Travel, Sacred Sites, and Chaplains

Whether you are religious or not, the sites below are the most impressive in stature and grandeur in the world. Read our list to see some of the most impressive sacred sites around the world.


Jerusalem is a sacred place for three of the world’s biggest religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Because these religions originated in this area of the world, there are many sites considered sacred and worth visiting.

Sacred Sites

Temple Mount

A walled compound in the Old City, the Temple Mount also hosts Al Aqsa Mosque. The Dome of the Rock is also there. It is the holiest site in Judaism, and the former site of the First Temple. This enormous area is also the third most important site to Muslims, falling behind only Mecca and Medina. The name Haram al Sharif, the Arabic title for this area, means The Noble Sanctuary. It is the site where Muhammad made his ascent to the heavens.

A stunning complex, you can admire over 100 different sites on its top. These include areas for prayer, babbling fountains, majestic arches, and detailed mosaics that decorate the walls. The walls stand around the base of Mount Moriah, the spot where Abraham was going to sacrifice his son Isaac. Dive into the history of this area and its singular sense of serenity and spirituality while visiting. We highly recommend taking a tour to get the most out of your visit to this sacred spot. One of our favorites that hits two holy sites at once is our Temple Mount and Mount of Olives tour.

Western Wall

The stunning mosque of Al Aqsa boasts a glowing golden dome that is part of Jerusalem’s iconic skyline. This gorgeous house of worship is fully functional, fitting up to 5,000 worshippers at once. The outside is stunning and vibrant with a number of colorful mosaics. While non-Muslims cannot enter the structure itself, they are more than welcome to admire the exterior. Al Aqsa means Farthest Journey, in reference to Muhammad’s ascension and final hours on Earth. Originally, it was built by the Umayyad Caliph Al Walid. Later it was taken over by the Knights Templar. It’s also been home to the Kings of Jerusalem, and a number of other residents.

Sacred Sites

Over the centuries, it was destroyed and rebuilt twice. You can still see remnants of Crusader architecture across the façade. Every aspect of the mosque showcases the beauty of early Islamic architecture. If you’re lucky enough to enter, be sure to visit the intricate Mihrab from Saladin.

Mosque of Omar

An often overlooked holy site in Jerusalem, this mosque has an undeniable charm, and unique place in history. The Mosque of Omar stands across from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the heart of the Old City. While the interior is only open to Muslims, the outside is also captivating once you know its origin story. Built in the 12th century, this mosque is where Caliph Omar Ibn al-Khattab said his prayers. This was in 638 CE after the Byzantines surrendered. He was invited to pray in the church itself. Instead chose a courtyard to preserve the church’s Christian character. Some believe the Dome of the Rock is the true original site for this marvelous mosque. Either way, we recommend taking a closer look at the unique square minaret that tops the building itself. You can add this our customizable half-day Jerusalem tour.

Via Dolorosa

Via Dolorosa is the famous path where Christ carried the cross. It means “The Way of Grief” in Latin, is now a famous route for Christian pilgrims across the world to walk. Beginning at the remains of Antonia Fortress, the site of his condemnation, the path continues to the site of his crucifixion. This site was once the Hill of Golgotha.

Via Dolorosa has 14 stations that end with the final 5 inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. You can now stroll this path, starting on the eastern side of the Old City. You will finish winding through its cobblestone streets. This is an emotional path for many to walk, though it is under half a mile long. Each station commemorates the final hours and teachings of Christ, with signs along the way, we recommend walking Via Dolorosa with a guide. Doing this ensures you hear the full story and explore the fascinating history of the city on a deeper level.

Mount Zion

Sitting on the hills just outside the city’s southern walls, Mount Zion is as beautiful as it is splendid. The name hails from the Middle Ages, and hosts a number of key sites for Muslims, Jews, and Christians. For interested Muslims, we recommend a stop at the Dajani Cemeteries, held by the same family for generations. This famous family has a long-running tie to the Prophet himself. They boasts a number of religious, academic, and political leaders. The stones themselves are well worth a visit. For Jews, this was long the location where they could be closest to pray. It also houses the Chamber of the Holocaust, Israel’s first Holocaust Museum. King David’s tomb also stands proudly on top of the hill.

Sacred Sites

For Christians, there are a number of notable sites. One of the most popular is the Room of the Last Supper, offering unique insight into Christian history and lore. You can also visit the sprawling Protestant Cemetery or Dormition Abbey. Built in 1898, this abbey still houses the heads of the orders that live and work throughout Jerusalem. A must-see for all visitors is the tomb of Oskar Schindler. He hold a place of honor with his burial as a righteous gentile.

Mount of Olives

The name of this historic and scenic area comes from the olive groves that stood on these very grounds. This holy place in Jerusalem is sacred to Muslims, Jews, and Christians. It stands as the highest point in East Jerusalem. It rises over 2,600 feet into the air, and the observation deck offers sweeping panoramic views of the city beyond. While it has been a Jewish cemetery for nearly 3,000 years, it is also a place of celebration. A number of Jews on pilgrimages will stop here along their route through Jerusalem. One of the highlights is the Tomb of the Prophets.


