Hajj, to this city.