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Winter 2019

Spiritual Capitals in America

Religion is a huge part of the vibrant human experience across the globe. Travelers know that many of the most beautiful and historical sites around the world are tied to one religion or another. Here are five religious sites in America that you should definitely work into your next cross-country road trip.

The Baha’i Temple in Wilmette, Illinois

The Baha’i faith focuses on the unification of all humanity and celebrates unity through diversity. As such, the Baha’i temple and surrounding gardens combine elements of Western and Eastern religious architecture, reflecting the Baha’i ideal of including all cultures and transcending all cultural boundaries. This is why it is also called the “Temple of Light and Unity.” The beautiful white tracery on the nine towers include symbols from Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other faiths.

The stunning Baha’i Temple (featured left), the Mother Temple of the West, sits just outside of Chicago. It is the oldest surviving Baha’i temple in the world and the only Baha’i temple in North America. 250,000 visitors from all over the world visit the temple every year.

The Baha’i temple holds daily morning and afternoon devotions, seasonal events, choir presentations, and other celebrations of music, this year will include “Music of the African American Experience” and regularly held “Oraciones En Espanol”. The Baha’i faith observes eleven holy days a year, marking significant events in Baha’i history; if you plan your trip right, you may be able to catch one of them.

Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah

Photo by Thomas Hawk

As the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints moved West to escape persecution, they stopped in the Salt Lake Valley and almost immediately started plans for a temple.

Today, the LDS faith has more than 150 temples worldwide, but Temple Square is unique among them. The temple itself took forty years to build, and still stands today—nearly 126 years old. Salt Lake City has grown up around Temple Square, but the beauty and size of the building still astound, especially given the technological era it was built in.

Temple Square includes, not just the Salt Lake Temple, but a visitors’ center, a conference center (one of the largest in the world), Welfare Square, a family history center, and multiple museums detailing the faith’s early history and America’s westward expansion.

The square features The Choir at Temple Square, also called “America’s Choir,” featuring regular rehearsals and performances. The best time to visit might be the holidays to catch the annual Christmas light.

Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, California

Photo by tq2cute.

This Buddhist monastery boasts traditional Chinese architecture, an incredible art museum, and expansive, breath-taking gardens. Travelers usually visit for the Chinese New Year celebration, but visitors are welcome year round.

Hsi Lai Temple is a monument of religious tolerance overcoming prejudice. When monastery construction was first proposed, members of the community opposed the operation, fearing an Eastern religion they knew little about. It took several years, six public hearings, and over a hundred community meetings to finally get the necessary building permit. Today, Hsi Lai Temple is welcome in the neighborhood.

This great relationship with the community also includes tourists. Visitors can appreciate the many features of the monastery; the pagoda, the large main shrine building, a bodhisattva shrine, classrooms, tea room, gardens, museum, vegetarian cafeteria, gift shop, and more. The temple is open for regular prayer services. Hsi Lai Temple hosts recurring retreats, educational programs, and dharma services.

Trinity Church in New York City, New York

Photo by Erck Houli

The Trinity Church was commissioned first in 1696 by the Church of England, and so is one of the oldest religious structures in the country. The church has been remodeled many times, but today retains its 1846 form. Built in the elaborate Gothic Revival style, it was the tallest building in New York City until 1869. This church has hosted presidents and foreign royalty, served as a refuge during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and stands today as a testament to the importance of religion in American history.

As one of New York City’s National Historic Landmarks, it should feature on the itinerary of every New York tourist. It is an enormous, Gothic-style chapel with beautiful, stained-glass windows, soaring arches, and wonderful artwork. Trinity Church offers regular worship services, guided tours, and hosts many musical events and groups such as the Trinity Baroque Orchestra, the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, and visiting choirs. Feel free to attend one of their twenty weekly worship services. Inclusion is one crucial missions of the parish.

Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan

Photo by the B’s

This building, the largest modern mosque in North America, is hard to miss. Thousands of Americans of different faiths have gathered to this towering mosque to oppose anti-Islamic sentiments in the United States.

The ICA was first designed in the 1940s by a group of Lebanese Americans and their religious leader, Imam Mohamad Jawad Chirri. After years of work, the center was dedicated in 1963. Over the years, the center has been expanded many times to accommodate a growing number of worshipers and visitors. It now covers about 120,000 square feet.

Apart from the beauty of the fiberglass dome, chandeliers, and Quran verse calligraphy inside, visitors have marveled at the openness of the mosque. The ICA holds regular tours for interfaith groups, prayer times, and Sunday lectures in both Arabic and English. The center even provides head-covering scarves for visitors who have not brought their own. Besides the prayer hall, there is also a private school, Islamic book store, and a community banquet hall. The surrounding Arab-American population gathers there not just to worship, but also to organize their local humanitarian efforts.

—Jamie Mortensen Featured Photo by Wenbinbin2010