Religious Architecture Alexa Dalton

I was set out to explore and write about five religious architectural sites. I spent five days touring these places and learning about their significance to each of the five major world religions.

On the first day I went to St. Paul's Cathedral in London, England. Saint Paul's is the seat of the Bishop of London, built from 1675 to 1711. The cathedral is a dedication to Paul the Apostle, who is an important figure in the Christian religion. After the Great Fire of London in 1666 had burned down the original church, Sir Christopher Wren was appointed to design the replacement and what you see today. I was told by my tour guide that the dome, inspired by St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, is 365 feet, making it one of London's most famous sites. The cathedral is an active church with hourly prayer and daily service. I can say as a witness, that the interior is glorious. There is endless detail with recurring gold and brown tones, making the entire church look very regal.

Day two, I traveled to South Korea to see the Haeinsa Temple on Mount Gaya. The Haeinsa (hay-ein-saw) Temple is a Buddhist architectural spot. The temple houses the most complete collection of Buddhist texts on 80,000 woodblocks. The woodblocks are sacred to the Buddhist religion because they date back from 1237 to 1248. Haeinsa means "Reflections on a Smooth Sea" which derives from a verse in a Buddhist sutra (religious text) comparing Buddha to be as calm as the sea. After a fire in 1817 that burned most of the wooden temple buildings, the rebuilt main hall and the Tripitaka library was adopted by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1995. Touring the temple is incredible. There are over 52 million Chinese characters made of woodblock to admire, Buddhist scriptures line the walls, and the main worship hall, Daejeokkwangjeon, holds the Vairocana Buddha statue (representing the center of the universe), one of the Five Celestial Buddhas.

For the third day of my adventure, I traveled to Saudi Arabia to see the Great Mosque of Mecca. Now, I am personally not Muslim, and non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the mosque, but are allowed to tour the city of Medina. So I can't give you a detailed description of the interior from a first-hand experience, but the outside is very nice! However, I can give you a brief description of it's significance to the Islam religion. The Great Mosque was built to house "the black cube," otherwise known as the Kaaba (or the Ka'bah), the holiest shrine to Islam. The Kaaba has been sacred to even the first followers as Muhammed, and Muslims believe it was created by Abraham and his son Ismail. During prayer, Muslims around the world face the direction towards the Kaaba even when they aren't in the same country as the structure. One of the Five Pillars of Islam requires all Muslims to perform the Hajj pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime. They then walk around the cube seven times in hopes to touch or kiss it. This represents that life should revolve around God and His Messenger. The Kaaba is the most sacred of sites to Islam and most Muslims dream to one day be able to circle the black cube.

On my second to last day I ventured to New Delhi, India to see the Laxminarayan Temple (also known as the Birla Mandir) , a Hindu place of worship. The temple was first built in 1939 by Baldeo Das Birla and inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi on the condition that people of all castes are welcome inside. The temple is a dedication to Laxmi, the goddess of prosperity and Narayana, the preserver. The temple covers 7.5 acres and has numerous shrines, fountains and a garden. The insides are covered in Hindu art representing Buddha and the other gods and goddess believed to exists by Hindus. If I were to describe the Birla Mandir in one word it would be: colorful.

On my final day I traveled to Jerusalem to see the Hurva Synagogue, which is a Jewish temple. The temple was built by the followers of Rabbi Yehuda HaHasid after he purchased the land. Rabbi Yehuda HaHasid died exactly five days after arriving in Jerusalem. The money to build the temple was lent to the followers from neighboring Muslims, who later destroyed the temple in 1720. Roughly a century later the Vilna Gaon's disciples rebuilt the synagogue. The structure was intentionally destroyed again by the Arab Legion during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. After Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, a memorial arch was finally decided on in 1977 becoming a recognizable landmark in the Jewish Quarter, and the construction of the temple was completed in March of 2010. The interior of the synagogue is very traditional and elegant. I can say first-hand that I enjoyed touring and learning about the Jewish temple.

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Alexa Dalton

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