Books are among my all-time favorite presents. They offer a thoughtful gesture from the gift-giver, choosing a book that’s right for me, and with it, the promise of time. Yes, a rich span of time when I can read at leisure, and dream of far-off places.
What better gift for the book lover in your life this year than 1000 Sacred Places: The World’s Most Extraordinary Spiritual Sites?
1000 Sacred Places deserves a lavish, full-color review, but the book’s beauty far exceeds this reviewer’s grasp of words. Let me share the basics with you now, and urge you to take a look at this glorious book by Christopher Engels. Engels studied theology and philosophy in Bonn and Kiel. He works as the pastor of a Protestant parish in Leverkusen, Germany. Through conversations and cooperation with a team of religion and culture scientists, Engels gathered a wealth of information and wrote this sophisticated and comprehensive perspective on holy places everywhere in the world.
This is a gorgeous hardcover book with 950 full-color pages, in a chunky but handy 6 x 9 inch format. Promise yourself you’ll sit down and delve into it some quiet winter day and indulge in the far-off splendors.
1000 Sacred Places is much more accessible than a standard coffee-table book meant for browsing. Here, the content supports the beautiful photography, and is rich with good writing, meant to be read again and again, not only admired on a table.
Now, on to the spiritual enrichment. Without witnessing spiritual places and sacred grounds we can’t truly embrace the mystery, history, and often divine experiences that occur in such sacred places. We may find rest amid art in a museum but a sacred space yields much more; the sense of strength that comes from contemplating spiritual experiences.
Exploring and explaining over 1000 sacred places, large and small, around the world, the book is organized by geography, and includes features and history of each site. I enjoy the mix of small shrines, ancient mysterious ruins and majestic cathedrals throughout the book. From the beginning entries on Iceland’s gothic arches to Norway’s Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim and rock carvings of Altafjord, you know you’re in for an educational and sensual journey. Over 5,000 mysterious engravings decorate the rocks around Altafjord, somewhere between land and sea, created millennia ago in this hidden fjord.
The book’s pages are color-coded by continent, giving you a visual sense of the lifetime it would take to explore sacred sites included in the 400 pages covering Europe and over 150 pages of exquisite Asian treasures.
North America has its own, much smaller section with treasures you may have never seen, like the rocky chain of foothills resembling a reclining man at the US/Canada border across Lake Superior. Ojibwa legend believes this sleeping giant is the Great Spirit, whose daughter is the daughter of the moon, kidnapped by the west wind.
Sections between chapters are enhanced by Engel’s essays on sacred nature, mythology, culture and pilgrimage. One remarkable example of these surprising essays is author’s notes on Australian aborigines who recognize two eras; the present and Dreamtime, the era of earth’s creation. Places involved in the Dreaming are sources of great spiritual power, and aborigines believe that the soul of the individual and the landscape are inseparably bound up together, and severing the connection means ending life.
At the end of 1000 Sacred Places, the author includes an explanation of specific aspects of the religions included in the book, along with a glossary from Agora to Ziggurat and covers important concepts from art history, architecture, theology and religion.
The extensive index includes a surprising 21st-century update: GPS coordinates for each location.