Donate to RNS

NEWS FEATURE: Spiritual Travel Books Guide Pilgrim Readers, Travelers to Sacred Spaces

c. 2000 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The world’s major faith traditions have long described the religious life as an ongoing journey, but only recently have publishers begun producing numerous spiritually oriented guidebooks exploring both travel and transformation. “Sacred journeys and sacred sites have been at the center of humankind’s spiritual life from the very beginning,”according […]

c. 2000 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) The world’s major faith traditions have long described the religious life as an ongoing journey, but only recently have publishers begun producing numerous spiritually oriented guidebooks exploring both travel and transformation.

“Sacred journeys and sacred sites have been at the center of humankind’s spiritual life from the very beginning,”according to Jan-Erik Guerth, editorial director for”The Spiritual Traveler,”an impressive new series of books which just debuted with the volume, “England, Scotland and Wales.”

The book, published by HiddenSpring, a new imprint of New Jersey-based Paulist Press, provides maps, photos, suggested itineraries and a wealth of background information on hundreds of diverse sites. These include Canterbury, a key Christian site covered less exhaustively in mainstream travel guides, as well as many smaller places other books ignore, such as the Findhorn Foundation Community in northernmost Scotland, and Bardsey Island, a remote spot beloved by “20,000 saints” and located off the coast of Wales.

“People are redefining and reinventing `pilgrimage’ for the 21st century,” said Guerth, who says future books in the series will cover areas of the United States, Italy and India.

Meanwhile, the English publisher Canterbury Press has released a wealth of books on British sites, all of which are distributed here by Morehouse.

These include novelist Ronald Blythe’s “Divine Landscapes: A Pilgrimage through Britain’s Sacred Places”and individual pilgrim guides on Iona and Holy Island (Lindisfarne).

San Francisco-based Travelers’ Tales plans to released two or more spiritual travel volumes a year. Its latest are: “Pilgrimage: Adventures of the Spirit,” and “A Woman’s Path: Women’s Best Spiritual Travel Writing.”

As with the company’s 1997 volume, “The Road Within: True Stories of Transformation,” these books contain numerous essays on varied sites by different authors. While some of the selections say more about authors’ inner states than they do about physical places, most are interesting and a few are revelatory.

“We’re all looking for ourselves, whether we know it or not,” said editor Larry Habegger. “When we set out into the larger world we open ourselves up to the experiences of others, and automatically open our insides to a greater understanding of ourselves.”

Three other new books illustrate the deep and lasting connections that bind people of faith to houses of worship.

“Heaven in Stone and Glass: Experiencing the Spirituality of the Great Cathedrals”(Crossroad) is Robert Barron’s moving meditation on the varied ways that the symbolic imagination of medieval architects led to the creation of some of the world’s most majestic religious buildings.

Focusing on French cathedrals like Chartres and Notre-Dame, Barron explores the buildings’ cruciform design, their stunning verticality and “scared geometry,” and the intentional interplay of light and darkness, helping modern-day travelers regain the lost art of reading these unique creations.

A more sobering look at an entirely different kind of religious building is “Synagogues without Jews” (Jewish Publication Society), a lovingly researched and lavishly illustrated look at synagogues in more than 30 small European cities and towns.

Rivka and Ben-Zion Dorfman, retired Americans now living in Jerusalem, have spent decades compulsively seeking out, researching and photographing buildings that stood at the heart of Europe’s Jewish communities in the centuries before World War II. Their dedication to preserving the memory of these sites is not only inspiring, but has also resulted in restoring the remains of once-impressive Jewish buildings.

“Holy Personal: Looking for Small Private Places of Worship” (Indiana University Press) is a fascinating and beautifully illustrated look at 27 sacred places Americans of diverse faiths have created on their own, including author Laura Chester’s own Little Rose Chapel. The book includes information on how to contact owners and visit the sites.

Among the other noteworthy recent releases are the following volumes:

_ Jay Copp’s “The Ligouri Guide to Catholic U.S.A.” covers more than 500 monuments, monasteries, churches, schools and shrines. An earlier Ligouri guide, “Marian Shrines of the United States,” examines dozens of sites dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and is part of the publisher’s “Pilgrim’s Travel Guide” series. And Morehouse has just released the fourth edition of its acclaimed “A Guide to Monastic Guest Houses,” which covers more than 100 locations in the U.S. and Canada.

_ Author Kevin J. Wright has become something of a Rick Steeves of religious sites, thanks to his boundless enthusiasm and solid research. His latest volume in the “Pilgrim’s Guide” series is “Europe’s Monastery and Convent Guesthouses,”which joins earlier books on Catholic shrines in western and central/eastern Europe.

_ Many Christians flocked to Rome this year for millennial celebrations, but the best prepared visitors were those who carried Frank Korn’s “A Catholic’s Guide to Rome” (Paulist), which guides readers through a pilgrimage to three dozen key sites. And for those traveling outside of the Eternal City, “Bed and Blessings Italy” (Paulist) provides detailed information on lodging available in the country’s many convent and monastery guest houses.

DEAEND RABEY