For Christians, the site is noteworthy for housing the Church of Ascension, and the Garden of Gethsemane. It is where Jesus stood as he said his final prayer before his betrayal. For Muslims, this is where the Seven Arches will rise and connect with the remains that sit on the Temple Mount. Once the bridge is formed, the righteous will pass over this holy bridge and ascend to heaven. No matter your religion, the Mount of Olives is a fascinating place to visit for the history and views alone!

Mecca, Saudia Arabia

Mecca is the center of the Islamic world. It is the birthplace of both the Prophet Muhammad and the religion he founded. Located in the Sarat Mountains of central Saudi Arabia and 45 miles inland from the Red Sea port of Jidda. Ancient Mecca was an oasis on the old caravan trade route that linked the Mediterranean world with South Arabia, East Africa, and South Asia.

By Roman and Byzantine times it developed into an important trade and religious center. It was known as Macoraba. The sacred land in which Mecca and Medina are located, known as the Hijaz. It is the western region of the Arabian peninsula. A narrow tract of land about 875 miles long east of the Red Sea with the Tropic of Cancer running through its center. The land is called Hijaz, meaning barrier. Because its backbone, the Sarat Mountains consist of volcanic peaks and natural depressions. This creates a stark and rugged environment dominated by intense sunlight and little rain fall.


As pilgrims undertake the journey they follow in the footsteps of many millions before them. When the pilgrim is about 10 kilometers, from Mecca he enters the state of holiness and purity. This state is known as Ihram. Thus the pilgrim dons special garments consisting of two white seamless sheets that are wrapped around the body. Entering the great Mosque in Mecca, the pilgrim first walks seven times around the Ka’ba shrine in a counterclockwise direction; this ritual is called turning, or tawaf. Next, entering into the shrine, the pilgrim kisses the sacred stone.

The stone is mounted in a silver frame in the wall. Specifically, four feet above the ground, in the southeast corner of the shrine. It is of an oval shape about twelve inches in diameter. Composed of seven small stones (possibly basalt) of different sizes and shapes joined together with cement. Legend tells that the stone (al-Hajaru al-Aswad, the ‘Black Stone’) was originally white. However, it became gradually darkened by the kisses of sinful mortals. Some traditions say by the sins of ‘offsprings of Adam’.

Rituals of Mecca

Forbidden to persons not of the Muslim faith. Mecca came to symbolize for Europeans the secrets and mysteries of the orient. Thus, it became a magnet for explorers and adventurers. A few of these daring travelers, such as John Lewis Burckhardt from Switzerland. Burkhardt, in 1812, was also the first European to visit the ruins of Petra). Sir Richard Burton from Great Britain were able to convincingly impersonate Muslim pilgrims. Consequently, gain entrance to Mecca, and write wonderfully of the holy city upon their return to Europe. Other explorers were neither so lucky nor divinely guided; many of them disappeared or were caught and sold into slavery. To this day, Mecca remains strictly closed for persons not of the Muslim faith.

Modern Times

Nowadays approximately 2,000,000 people perform the Hajj each year. This pilgrimage serves as a unifying force in Islam by bringing together followers from diverse countries and language groups. In a certain sense, however, Mecca is said to be visited by all devout and practicing Muslims every day. Five times each day (three times in the Shi’a sect) millions upon millions of believers perform their prayers. Bowing and prostrating in a specific sequence of movements in the direction of Mecca. Wherever the place of prayer – in a mosque, a remote place in the wilderness or the interior of a home – Muslims face towards Mecca. They are united to the Ka’ba by an invisible line of direction called the qibla.

Stonehenge, UK

Stonehenge is the world’s most famous Neolithic monument, located on the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England. Although we increasingly understand a great deal about who built Stonehenge and how they did it. We know very little about the reasons why it was built.

Sacred Sites

One theory suggests that Stonehenge was used as a Late Neolithic burial site. It also speculates it is a monument to the dead. At least for 500 years during the first two phases of its construction from ~3,000 BC until the monuments were erected in ~2,500 BC.

Potential Burial Site

Charred remains were unearthed in holes around the site. Known as the Aubrey Holes, that once held small standing stones. Analysis of the bones suggests they were buried during these 500 years. After 2,500 BC, the people who used Stonehenge stopped burying human remains in the stone circle. Began burying them in ditches around the periphery, suggesting a shift in the cultural significance of Stonehenge.

Sacred Sites

From studying the remains of those buried at the site, we know that the bodies of the dead were transported. From far and wide to be buried at Stonehenge; some appeared to have lived more than 120 miles (200km) away in Wales. Carbon dating of the remains suggests they were cremated off-site. Transported to Stonehenge and buried there around 4,400-5,000 years ago.

The evidence to support this theory is dotted all around the landscape around the monument; the area within a 2-mile radius of Stonehenge contains hundreds of Bronze Age burial mounds, or ‘tumuli’.

Stonehenge and Astronomy

Another theory makes reference to Stonehenge’s celestial influence. Stonehenge’s apparent alignment with the sun, moon and stars – akin to an ancient scientific observatory that connected the Earth to the sky. Researchers have studied the standing bluestones at Stonehenge. They believe they were carefully placed in their surroundings based on early astronomical knowledge.

