Author: Philip Carr-Gomm
French edition: Editions de l’Oeuvre
German edition: National Geographic
Bulgarian edition: Uniscorp
Czech edition: Nakladatelstvi Brana
Publication date: 2008, 2nd Edition 2011
Journeys to sacred places or shrines undertaken as acts of religious veneration or penance have been a feature of religious observance from the earliest times. Ancient religions had holy sites, temples and groves, such as Delphi and Dodona in Greece, where oracles and their priestesses were reputed to be able to tell the future. Even older is Stonehenge – whose original religious purpose is still shrouded in mystery – and the Pyramids of Giza which stand in the Egyptian desert, defying all attempts to fathom their mysteries.
During the medieval period Christian pilgrimage – to Jerusalem, Rome, Constantinople and Santiago de Compostela – was a sacred obligation and a trial of faith. On the other side of the Eurasian landmass, the Golden Temple and Dome of the Rock became two of the holiest sites of the Sikh and Islamic faiths, with pilgrimage to Mecca, or hajj, becoming one of the Five Pillars of Islam.
Whether for reasons of divine providence, immemorial tradition or sheer visual power, certain locations have long been imbued with a sense of spiritual significance. Philip Carr-Gomm tells the stories of 50 sacred sites across all five continents, including sites venerated by all of the major religions.
Many of the world’s holiest sanctuaries and landscapes are here examined in a series of concise, informative and lavishly illustrated essays.
Involving, instructive and steeped in spiritual insight, Sacred Places offers a dramatic and distinctive perspective on more than six millennia of world history.
“I am really enchanted with your book. As I turn the pages I feel I am actually present at each place. I’ve not had this experience with a book before.” Francis Cameron, Reviewer
“Lavishly illustrated and packed with information, this book is guaranteed to raise curiosity and will provide inspiration for trips both at home and abroad.” Daily Express
“Besides having personally visited hundreds of sacred places all across the planet I am a keen collector of books on the subjects of sacred sites and pilgrimage traditions. This book, Sacred Places by Philip Carr-Gomm, is one of the very best yet published. The photographs are superb and the text is also fine. I highly recommend this book to everyone. Artists, architects, historians, photographers, travelers and so many other people will greatly enjoy owning it.” Martin Gray, author of Sacred Earth
“This is a wonderful book, a spiritual guide to centres of pilgrimage the world over. Here we are offered full page colour photographs, a tiny map for orientation, an informative time line, and words of wisdom leading to a sharing of inherent transcendence. More than that it is a multi-facetted shrine to contemplation visualisation meditation and exploration of the depths of the inner self. Pause awhile at each opening portal and we are actually in the place, listening to the silence, wrapt in the presence of the Holy Ones.” Francis Cameron, Review for Pentacle Magazine
“This is a surprising book in several ways. On first glance it appears to be a coffee-table travelogue: it is 11 x 9 inches, and every one of its 256 pages is dominated by photography (albeit extraordinarily beautiful photography). Some of the sacred places Philip has selected are those which you may expect to see, such as Stonehenge, and the Pyramids of Giza. Others are less well known yet equally wonderful, such as Lake Funduzi, in South Africa, the Ellora Caves in India (a favourite of mine!), and Mount Tongariro in New Zealand. Yet there is a lot more here than what may be found in other books of its kind. What Philip has attempted to do, successfully I think, is expand the understanding of what a sacred place is. Three particular ways stand out in my mind.
The first is that a sacred place need not be “discovered” It can also be created. Certainly, there are places which seem to call out to humanity, and appear as if they have magic whether or not people acknowledge it. Mountain heights like Kilimanjaro, Denali, and special lakes like Walden Pond or the Source of the Blue Nile, are included for this reason. But it is also the case that some places have become sacred because of human activity: perhaps it is the location of a traditional ceremony or an important historical event. Perhaps it is the site of an temple or other edifice of human hands. He therefore includes impressive cathedrals and monuments such as Santiago de la Compostela, and Mecca, and a few that are partially in ruins now, such as the Oracle of Delphi, and the Temples of Malta.
That point may seem obvious to some. The second, more original point that Philip raises, is that a sacred place need not be ancient. He has therefore included the Temples of Humanity in Damanhur, Italy, and the Tarot Garden, also in Italy. Indeed in his introduction he describes a parkland in Wellington, New Zealand, which enchanted him with its beauty. He also noted signs that other people found the park to be most magical, as there is a clearing where people leave offerings of feathers, prayer-ties, and the like, on the trees. Yet the park was built on a reclaimed rubbish dump. Part of his purpose here, I think, is not just to draw attention to these wonderful places. It is also to assert the case that a sacred place can be very new, and it need not be any less sacred because of its youth. I find this an encouraging thought.
