Tourism and Religious Architecture

As the Lenten season approaches I often think of various cultures and their religion, including their house of worship; be it a Church, a Synagogue, a Temple, or simply under the stars.   

Imagine being able to travel and experience the beauty and diversity of many of these structures and buildings.  It would be like turning the pages of a great many history books.  The architectural wonders would certainly be worth the trip alone.

Notre-Dame, Paris Flickr Photo by Fabrice Terrasson

A well known religious structure is Notre Dame Cathedral, also known as

the Notre Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris in French).   This world renowned cathedral is also a popular tourist attraction located on the River Seine in Paris.  It is a Gothic Roman Catholic Cathedral and is considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in the world.  It was also one of the first buildings in the world to use arched exterior supports (referred to as the flying buttress).  Construction began in 1163, and was effectively completed around 1345, with many architects working on the cathedral.  For more details and photos visit www.notredamedeparis.fr

A little trivia:  An average of 40,000 people (about 14 million per year) visit the Notre Dame de Paris on a daily basis, and is one of the top 10 Paris tourist attractions. There is no cost to visit the Cathedral’s main hall; however, there is a nominal fee to visit the towers and archaeological crypt.  The best time to visit is during low season, between October-March.  With the exception of a few days, it is open throughout the year, although visitors’ circulation is partially interrupted during masses and services.  Many children are familiar with Notre Dame Cathedral, courtesy of Walt Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, a 1996 animated film.

I am reminded of the Taj Mahal when seeing the BAPS Shri Swaminaryan Mandir , a Hindu place of worship in Lilburn, Georgia.  It is the largest Hindu temple of its kind outside of India.  This temple is a marvel, unique in its construction, and built in the style of Naagri, which was indicative of 8th to 10th century India.  Nearly 35,000 pieces of stone were hand carved by craftsmen in India, from Indian pink sandstone, Italian marble and Turkish limestone, then shipped to the United States.  More than 1300 craftsmen and nearly a thousand volunteers (who gave more than 1.3 million volunteer hours) constructed the temple, much like a 3D puzzle. It was reassembled according to ancient dictate, without a single steel structure component in the building. 

 The Mandir features 86 decorative ceilings, five pinnacles (Shikhars), 116 archways (torans), and 391 pillars. *Intricate lighting was used in the design… “according to instructions for religious buildings written into the Sthapitya-shastra – architectural scriptures that are thousands of years old.” . . . 

Tours of the temple are available with advance reservation, but if you can’t travel to Lilburn, Georgia, then visit http://www.swaminarayan.org/ for an on-line tour.   *Also, to get more details of its construction and to learn more about the intricacies of the “temple of light,” visit http://www.architechweb.com/ArticleDetails/tabid/254/ArticleID/5609/Default.aspx 

A little trivia: BAPS has over 700 Mandirs worldwide.   . . . “Mandir is the name for a Hindu place of worship and prayer.  The word mandir is composed of two words, Man and Dir, whose meanings are mind and still, respectively.  Therefore, a mandir is a place where the mind becomes still, and a place where one can experience peace from worldly problems.” . . .

Salt Lake LDS Temple, Flickr photo by Simple Insomnia

Brigham Young broke ground for the Salt Lake City Temple of the Church of Latter-Day Saints in February 1853, and held its dedication and open house in April 1893.  The six spire design is suggestive of the Gothic style but is considered unique, distinctive and symbolic.  It was built with quartz monzonite (much like granite) quarried from Little Cottonwood Canyon located 20 miles from Salt Lake City, Utah.  It was closed in July 1962 for extensive renovation and reopened in May 1963.  Adjacent to the temple is the Tabernacle, home to the world renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which has drawn many visitors throughout the years.

To learn more, visit http://www.ldschurchtemples.com/saltlake/

Special Note: People who are interested in their family history may or may not be aware that the terms ‘family history’ and ‘genealogy’ are synonymous for Latter-Day Saints.  Affiliated with the Church of the Latter-Day Saints is the Genealogical Society of Utah, which has been collecting genealogical and historical information on rolls of microfilm since 1938.  The records are kept in the Granite Mountain Record Vault, carved from solid rock and located in the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon in Utah’s Wasatch Range.  The repository holds millions of feet of microfilmed genealogical records from around the world.

Today the Internet, through websites like www.ancestory.com, makes it easy for persons to search for their personal family history. 

A little Trivia: . . .” Temple Square in Salt Lake City is Utah’s most popular tourist destination. Part of its appeal lies in its accessibility: three city blocks in downtown Salt Lake City contain nearly 20 attractions related to Mormon pioneer history and genealogy, including the Salt Lake Temple, the Tabernacle, and the Family History Library.” . . . Every year the Mormon Tabernacle Choir celebrates the Christmas season before a live audience of 20,000 people each night.

Tourism is not just relegated to fun attractions and scenic places.  Visiting an historic site, with the specific purpose of visiting a religious house or place of worship certainly gives one food for thought.  What is more surprising is the fact that one does not have to visit places that are hundreds or a thousand years old, as attested by the BAPS Shri Swaminaryan Mandir in Lilburn, Georgia (part of greater Atlanta).  This breathtaking and awe-inspiring temple is a modern-day marvel, a little more than two years old. 

Is there a house of worship in your own community that depicts unusual architecture or is of historical significance?   Why not help us turn the pages of history in our own back yards as we share this information with one another.

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