Sacred Sites

The team of researchers studied Stonehenge. Researchers studied several other stone formations across the UK. They came to the conclusion that Stonehenge was likely built to track the movement of the sun, moon and stars thousands of years ago. An analysis of the position and orientation of the stones, compared with well-known astronomical alignments, has revealed a strong alignment with the movements of the sun and moon in particular.

Stonehenge and Healing

According to this school of thought, the smaller bluestones at the centre of the circle are the key to this theory and, ultimately, the supposed purpose of Stonehenge. As we know, the bluestones were dragged 180 miles from the mountains of southwest Wales to the site at Stonehenge using primitive technology.

Darvill and Wainwright argue that this massive undertaking required considerable resources and effort; resources that would only have been possible had there been a very good reason to attempt such a monumental undertaking. This, they argue, is owed to the supposed magical, healing powers of the stones due to their proximity to traditional healing springs.

Chippings carved out of the bluestone rocks found during digs around the site were used to produce amulets. This suggests the association of the rocks with protective and healing properties. According totheir research, evidence suggests this practice continued well into the Medieval period.

Cenote Sagrado, Mexico

The Cenote is a naturally formed open well whose diameter from north to south is 165 feet, and from east to west, 200 feet. As part of the cult offered to the water god the pre-Hispanic Maya made ceremonial offerings. One of these- throwing into the well many precious objects. Later, they introduced the practice of making human sacrifices. The victims were warriors, children and maidens thrown to the bottom of the cenote.

Sacred Sites

To one side of the south bank of the well they built some platforms on two levels. Which perhaps were used as seats for those who witnessed the ceremonies. Beside this one can see the ruins of a building that was adapted into a steam bath or temazcal. Where it is supposed that the victims were purified. Placed against this building is another platform that hangs over the edge of the cenote. From here the offerings would have been made.

Details of the Cenote Sagrado

Compared to other cenotes in the route of the cenotes, this one is not suit for swimming. It is characterized by having a lot of vegetation underwater.

The Sacred Cenote still holds unbelievable stories; in 1998 it became a Patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO. And even if the Pyramid of Kukulkan is the most famous building in the site. It is connected by a 300 m (0.18 mi) road.

Sacred Sites

The Sacred Cenote has been through different restorations throughout the years. The first interventions were led by Edward H. Thompson, then the U.S. consul in Progreso. Harvard University’s Peabody Museum financed hime. As well as private collectors from the Boston area. As a result, in 1904, the US took many jade and gold pieces from the site. They took them out of the country illegally. It wasn’t until 1914, when the violence of the Mexican Revolution unintentionally put an end to the looting of Chichén Itzá.

To this day, over 200 bodies, jewels, ceramics and gold pieces have been found as part of the archaeological findings in the cenote. The Sacred Cenote is one of the cenotes that has held the most tributes and sacrifices.

St. John the Divine Church, NY

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is the mother church of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. It is also chartered as a house of prayer for all people. And a unifying center of intellectual light and leadership. It serves the many diverse people of the Diocese, City, Nation and World. Through an array of liturgical, cultural and civic events; pastoral, educational and community outreach activities; and maintains the preservation of the great architectural and historic site that is its legacy.

Sacred Sites

Visitors from All Over

People from many faiths and communities worship together in services held more than 30 times a week; the soup kitchen serves roughly 25,000 meals annually; social service outreach has an increasingly varied roster of programs; the distinguished Cathedral School prepares young students to be future leaders; Adults and Children in Trust, the renowned preschool, afterschool and summer program, offers diverse educational and nurturing experiences; the outstanding Textile Conservation Lab preserves world treasures. Concerts, exhibitions, performances and civic gatherings allow conversation, celebration, reflection and remembrance. Such is the joyfully busy life of this beloved and venerated Cathedral.

Taj Mahal, India

The Taj Mahal is located on the right bank of the Yamuna River. It is in a vast Mughal garden that encompasses nearly 17 hectares, in the Agra District in Uttar Pradesh. Built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Construction started in 1632 AD and completed in 1648 AD. The mosque, the guest house and the main gateway on the south, the outer courtyard and its cloisters were added subsequently and completed in 1653 AD. The existence of several historical and Quaranic inscriptions in Arabic script have facilitated setting the chronology of Taj Mahal. For its construction, masons, stone-cutters, inlayers, carvers, painters, calligraphers, dome builders and other artisans were requisitioned from the Central Asia and Iran. Ustad-Ahmad Lahori was the main architect of the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal is considered to be the greatest architectural achievement in the whole range of Indo-Islamic architecture. Its recognised architectonic beauty has a rhythmic combination of solids and voids, concave and convex and light shadow; such as arches and domes further increases the aesthetic aspect. The color combination of lush green scape reddish pathway and blue sky over it showcases the monument in ever changing tints and moods. The relief work in marble and inlay with precious and semi precious stones make it a monument apart.