The third is that a sacred place is not always entirely peaceful. Philip describes not only the wonder and beauty of each site he describes. He also mentions that many of them have long been the site of some terrible conflicts, and even of wars. Sometimes the conflict concerns who or which group controls the site, or who is (or is not) allowed in. It may concern environmental degradation. It may even have to do with political conflict from ethnic tension to outright warfare. Philip describes the legal and political problems associated with Bear Butte, in South Dakota. A federal court ruled that the land had been seized from the Lakota Nation illegally, and ordered the government to pay damages. The Lakota refused the money, as they wanted their sacred homeland back. This fight for justice continues to this day. Philip also describes how Luang Prabang, a World Heritage city in Laos, is threatened by the extreme poverty of local inhabitants, and the consequences of a secret war that the USA fought against Laos during the Vietnam era. Philip describes the message of the Kogi people, the indigenous nation that lives in the Sierra Nevada northern Columbia, concerning the environmental disaster taking place there. A sacred place is not “apart from the world” in the sense that it is immune from invasion. I think this is a socially and religiously important insight, and deserves to be acknowledged in the unapologetic way that the author does. Indeed I think he shows great respect to these sites by not white-washing away the problems, and by presenting the social and environmental situation of many of these sacred places as it really is.
Overall, I’m most delighted to recommend this book to anyone. I think it may make excellent Yuletide gift-giving, especially for people who may want to visit these places but cannot afford to travel. And for those who can, let Philip Carr-Gomm suggest a few unusual and less well known but equally amazing places to visit. For the whole of the world is wonderful – if only we look around.” Dr Brendan Myers, author of The Other Side of Virtue, A Pagan Testament, Mysteries of Druidry, and Dangerous Religion
“Philip Carr-Gomm has researched and formulated a fascinating book and managed to visually present it in a most vivid way. Over millennia man has had the need to create holy sites, or to find them and then imbue profound spiritual meaning in them. This phenomenon continues to this day, as in the case of the Temples of Humankind in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. The author has explored these amazing places, held dear by all religions and cultures, and on all continents. Some of the sacred places I have known about, but not seen in such a visual way, while many new surprises came my way as well. I appreciated the time-line boxes on each chapter, seeing that they quickly put things in context, and I also enjoyed the emphasis on shorter text, but strong visual appeal. I am now inspired to delve deeper into certain sacred sites. This inspiring and interesting book delights as it illustrates the point that the journey of learning never ends.” Silke Erasmus, Odyssey Magazine, South Africa
“Tourism is this day and age’s dirty word, with rightful concern for the environmental impact of travel looming over alluring vacation plans. In this line of thinking, spiritual journeys pose a special quandary, writes Philip Carr-Gomm for Resurgence.
‘Our desire to visit sacred places has resulted in the creation of yet another industry that is pushing us to the brink of environmental collapse,’ Carr-Gomm writes. ‘And yet doesn’t visiting sacred sites help us to appreciate our world? . . . Isn’t pilgrimage often a key component in many religions and an important spiritual practice in itself? . . . How can we honor these concepts and respect the Earth at the same time?’
Carr-Gomm has done serious thinking about the matter. He is the author of Sacred Places, a book detailing 50 spiritual and religious sites around the world. In the book, he endeavors to include both the ups and downs of any particular location. ‘Like any relationship, our interaction with sacred sites can either be harmful or beneficial, depending on the awareness brought to the relationship,’ he writes.
To foster awareness, Carr-Gomm proposes building our relationships with sacred sites at the ‘soul level’. Visit them when one must, but focus on ‘building the bond primarily in the soul world and in consciousness.’ Make use of Google Earth, virtual museums, and other rich writing and photography on the Internet – the wealth of information that, in part, is responsible for spurring this unprecedented interest in traveling to spiritual sites in the first place.
And if reinterpreting armchair travel isn’t satisfying spiritual hunger, well, Carr-Gomm has another idea: ‘We can turn our attention to our own landscapes – take care of a local sacred site, clearing it of rubbish and visiting it often.’ ” Julie Hanus for The Utne Reader