Sacred Spaces

11011182_10207548361217952_1888521969474661684_nThe bimah is one of the main features of a synagogue. It is where the officiant reads from the Torah and leads the participants in turning towards Jerusalem in prayer. The bimah is used as a focal point during the service, as emphasized by its design and location in the synagogue. Sometimes it will be lit by skylight or framed by other designs in the synagogue to draw more attention toward it. The bimah table holds the scrolls, and this table is usually raised on a platform with a railing surrounding it. According to Nehemiah 8:4, Erza read the Law from a wooden pulpit; because of this, the bimah is supposed to be made of wood. The shape of the platform can vary depending on where and how old the synagogue is, ranging from square to octagonal. The positioning of the bimah also ranges across different denominations and time periods. It can be placed near the center of the synagogue, across the room from the ark, or even on a balcony. Based on the location of the bimah in relation to the ark determines the layout of the seating in the synagogue. This can change the interaction of the worshipers immensely. They can all be seated facing one another, or facing the bimah, or facing nothing. This could allow for a sense of community to be formed or for a more secluded individual style of prayer. 

Source: Carol Herselle Krinsky. “Ritual Arrangements.” in Synagogues of Europe: Architecture, History, Meaning, 21-24. Toronto: General Publishing Company, 1985.



191296019The Sretensky Monastery is a Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. Within the church there is an entrance (narthex), a place for the public to worship, and a sanctuary. The most important part of the sanctuary is the altar table, which is placed in the middle. Offerings are made in celebration of the Eucharist. Worshipers need to receive a special blessing in order to enter the sanctuary. The only women that can enter a sanctuary are nuns in convents. Altar boys are able get a permanent invitation from the priest. The altar table is also referred to the holy table and throne.
Source: Joy Neumeyer, “A Guide to the Interior of a Russian Orthodox Church.” The Moscow News (4 Mar 2013). Accessed Sept 24, 2015.


12036842_10208130339880474_3021290324233963766_nThe Royal Doors in a Russian Orthodox Church are located in the center of the sovereign (main) tier on the wall of iconostasis. Not only do these doors separate the sanctuary (where the service is given) from the nave (where worshipers gather), they are also where the Priest enters to bring the body and blood of Christ, as well as where he proclaims the word of the Gospel. Deacons, clergy members, and other men participating in the service must enter through the doors located on the left and right sides of the Royal Doors, known as the Deacons’ Doors. Royal Doors are usually decorated with either an icon of the Annunciation, in order to show the word of God in its physical from, Jesus Christ, or with icons of the Four Evangelists to represent the written word of God.

Source: “The Icons of the Iconostasis,” A Reader’s Guide to Orthodox Icons, Accessed Sept 25, 2015.


12027687_131580567196310_8731752251962573844_nJewish burial grounds in Rymanow andMszczonow, Poland, have beautiful, ancient, carved gravestones that have stood the ravages of time quite well. Internment of the dead is arguably the most significant sacred ritual that humans observe. While some faiths advocate cremation, most of the major monotheisms observe specific rites and bury their dead in specially consecrated ground. These rituals are so strongly invested in fundamental metaphysical assumptions that seemingly innocent inquiries from those outside the faith can have effects unforeseen by those not in the faith. An example of this can be seen in England, “So great a horror have the Jews for the burial of the dead anywhere except in the earth, that the Chief Rabbi of England absented himself from the occasion of a State National Thanksgiving, at which his official position entitled him to be present, not because it was held in St. Paul’s Cathedral, but because the Cathedral was a place of sepulture for the dead.”

Source: Bertram S. Puckle, Funeral Customs, 1926. Accessed Sept 25, 2015.



12038463_1189366197759124_1055928390978200420_nThe Mariazell Shrine was created on land donated to the Catholic Church in Mariazell, Austria 1157. The story surrounding the Mariazell Basilica is that a monk named Magnus founded the Cathedral and shrine on the location of a supposed miracle. After wandering through the woods the monk’s path was supposedly blocked by a large boulder. After praying with a small wooden statue of Mary which he wore around his neck, Magnus witnessed the Earth rumble and split the rock in two. Magnus and a group of monks later came back to the location to build the shrine and cathedral which still stand today after many renovations. This religious attraction is the most visited Marian shrine in Central Europe and compels nearly one million pilgrims to come worship at it each year. On September 13th the Mariazell Basilica celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Mariazell, which draws many worshippers as well.

Source: “Mariazell Shrine,” Sacred Destinations. Accessed Sept 25, 2015.