The Sistine chapel, Italy

The Sistine Chapel is a rectangular brick building with six arched windows. On each of the two main (or side) walls and a barrel-vaulted ceiling. The chapel’s exterior is drab and unadorned. However, its interior walls and ceiling are decorated with frescoes by many Florentine Renaissance masters. The frescoes on the side walls of the chapel were painted from 1481 to 1483. On the north wall are six frescoes. Depicting events from the life of Christ as painted by Perugino, Pinturicchio, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Cosimo Rosselli. On the south wall are six other frescoes.

Famous Artists

Depicting events from the life of Moses by Perugino. It also includes artists like Pinturicchio, Botticelli, Domenico and Benedetto Ghirlandaio, Rosselli, Luca Signorelli, and Bartolomeo della Gatta. Above these works, smaller frescoes between the windows depict various popes. For great ceremonial occasions the lowest portions of the side walls were covered with a series of tapestries depicting events from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. These were designed by Raphael and woven in 1515–19 at Brussels.

Frescoes by Michaelangelo

The most important artworks in the chapel are the frescoes by Michelangelo. These are on the ceiling and on the west wall behind the altar. The frescoes on the ceiling, collectively known as the Sistine Ceiling. They were commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1508 and were painted by Michelangelo in the years from 1508 to 1512. They depict incidents and personages from the Old Testament. The Last Judgment fresco on the west wall was painted by Michelangelo. This was for Pope Paul III in the period from 1534 to 1541. These two gigantic frescoes are among the greatest achievements of Western painting. A 10-year-long cleaning and restoration of the Sistine Ceiling completed in 1989 removed several centuries’ accumulation of dirt, smoke, and varnish. Cleaning and restoration of the Last Judgment was completed in 1994.

Sacred Sites

Temple of Apollo at Delphi

Central among the number of imposing ruins that are interspersed on the Southern slopes of Parnassos mountain is the Temple of Apollo. It is an imposing temple of the Doric order. Whose existence was woven through the turbulent history of the site, and endured numerous incarnations before it settled to the ruinous state we find it today, and which dates back to the 4th c. B.C. The temple of Apollo was first built around the 7th c. B.C. by the two legendary architects Trophonios and Agamedes. It was rebuilt after a fire in the 6th bc and named the “Temple of Alcmeonidae.” In tribute to the noble Athenian family that oversaw its construction with funds from all over Greece and foreign emperors. This temple was also of the Doric order and had 6 columns at the front, and 15 columns at the flanks.

Sacred Sites

This temple was destroyed in 373 B.C. by an earthquake and was rebuilt for the third time in 330 B.C. Spintharos, Xenodoros, and Agathon, architects from Corinth. The sculptures that adorned its pediment were the creation of Athenian sculptors Praxias and Androsthenes. It was built to similar proportions and size as the Alcmeonidae version of the temple, with a peristasis of 6 and 15 columns along the short and long edges respectively.

Boudhanath, Nepal

According to legend, the king constructed the stupa as an act of penance after unwittingly killing his father. The first stupa was wrecked by Mughal invaders in the 14th century. The current stupa is a more recent construction.

Sacred Sites

The highly symbolic construction serves in essence as a three-dimensional reminder of the Buddha’s path towards enlightenment. The plinth represents earth, the kumbha(dome) is water, the harmika (square tower) is fire. The spire is air and the umbrella at the top is the void or ether beyond space. The 13 levels of the spire represent the stages that a human being must pass through to achieve nirvana.


Stupas were originally built to house holy relics. Some claim that Boudhanath contains the relics of the past Buddha, Kashyapa. While others say it contains a piece of bone from the skeleton of Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha. Around the base of the stupa are 108 small images of the Dhyani Buddha Amitabha. 108 is an auspicious number in Tibetan culture. A ring of prayer wheels, set in groups of four or five into 147 niches.

Sacred Sites

To reach the upper level of the plinth, look for the gateway at the north end of the stupa. Beside a small shrine dedicated to Hariti (Ajima), the goddess of smallpox. The plinth is open from 5am to 6pm till 7pm in summer. Offering a raised viewpoint over the tide of pilgrims surging around the stupa. Note the committed devotees prostrating themselves full-length on the ground in the courtyard on the east side of the stupa.

Wat Rong Khun, Thailand

Wat Rong Khun is a unique temple that stands out through the white color. The use of pieces of glass in the plaster, sparkling in the sun. The white color signifies the purity of the Buddha. While the glass symbolizes the Buddha’s wisdom and the Dhamma, the Buddhist teachings.

Sacred Sites

The Wat Rong Khun was designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat, a famous Thai visual artist. To date the temple is not finished. Eventually there will be nine buildings including an ubosot. A hall to enshrine Buddhist relics, a meditation hall, the monks living quarters and an art gallery.

On May 5th 2014 a strong earthquake hit Chiang Rai. Although the white temple was badly damaged, Chalermchai Kositpipat decided to restore and further expand the Wat Rong Khun.

History of Wat Rong Khun

Towards the end of the 20th century, the original Wat Rong Khun was in a very poor state of preservation. Restoration works on the temple started, but had to be halted due to a lack of funds.

Sacred Sites

Chalermchai Kositpipat, an artist born in Chiang Rai, decided to completely rebuild the temple. He funded the project with his own money. The artist built the temple to be a center of learning and meditation. He also built it for people to gain benefit from the Buddhist teachings. Today the works are ongoing.

