Spiritual destinations are places where travelers can practice their faith, view religious art and architecture, or simply find serenity and solitude.
Some churches rank among the most-visited attractions in some cities. One example is St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, which hosts more than 5.5 million visitors annually. People travel from afar to other spiritual locales such as El Santuario de Chimayo (New Mexico) and Shambhala Mountain Center (Colorado).
The following are prominent destinations across the United States:
Ancient Spanish Monastery (North Miami Beach, FL; www.spanishmonastery.com)
• Built in the 12th century in the town of Sacramenia in Segovia, Spain, this medieval Spanish monastery cloister was dismantled and reconstructed in North Miami in the 1960s. It is one of the oldest buildings in the Western Hemisphere. The monastery is an active church as well as a hidden gem for the 10,000 tourists who visit each year.
Beth Sholom (Elkins Park, PA;
• Beth Sholom Congregation is the only synagogue designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis (St. Louis, MO; http://cathedralstl.org)
• The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, also known as the Saint Louis Cathedral, is a masterpiece of architecture, art, and history. Located in the Central West End area of St. Louis, the Roman Catholic Church was completed in 1914.
Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis King of France (New Orleans, LA;
• Overlooking iconic Jackson Square, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis King of France is the oldest continually used Catholic cathedral in the United States. Established in 1720, the original Cathedral burned and a second cathedral was built in its place in 1794. An 1849 restoration brought the church to its present state.
Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (New York, NY)
• Taking up an entire block and tall enough to hold the Statue of Liberty, this Episcopalian Cathedral is the second largest church in the world, trailing only St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is a 20-minute subway ride from Times Square.
Cathedral of Saint Andrew (Honolulu, HI)
• Located in Honolulu’s historic district, the Cathedral of St. Andrew serves as a reminder of Hawaii’s long Anglican (Episcopalian)-Hawaiian history. The Cathedral was completed in 1886 as a memorial to King Kamehameha IV.
Cathedral of Saint Paul (Saint Paul, MN)
• The Cathedral of Saint Paul was built in 1907 under the direction of Archbishop John Ireland, who saw a growing need for a larger place of worship in the area. The Beaux Arts-style Cathedral is now a major component of Saint Paul’s skyline. In
2012, the Vatican declared the site to have a “bond of spiritual affinity” with its sister church, the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. Thus, visiting the Cathedral is considered the same as making a spiritual pilgrimage to the Basilica in Rome itself. As a result, the Cathedral brings in tens of thousands of people who come to pray and admire the beautiful bronze grills that portray the major events in St. Paul’s life from his conversion story to his eventual martyrdom for the church.
SPIRITUAL & RELIGIOUS SITES in USA Photo Gallery
Christ Church (Philadelphia, PA)
• Founded in 1695, Christ Church was the first Protestant Episcopal church in the United States and is still active. George Washington and Ben Franklin attended services at Christ Church.
El Santuario de Chimayo (near Espanola, NM)
• El Santuario de Chimayo was built in 1813 over a place that legend claimed as holy. Chimayo is a National Historic Landmark; some 200,000 people are estimated to visit each year. According to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe,
Chimayo has been called the “Lourdes of America.”
Grace Cathedral (San Francisco, CA)
• Grace Cathedral in the Nob Hill neighborhood is reminiscent of the Notre Dame
Cathedral in Paris. The church is noted for its elaborate stained glass windows.
There are indoor and outdoor labyrinths, recalling a tradition dating back to France’s Chartres Cathedral in 1220 when people would walk the winding path of the design as a way to release their troubles and meditate. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama have all been honored speakers at Grace Cathedral’s Gresham Hall.
Green Gulch Farm Zen Center (Muir Beach, CA)
• North of San Francisco, the 115-acre Green Gulch Farm Zen Center opens onto Muir Beach and the Pacific Ocean. Several meditation and seminar spaces encourage the practice of Japanese Zen Buddhism. There are accommodations at the Japanese-style Lindisfarne Guest House and a working organic farm and garden offers workshops on organic cultivation, beekeeping, and edible plants.
Insight Meditation Society (IMS; Barre, MA)
• IMS’s rural and wooded 200-acre property surrounds a grand mansion in central Massachusetts. IMS practices the Indian Buddhist traditions of vipassana (insight) and metta (loving kindness). The main campus includes dining and lodging facilities; there’s also a Forest Refuge for long-term retreats.
Memorial Presbyterian Church (St. Augustine, FL)
• Built in 1889 by Henry Flagler as a memorial to his daughter, Memorial Presbyterian Church is the oldest Presbyterian Church in Florida. With a 150-foot tall copper dome, the Venetian Renaissance design was inspired by St. Mark’s Cathedral. Mr. Flagler is interred at the church.
Mission Dolores (San Francisco, CA)
• Founded in 1776, Mission Dolores is the oldest intact building in the City of San Francisco and the only intact Mission Chapel in the chain of 21 established under the direction of Father Serra. There is a historic cemetery and garden on the grounds.
Mission San Diego de Alcala (San Diego)
• Founded in 1769, Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala was the first Franciscan mission in the Las Californias Province of the Viceroyalty of New Spain.
Mount Shasta (Northern California)
• Mount Shasta is a destination for mystics, gurus, sages, and curious people from all over the world. A vortex, or concentration of the earth’s energy, is said to be present at the mountain. Unexplained phenomena are endless.
• Ojai has the most spiritual retreat centers of any locale in the United States. Spa treatments are just as common as guided meditation in the area.
• Sedona is reputed to have several vortexes, places that have been identified as conducive to prayer, healing, and meditation. This attracts practitioners of metaphysics and new-age traditions such as crystal readings, spiritual massage, and Tarot cards.
Shambhala Mountain Center (Red Feather Lakes, CO)
• Located on 600 pristine acres spread across a Rocky Mountain valley in the northern part of Colorado, the Center includes extensive botanical gardens, a bird sanctuary, several spacious meditation halls, and the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, a traditional spired Buddhist shrine.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (High Hill, TX)
• There are 15 area painted churches in High Hill, a vibrant German-Czech area between Houston and San Antonio, that are listed on the National Reg istry of Historic Places. All are open to the public for self-guided tours. Among the churches St. Mary’s is known as the Queen. The church was built in 1906; 18 of the stained glass windows portraying Biblical scenes were purchased from Germany by members of the community and donated to the church.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral (New York, NY)
• More than 5.5 million people visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Located across from Rockefeller Center, the Neo-Gothic-style Roman Catholic cathedral church is the seat of the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.
Voodoo Spiritual Temple (New Orleans, LA)
• The Voodoo Spiritual Temple was established by Priestess Miriam Chamani in 1990. Visitors hear a short message from Priestess Miriam herself and tour the temple grounds.
Washington National Cathedral (Washington, DC)
• Among numerous grand churches in the nation’s capital, Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, commonly referred to as Washington National Cathedral, is most noteworthy. The church has been the site of 21 presidential funerals. The Neo-Gothic church took 83 years to build.
Wayfarers Chapel (Rancho Palos Verdes, CA)
• Wayfarers Chapel, located about 45 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, was designed by Lloyd Wright, the son of Frank Lloyd Wright. Recognized as a combination of nature and architectural genius, the ‘tree chapel’ is a natural sanctuary encased in glass with views of the surrounding forest and the nearby Pacific Ocean.