The Worldâ€™s 6 Most Important Pilgrimage Sites
Throughout history, man has always been on a quest to find God and spiritual guidance. Every year, regardless of religion and social status, millions of people set off on long journeys to various sacred sites, in hope of finding answers and peace of mind. Letâ€™s have a look at the most famous pilgrimage sites of the worldâ€™s major religions:
Known as the place where Gutama Buddha attained nirvana, Bodh Gaya is the most important pilgrimage site for Buddhists. After many painful and exhausting attempts to achieve enlightenment, Buddha supposedly succeeded after a long period of meditation under a tree. Today, a direct descendant of that very tree is one of the two major attractions of Bodh Gaya.
The other place of interest is the Mahabodhi Temple, a pyramid-like structure built in the 3rd century BC. Over 2,000 Buddhist followers visit Bodh Gaya every day, venturing through one of Indiaâ€™s most dangerous areas, to reach this spiritual oasis.
Often referred to as the Wailing Wall or Kotel, this is all thatâ€™s left of Jerusalemâ€™s Second Temple. Built in the time of Herod the Great, it replaced the First Temple, constructed by King Solomon and destroyed by invading Babylonians. Unfortunately, the Second temple was also demolished, this time by the Romans, who left the Western wall standing as a constant reminder of their power.
Located in the Old City of Jerusalem, this sacred site is visited by millions of Jews every year. They cry over the destruction of the old temple, pray and insert written wishes in the crevices of the Western Wall. As you can imagine, they fill up pretty fast and have to be emptied constantly.
Itâ€™s hard to believe this small French town, at the bottom of the Pyrenees Mountains, is one of the most important pilgrimage sites on earth. It all began in 1858, when an 18 year old illiterate girl by the name of Bernadette Soubirous allegedly saw The Virgin Mary 18 times here. By 1859 thousands of Christians were already flocking to Lourdes.
Nowadays, this tiny settlement welcomes over 8 million Roman-Catholic pilgrims every year. They come for both spiritual and physical healing as the water from the Lourdes springs are believed to have healing powers. Lourdes has the largest number of hotels in France, after Paris.
Mecca is known as the birthplace of the Prophet Mohammed and considered the holiest of Muslim cities, followed by Medina. One of the Five Pillars of Islam suggests all Muslims should journey to Mecca, at least once in their lives, provided they are physically able.
Over 2.5 million followers come to Mecca annually and perform specific rituals. One of the most important is the circling of the Kaâ€™ba, a dark-square structure where Mohammed supposedly preached for the first time. Members of other religions arenâ€™t allowed into the city, for fear they would taint its sanctity.
Often called the â€œGarden of the Virginâ€, Mount Athos is a self-governing mountainous area in northeastern Greece. According to Orthodox history, the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist were sailing through the area, on their way to Lazarus, on Cyprus. As soon as the Blessed Virgin set foot on Athos, she asked Jesus to make this place Her Garden. From that moment on, Mount Athos would be off limits to all women, except the Mother of God.
The ban is still in place today and men who want access to the 20 Orthodox monasteries scattered on the mountain have to obtain a special pass. In these monasteries, monks encourage pilgrims to engage in contemplation and meditation. Around 350,000 Orthodox devotees travel to Mount Athos every year.
The religious importance of Varanasi is closely related to its location, on the west bank of the River Ganges. It is considered the most sacred place of all Hindus and is one of Indiaâ€™s major cultural centers. Varanasi is known as the city of temples, with every major road crossing in the city having a temple close by.
Over 1 million Hindu worshipers travel to Varanasi every year and gather on the cityâ€™s ghats (river shores stepped for easier access). Devotees believe bathing in the water of the Ganges and dying in the holy city of Varanasi releases their souls from the cycle of regeneration and grants them a permanent place in heaven.