Temples of Abu Simbel , Egypt

There are two temples. The first one is the Great Temple which is dedicated to Ramesses II. The second temple, Small Temple, which is dedicated to his wife Queen Nefertari.

Sacred Sites

Great Temple

The Great Temple at Abu Simbel took around twenty years to build. Also known as Temple of Ramses II, it was dedicated to the gods Amun, Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah. As well as to the Great King Ramesses himself. It is generally considered the grandest and most beautiful of the temples. Commissioned during Ramesses II’s reign, and one of the most beautiful in Egypt.

The entrance to the Great Temple is flanked by four colossal statues on its facade. Twenty meter statues, each one representing Ramesses II seated on a throne. The façade of the main temple is decorated with hieroglyphs. They commemorate the great victory of Ramses II at the Battle of Kades.

Upon entering the great temple, there are a series of rooms, dedicated to Ramses himself and important members of his family. The final room, the sanctum sanctorum, remains in darkness every day except two days a year. This was not done by chance, it was necessary a broad knowledge of science, mathematics, architecture, and astronomy to achieve this result. 

Small Temple

The second temple, the Small Temple, is dedicated to the goddess Hathor. Although significantly smaller than the first, it was built to honor Ramses’ favorite wife, Nefertari. The queen appears on an equal footing with the pharaoh. It’s also known as the Temple of Hathor and Nefertari. 

The rock-cut façade of the temple is decorated with two groups of colossi that are separated by the large gateway.

Alignment of the Sun with the Temples

The larger temple is aligned with the sun. So twice a year the sun shines in its deepest recesses to illuminate a statue of Ramses and the gods to which the temple is dedicated.

The ancient architects positioned the temple so that sunlight reached the room on February 22. The anniversary of his accession to the throne and on his birthday, October 22. On these two dates, the sun rises and illuminates the temple corridor. Additionally, three of the four statues in the sanctuary. The first three statues are of Pharaoh Ramses II, Ra (the god of sun), and Ammon (the king of the gods). Ramses was included with the gods because, like the other pharaohs, he considered himself a god. The fourth statue remains in darkness because it represents Ptah, the god of darkness. This statue has never seen sunlight in more than 3,200 years.

Sacred Sites

Abu Simbel Sun Festival

Twice a year, people from around the world gather at the Temples of Abu Simbel to celebrate the ancient Egyptians and all that they accomplished. Aptly named Sun Festival, the central chamber of the temple is illuminated by the sun.

The Abu Simbel Sun Festival takes place on February 22nd and October 22nd of every year. Too much fanfare with several thousand people gathering early in the morning to see. This is a testament to the knowledge and skill that the ancient Egyptians possess in order to align the temple so perfectly.

Vatican City

One of the most sacred places in Christendom, Vatican City stands as a testimony to a history of about two millennia. It is a formidable spiritual venture. Site of the tomb of the Apostle Saint Peter, first of the uninterrupted succession of Roman Pontiffs. Therefore a main pilgrimage centre, the Vatican is directly and tangibly linked with the history of Christianity. Furthermore, it is both an ideal and an exemplary creation of the Renaissance and of Baroque art. It exerted an enduring influence on the development of the arts from the 16th century.

Sacred Sites

Independent State

The independent State was defined by the Lateran Treaty of 11 February 1929. It extends its territorial sovereignty over an area in the centre of Rome. Vatican City enclosed by its walls and open toward the city through Bernini’s colonnade of Saint Peter’s. The boundaries of the city-state contain masterpieces and living institutions. They are a witness to the unique continuity of the crucial role played by this place in the history. The Center of Christianity since the foundation of Saint Peter’s Basilica by Constantine 4th century. At a later stage the permanent seat of the Popes, the Vatican is at once the pre-eminently holy city for Catholics. It is an important archaeological site of the Roman world and one of the major cultural reference points of both Christians and non-Christians.

Sacred Sites


Its prestigious history explains the development of an architectural and artistic ensemble of exceptional value. Beneath the basilica of Saint Peter, reconstructed in the 16th century under the guidance of the most brilliant architects of the Renaissance, remains of the first basilica founded by Constantine still exist, as well as ruins of the circus of Caligula and Nero, and a Roman necropolis of the 1st century AD, where Saint Peter’s tomb is located. Under Julius II’s patronage in 1506, an extraordinary artistic era was inaugurated, leading to the decoration of Raphael’s Stanze and of the Sistine Chapel with frescoes by Michelangelo, along with the building of the new basilica, completed in 1626, fruit of the combined genius of Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, Bernini, Maderno and Della Porta.

The Vatican Palace is the result of a long series of additions and modifications by which, from the Middle Ages, the Popes rivalled each other in magnificence. The original building of Nicholas III (1277-1280) was enlarged in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries: the history of the arts of the Renaissance and Baroque periods finds here iconic models.

Vatican Library

In 1475, Sixtus IV founded the Vatican Library, which is the first open to the public in Europe; the collections of manuscripts and books, prints, drawings, coins and decorative arts, constantly increased through the centuries, making it an invaluable repository of human culture.