12063462_1100803359949468_5385207390230986554_nPodbrdo in Bosnia-Herzegovina has become a sacred site in recent years. A long, steep climb up to Podbrdo (or Apparition Hill) brings pilgrims and prayer groups to encounter Our Lady of Medjugorje (also known as the Queen of Peace Medjugorje). The apparitions of Our Lady of Medjugorje began on June 24, 1981, when six witnesses saw a woman on the top of the Podbrdo holding a child in her arms, beckoning them to her. They did not follow her instructions, but the next day four of the six witnesses climbed to the top of the hill where they recognized Our Lady of Medjugorje, and began to pray and speak with her. The visions given to these witnesses outline how to lead a spiritual life and guidance through prayer and God. For days, these apparitions continued and soon grew into a common place for those seeking peace through personal prayer and praying the rosary. Since 1981, many have claimed witness to Our Lady of Medjugorje. Podbrdo brings in crowds similar to that of Fatima, and thousands flood this sacred space every year. Today, a wooden cross stands in the place where the Queen of peace made a call for peace for the first time and a statue of her can be found outside of the parish church.
Sources: “Guide through the Shrine of the Queen of Peace Medjugorje.” Medjugorje (March 27, 2004). Accessed September 25, 2015.…/apparit…/docs-medjugorje-guide/3….
“Medjugorje Apparitions.” Medjugorje (April 5, 2005). Accessed September 25, 2015.…/app…/docs-medjugorje-apparitions/.
Image: “People at Podbrdo.” Medjugorje (June 27, 2007). Accessed September 25, 2015.…/app…/docs-medjugorje-apparitions/.


12039506_10153705310048291_2519893689664250797_nInside Saint Ivan’s Cave, located in Budapest, is the Cave Church founded in 1926 by a group of Pauline monks. The church served as a hospital and asylum during World War II. All of the monks were arrested by the Communist regime and the father of the church, Ferenc Vezer, was sentenced to death. In 1951, a large concrete wall was erected covering the entrance of the church, which reopened forty years later and was returned to the Pauline monks where it remains a church to this day. This cave was originally home to a monk by the name of Saint Istvan, who cured the sick by utilizing the thermal waters that sprung out in front of the cave. The chambers of the church serve as one of Budapest’s more popular attractions, but it is still a functioning worship space, with three masses being held each day. The Cave is closed for tourists on Sundays.

Source: “Cave Church, Budapest,” Sacred Destinations. Accessed Sept 24, 2015.

“Cave Church,” Visit Budapest.Travel. Accessed Sept 24, 2015.


10592687_162162097458763_1073946907122779654_nThe Church of St. Casimir the Prince is located in Krakow, Poland and was constructed in 1640. The Church is located in the Old Town District of Krakow and is adjacent to a Franciscan monastery and the catacomb, or an underground tunnel. The first church was destroyed in the Swedish invasion of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (commonly referred to as the Swedish Deluge). The church was reconsecrated approximately 30 years later and was rebuilt in the Baroque style. One unique aspect of the church is the “bell of the dying”, which is rung by the members of the Franciscan order, or the “Little Brothers”, when someone they know has passed away. Another  is the catacomb underneath it, which stores 1,000 bodies that have naturally mummified.

Source: “Church of St. Casimir the Prince,” Wikipedia. Accessed Sept 24, 2015.


11934982_1042703832409323_7216291238255966826_nSt. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow was erected on the orders of Ivan the Terrible after seizing Kazan from the Mongolians. According to the legend of its erection, Ivan the Terrible had the builders who built this blinded so they could not build anything greater than this. Architects speculate that the design of the building was meant to replicate and pay homage to the churches of Jerusalem. The original concept behind this particular cathedral has been lost due to renovations and new buildings added on to the original. There were talks during Russia’s soviet period about tearing St. Basil’s down, but those efforts were hindered by architect Pyotr Baranovsky, who sent an angry telegram to the Kremlin and in return got to keep his church, but received five years in prison. This Cathedral is now a museum with one church service a year on the Intercession in October.

Source: “St. Basil’s Cathedral,” Accessed Sept 24, 2015.


12038553_999841203407247_5079410842373938921_nA traditional Russian Orthodox church, the Church of the Savior on Blood was built to honor Tsar Alexander II and is build on the site of his murder on March 13, 1881. Construction for the church began in 1883 and was finished in 1907. The church was ransacked during the Russian Revolution in 1917. It was closed by the Soviets in 1930. During World War Two, the church was used as a food storage facility, which lead to the church name “Savior on Potatoes.” The church was not used for religious purposes again until July 1970, when Saint Issac’s Cathedral proceed to restore it. It was reopened in August of 1997. Today the church does not function as a worship area, but mainly a tourist attraction.

Source: “Church of the Savior on Blood, St. Petersburg,” Sacred Destinations. Accessed Sept 25, 2015.


