Major Religious Shrines in the Christian Religion

by Tasha Brandstatter

In the Christian religion, a shrine can exist anywhere. Shrines are found in cathedrals and in homes. To be officially recognized by the Holy See, however, a shrine must be marked by the presence of a holy relic or site of an official miracle. It also must be a place of pilgrimage. Thousands of Christian shrines all over the world draw followers, but the most prominent ones are found in Europe and Israel.

St. Peter's Basilica, Rome

St. Peter's Basilica, as Christopher Witcombe puts it, is the "mother-church" of the Catholic faith. It marks the place where St. Peter, the first leader of the Christian Church, was buried along with thousands of other Christians killed by the Emperor Nero. Hence, both literally and symbolically, the Catholic Church is built on the blood of martyrs. Erected in the fourth century as one of the first Christian basilicas, St. Peter's is still a major site of pilgrimage by Christians of all denominations.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre contains the site of Jesus's crucifixion and his tomb. Discovered in 326 by the Emperor Constantine's mother, St. Helena, the shrine almost immediately became a site of pilgrimage. It was only after St. Helena uncovered Jesus' place of crucifixion and a piece of the True Cross that the cross became an important Christian symbol.

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Spain

With Jerusalem in possession of the Seljuk Turks, Christian pilgrimages refocused on European shrines. The Cathedral of St. James was built in the ninth century around the bones of the Apostle James and was certainly the most important pilgrimage site of the middle ages. The path to Santiago was called the Camino de Compostela, and along the road Christian shrines, services and opportunists sprung up to benefit from the traffic of the faithful. To identify themselves, pilgrims carried a staff and a floppy hat with a shell -- the symbol of one of St. James' miracles -- attached to the brim. This became the universal symbol of pilgrimage for centuries.

Cathedral of Canterbury, UK

Established by St. Augustine in the sixth century, Canterbury Cathedral is the oldest in-use church in England. Canterbury only became a place of pilgrimage, however, in the 11th century after Thomas Beckett was canonized and a shrine was built for his remains. Canterbury was then memorialized by Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales, which dramatized the journey of pilgrims to the shrine.

About the Author

Natasha Brandstatter is an art historian and writer. She has a MA in art history and you can find her academic articles published in "Western Passages," "History Colorado" and "Dutch Utopia." She is also a contributor to Book Riot and Food Riot, a media critic with the Pueblo PULP and a regular contributor to Femnista.

Photo Credits

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