From the mid-18th century, the popes’ efforts were also directed towards expanding the private collections of antiquities dating back to the Renaissance: their transformation into public museums accessible to scholars and connoisseurs marks the origin of the Vatican Museums. New buildings were built specifically to house the classical sculptures, such as the Pio-Clementine Museum, which represents a milestone in the history of European culture. The 19th- and 20th-century additions of new and diverse collections and buildings accord with the tradition of papal patronage.

Religion in the Armed Forces

In the military there is an entire branch dedicated to serving soldiers, airmen, marines, and sailors of different denominations. In 1775, George Washington established chaplains as a necessary and vital component of military operations. That event has caused ripples through history, impacting lives of service members, family members, civilians, and enemy combatants.

It was a small thing for a general to say that every regiment should have a chaplain, but it set a precedent and established a profession that has withstood the test of time as a valuable asset and a necessary institution.

More on Chaplains

Chaplains serve in the armed forces of most countries, generally as commissioned officers who are not required to bear arms. Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Jewish chaplains serve in the armed forces of the United States.

A chaplain performs basically the same functions in most armed forces. A chaplain in the U.S. military must furnish or arrange for religious services and ministrations, advise his commander and fellow staff officers on matters pertaining to religion and morality, administer a comprehensive program of religious education, serve as counselor and friend to the personnel of the command, and conduct instruction classes in the moral guidance program of his service.

U.S. Army Chaplains

The U.S. Army Chaplain Corps is one of the oldest and smallest branches of the Army.  The Chaplain Corps dates back to 29 July 1775, when the Continental Congress authorized one chaplain for each regiment of the Continental Army, with pay equaling that of a captain.  In addition to chaplains serving in Continental regiments, many militia regiments counted chaplains among their ranks.

Since the War for Independence, chaplains have served in every American war.  Over that period, the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps has evolved, with the addition of Roman Catholic chaplains in the Mexican War, and Jewish and African American chaplains during the Civil War.  The position of chaplain assistant was created to support the work of chaplains.  In January 1979, the Army commissioned its first female chaplain.  Today, some 1,300 active duty Army chaplains and 1,200 in the reserve components, representing five major faiths groups (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist) and over 120 denominations, administer to soldiers and their families.

Duties and Responsibilities

While their duties are primarily focused on spiritual and moral issues, many chaplains have also demonstrated tremendous bravery.  Stories abound of chaplains administering the last rites to fallen soldiers, oblivious to the fire around them, or dashing out into the open to rescue the wounded without regard to their own lives.  Five chaplains earned the Medal of Honor for their bravery, the most recent award made posthumously to Chaplain (MAJ) Charles J. Watters in November 1969.  Dozens of other have made the ultimate sacrifice, living up the Chaplain Corps motto, Pro Deo Et Patria (For God and Country).

Chaplain Training and School

The U.S. Army Institute for Religious Leadership was created out of a need to adequately train chaplains to staff the large fighting force that the United States was creating in 1917 for service in World War I. Chaplain (MAJ) Aldred A. Pruden developed the plan for the school. On 9 February 1918, the War Department approved Chaplain Pruden’s plan, and the first session of the Chaplain School commenced on 3 March 1918, at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Chaplain Pruden was designated as its first commandant and established a five-week curriculum which included courses in international and military law, first aid, drill, rules of land warfare and equitation.

During the operation of the school, 1,696 clergymen were authorized to attend. Of these 1,315 reported, 915 were graduated, commissioned, and assigned to duty; 123 were appointed to the Officer’s Reserve Corps. Thus, 1,038 chaplains or chaplain candidates were graduated, of whom 123 didn’t see active duty because they did not graduate until after the Armistice. A subsidiary Chaplain School was also established in France in 1918 near the headquarters of the American Expeditionary Force at Chaumont. The one-week course (eventually expanded to 10 days) provided realistic simulation of battlefield training including gas defense drill and identification and burial of the dead. Approximately 600 chaplains attended the school in its eight-month existence.

Establishment in 1920

Although a small branch, the chaplaincy firmly established itself in the 1920s. The Chaplain School, which had been deactivated after the war, was re-established in 1920. Chaplain training became a prime factor in the professionalization of the branch. Since seminaries transformed individuals into clergy, it was up to the Army to take these civilian professionals and turn them into Army professionals. In 1919, a board recommended establishing a permanent school to conduct a basic course to train newly commissioned chaplains to minister to soldiers of denominations other than their own. The course would also prepare them to be army officers, teaching them Army regulations and customs.

Camp Grant

On 15 May 1920, the Chaplain School opened at Camp Grant, Illinois with a staff of 15 and a student body of 15. The 21 subject curriculum included physical training and map reading. In 1921, it moved to Camp Knox, Kentucky, to Fort Wayne, Michigan in 1922, and then to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Staff and faculty wrote and distributed correspondence courses to train Reserve chaplains. Eventually, because of the low number of Regular Army chaplains to take the course, (only 125 were on active duty) and because of lack of support from other commanders, the school was deactivated in 1928. While the School was closed for resident training, correspondence programs continued. For the next 18 years, 85% of the clergy who enrolled in correspondence courses were commissioned in the Reserves, 14% in the National Guard and .4% in the Regular Army.