12049196_1003019839737637_4858805839357275651_nThe Church of the Ascension in Kolomenskoye, Russia, was built in 1532 to celebrate the birth of Ivan IV. From its completion in 1532 until 1920, the church housed six different iconostases. While the church has been a popular religious site for most of its history, the rise of Communism led to the church’s designation as state property. The church survived under Communism as an important monument to Russian architectural development, with its tent-roofed design. The church currently acts as the patriarchal town residence under the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. Currently, religious services now take place on major Russian Orthodox holidays, while it maintains its role as a museum for the rest of the year.

Source: ” Church of the Ascension, Kolomenskoye,” UNESCO World Heritage Center. Accessed Sept 24, 2015.


12045594_1205282226164968_7433117893302724505_oThe Peter and Paul Cathedral, located in St. Petersburg, has enjoyed a long life as it is the oldest building in the city. Its’ spire reaches an incredible height of four hundred and four feet. The Cathedral currently serves as both a museum and a site for religious services, due to its historical significance and ornate architecture. It is an Orthodox cathedral, and as such features a very recognizable angel holding a cross atop the structure, and Holy Doors that are typical of the region.

Sources: “Peter and Paul Cathedral,” Sacred Destinations. Accessed Sept 25, 2015.

“Peter and Paul Cathedral,” Wikipedia. Accessed Sept 25, 2015.


12038497_2489007619574_7931495234209958371_nSt. Issac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia is the largest dedicated to Russian Orthodoxy in the city. Taking 40 years to build in the early nineteenth century, it is dedicated to Saint Isaac, the patron saint of Peter the Great. Under Soviet rule the cathedral was turned into a museum for atheism, but today has resumed worship only in the left side of the chapel. During World War II, the gold dome was painted to gray to prevent air attacks.

Sources: “St. Isaac’s Cathedral,” Sacred Destinations. Accessed Sept 25, 2015.

“Saint Isaac’s Cathedral – St. Petersburg, Russia,” Cannundrums. Accessed Sept 25, 2015.


12032132_1026440277374534_989490624452695851_nThe monastery and church of St. Sergius was opened by a Russian nobleman Sergius and his brother in 1340. They decided to open a small church outside the town of Sergiev Posad, Russia to dedicate their lives to the Holy Trinity. Monks and pilgrims joined them in building living cells to make it into a monastery. Sergius was also involved with Russian politics. In 1380, he blessed the grand prince Dmitri Donskoy and gave two of his monks to assist the prince against the Tatars in the Battle of Kulikovo. Because of Sergius’s blessings and dedication to Russia, he was made a saint by Ivan IV in 1422. However, when the Bolsheviks took over they devastated the monastery. In 1991, the monastery and cathedral were brought back to life again after Communism fell. Since then the Trinity of St. Sergius has remained a national symbol of the unity between Russia and Orthodoxy and many pilgrim to see the icon of Our Lady of Smolensky, St. Sergius’s tomb, and Sergius’s well. Also, the monastery serves as a school for the town of Sergiev Posad and houses 200 monks.

Sources: “Sacred Sites of Russia,” Places and Peace and Power. Accessed Sept 25, 2105.

” Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra,” Orthodox Wiki. Accessed Sept 25, 2015.


12011332_10206539296454326_3749513179203704627_nThe Church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, is one of the oldest and grandest churches in the world. It was originally a Byzantine church, but over time it has burned down and been and rebuilt. Emperor Justinian I rebuilt it with a complex dome basilica, thought of as imitating the dome of heaven itself. In 1453, it was converted to a mosque until the fall of the Ottoman Empire. During this time, minarets were built around the main structure and architectural support was added. It has now been changed into a museum celebrating both Islam and Christianity; the original murals have been restored yet the calligraphic disks and the mihrab remain.

Source: “Hagia Sophia, 532–37,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed Sept 25, 2015.


11222130_10203100704519037_9044569516052119864_nThe Greek Orthodox monastery at Agios Nikolaos Anapaphsas was founded in 1510. The monastery fell abandon by 1900 and only operated again for a short while after renovation in the 1960s. The monastery is now open to tourists in the summer. Agios Nikolaos Anapaphsas is most notable for its frescos painted by the leader of the Cretan school, Theophanes Strelitzas, who painted them in 1527 when he was a monk there. They are the first works to contain Theophane’s signature. The first floor of monastery contains the small Chapel of St. Anthony and the third floor contains the old refectory (now renovated as a reception hall), the ossuary, and the Chapel of John the Baptist.

Source: “Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery, Meteora,” Sacred Destinations. Accessed Sept 25, 2015.