Fort Benjamin Harrison

Two days after Pearl Harbor, the re-activation of the Chaplain School was set in motion. On 2 February 1942, 75 chaplains attended the first class at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. The 28-day session included 200 hours of instruction in military organization, customs and courtesies, military law, graves registration, first aid, military administration and chaplain activities. Gas mask drills, calisthenics and outdoor map orientation were also part of the curriculum.

After four sessions at Fort Benjamin Harrison, the school moved to Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The number of students increased from 75 to 450 and the faculty was augmented accordingly. The sessions were lengthened to five, then six weeks. An Army instructional film of this period, which was made in Hollywood and titled “For God And Country”, portrayed four chaplains being trained at Harvard as well as looking at their subsequent careers. The actor who played the part of the Catholic chaplain in the film was Ronald Reagan. By 1944, with a decrease in enrollment, the school moved to Fort Devens, Massachusetts and then to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia in 1945. Of the 8302 chaplains enrolled before the end of 1945, 8183 graduated.

Additional Training

Additional training generally became available after chaplains graduated. Those who were selected for duty with the Army Air Corps received two weeks of special training at the Air Corps School in San Antonio, Texas. A parallel course was set up for enlisted personnel who were to serve as chaplain assistants. In all, 1089 chaplains and 939 enlisted completed the course. Some schools conducted exercises where chaplains coordinated their activities to actual troop movements and terrain. Chaplains had to find soldiers with simulated wounds and give them proper treatment. They also selected a site for a cemetery, and they wrote burial reports and condolence letters. Chaplains entering jump school faced some of the most physically demanding training. To minister to paratroopers, chaplains needed to bond with men, and jumping with them was the most important way to form that bond.

A Quick Stint in Georgia

The Chaplain School, meanwhile, moved from Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, in 1946 to Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. The basic course was extended to three months to give the new chaplain “a picture of his peacetime job and its many opportunities.” To improve readiness, Reserve and National Guard chaplains could now attend resident courses and also receive non-resident training through extension courses. Even after the establishment of a separate chaplaincy, Air Force chaplains received training at the Army School. Eventually, the Air Force established its own school. The Navy soon followed suit.

Frequently, securing qualified chaplain assistants was difficult. Commanders sometimes assigned troublesome soldiers to the chaplain. Qualified soldiers working for chaplains often requested transfers due to lack of promotion opportunities. In 1949, a study recommended that assistants be assigned on the basis of completion of a special course of instruction at the Army Chaplain School.

On the Job Training

Demonstrated ability from on-the -job training for a period of not less than 90 days, or civilian training or experience in religion or music and on-the -job training for not less than 60 days. Instead, enlisted soldiers already qualified in the Personnel and Administration Career Field were trained and designated as “Qualified Chaplain’s Assistants”. In 1950, the Chaplain School instituted its first enlisted training program. Future Air Force “Welfare Specialists” were the first graduates. This program continued until 1954. After a lapse of two years, it was reinstated at Fort Dix, New Jersey and Fort Ord, California. Later operations were consolidated at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.

The Final Move

The school’s sixteenth move came in 1996, when the Chaplain Center and School came to its present home at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, having moved from Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. The school is also recognized as the home of the Chaplain Corps Regiment. It was formally activated on 29 July 1986. The Army Chaplain Museum is also located at the school.

US Air Force Chaplain Corps

The first Air Chaplain of the United States Army Air Force was Captain Charles I. Carpenter, appointed 28 July 1942. Although the United States Air Force became a separate department on 18 September 1947, following the passage of the National Security Act. The Army opposed the creation of a separate Air Force chaplaincy. This would violate Spaatz-Eisenhower Agreement. This agreement stated that parallel organizations in the Army and the Air Force would not be approved. Unless organically necessary, and would serve as a precedent for the separation of other services.

Carpenter, on the other hand, emphasized the need for a shared sense of identity between chaplains and the men they served and favored a separate Air Force chaplaincy. On 10 May 1949, after consulting with Carpenter, General Carl Spaatz ordered the institution of a separate Air Force chaplaincy; fewer than 10 of the 458 active duty chaplains elected to remain in the Army. Carpenter was promoted to major general. He was appointed the first Air Force Chief of Chaplains, serving from 1949 to 1958. The Air Force Chaplain Assistant Specialist Career was established in 1948.

Chief of Chaplains

The Chief of Chaplains of the United States Air Force (CCHAF) is the senior chaplain in the United States Air Force, the leader of the U.S. Air Force Chaplain Corps, and the senior adviser on religious issues to the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force. The CCHAF is responsible for establishing an effective chaplain program that meets the religious needs of all members of the Air Force by leading an Air Force Chaplain Corps of approximately 2,200 chaplains and chaplain assistants from the active and Air Reserve components. As a member of the Armed Forces Chaplains Board, the CCHAF advises the Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff on religious, ethical and quality-of-life concerns. The position of Chief of Chaplains is currently held by Major General Randall Kitchens.

Deputy Chief of Chaplains

The Air Force Deputy Chief of Chaplains assists the Chief of Chaplains in directing and maintaining the Chaplain Corps.The Chaplain Assistant Air Force Career Field Manager runs the chaplain-assistant career field, preparing chaplain assistants to support the Air Force Chaplain Corps and advising the Air Force Chief of Chaplains on policy matters regarding chaplain assistants and the Air Force Chaplain Corps. The position is currently held by Chief Master Sergeant Dale McGavran.

History of Chaplains in the Navy

Chaplains have been providing front line spiritual guidance and solace ever since there has been a Navy–ever since Edward Brooks received his commission as a chaplain in 1777. Since the Marine Corps has no chaplain corps of its own, its personnel have always been included within the Navy chaplains’ ministry.

Early Discovery

The earliest discovered reference to any extensive work by Navy chaplains directly for Marines appeared in a letter of December 4, 1862, in which Chaplain C. S. Stewart wrote to a friend describing his activities with the Marines at the New York Navy Yard Hospital.

When Chaplain JF Fleming was assigned to duty in the summer of 1912. He became the first chaplain to have exclusive duty with the Marines. He served on board the California when the Marines were sent to Nicaragua. The first full-time duty assignment with Marines went to Chaplain Bower R. Patrick when he was ordered to the Marine Expeditionary Force of the Atlantic Fleet in April, 1914.

San Diego

Establishment of a Marine Base at San Diego just prior to America’s entry into World War I saw the second Navy chaplain assigned full-time duty with Marines. He was Leroy N. Taylor who served with the Fourth Marine Regiment from August, 1915, to December, 1916. The chaplain accompanied the regiment to Santo Domingo in 1916 and distinguished himself in an engagement in which the Marines took part. For his actions as an ambulance driver and his courage in advancing through fire-swept fight zones he was presented with the Letter of Commendation by the Navy Department.

Chaplain Training

Like all recruits, the chaplains go through ‘boot camp’, where they get a good dose of military and physical training. For seven hours each day, five days each week, they are schooled in Naval Orientation. Other topics include: audio-visual Aids, history of the Navy Chaplain Corps, Naval Law, and first aid.

Weekly field trips to nearby Naval activities afford the new chaplains opportunities to observe the Navy at work and to see a demonstration of the chaplains’ place in the general scheme of Navy life.

Reserve Chaplains

Reserve chaplains who come back on active duty, attend the school for refresher courses in the latest changes in Navy REgulations and organization since their last period of active duty.

A student chaplain class received instructions in the use of the different types of ecclesiastical equipment carried in the field services” (Photo by W. J. McFarland, USN).

The School

The school provides an unusual opportunity for clergymen of various faiths to know each other better. They attend classes together, drill together and visit each others’ services. This cooperation and understanding pays off. If a graduate is transferred to a small shore station they might be the only chaplain and serve all denominations. He will know what his responsibilities are in guiding men of other faiths.

It pays off on the front lines, too. For here there’s only one way to determine a man’s religion–from the letter stamped on his dog tags. One look and the chaplain knows an injured man’s preference. The lad may be Jewish and the padre a Catholic-but if the Marine wants a prayer, he’ll hear his own–and maybe in Hebrew.

The school also helps each chaplain to live up to the corp’s motto–Cooperation Without Compromise. This creed takes on a greater meaning when the Stars and Stripes take second place to the Banner of God that flies above it during Sunday worship. To Navy men and Marines this pennant with a blue cross on a white field stands for freedom of worship. To the world it says–Religion without Compromise.”

Religious Support at Airports

Travelers often arrive at airports praying that the security lines won’t be too long or that they don’t end up in a middle seat. But at many of the nation’s largest airports, there’s a more spiritual setting for offering up prayers – a chapel.

In fact, more than half of the nation’s busiest airports have dedicated chapels, and many of these facilities offer a variety of worship services for different faith traditions. The first U.S. airport chapel, Our Lady of the Airways, opened at Boston’s Logan International Airport about 60 years ago. Since then, airports all over the country have added spaces for prayer, worship and meditation.

Airport Chapels

Most airport chapels are designated as interfaith spaces. Some airports provide facilities for specific religious groups. John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, for example, has four places of worship: a Catholic church, a Protestant chapel, a mosque and a synagogue that is reputed to be the only one in a major airport in all of North and South America.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, meanwhile, has five different interfaith chapels – one in every terminal. Our count only includes those airports the Federal Aviation Administration classifies as a “large hub.” These are airports that handle 1% or more of the nation’s annual passenger boardings.

Prayer Room Popularity

Thirty U.S. airports qualified as large hubs in 2013, the most recent year for which data are available, ranging from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (the busiest in the nation, with more than 45 million passenger boardings) to Portland (Ore.) International Airport, which accommodated 7.5 million boardings in 2013.

Of the 30 large hubs, 18 (60%) have chapels or prayer rooms. Among the 12 that don’t have space for worship are some of the nation’s most important airports, such as Los Angeles International Airport (the second-busiest in the nation) and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

While four of the 18 major airports with chapels offer no formal services, the rest (14) offer at least one type of organized worship, and many of them offer more than one kind of service. For instance, Washington Dulles International Airport, near Washington, D.C., offers weekly Catholic Mass, Protestant worship and Christian prayer services, as well as daily Jewish and Muslim prayer services.