St John’s Anglican Church was among the first public buildings erected by the East India Company when Calcutta became the official capital of British India in 1772. Its foundation stone was laid by the first Governor General of India, Warren Hastings, on 6th April 1784 and the church opened for worship in 1787. Built of stone from the ruins of the ancient Bengali town of Gaur, St John’s bears a passing resemblance to the 13th century church of St Martins-in-the-Fields in London. Its neo-classic style architecture is topped by a similar spire inset with a giant clock said to have been wound every day since its construction. Whether you are a Christian or not, a reason to visit St John’s is that its compound houses a monument in memory of the soldiers who suffocated in a small room in Fort William following the British surrender of Calcutta to the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj ud-Daulah, in April 1756. Of the 146 prisoners crammed in overnight, only 43 were still alive when the cell was unlocked next morning ——the dead, with no room to fall, remained on their feet. The lexicon “black hole of Calcutta” has entered the English language to mean anywhere small, dark and claustrophobic. The room concerned is said to have measured only 14x18feet.
An obelisk commemorating the lives lost on that terrible night was removed in 1821. The new Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, built a new memorial in 1901, but due to the sensitivities of the Indian independence movement, it was taken to its present site in the shady compound of St John’s Church. Located on Netaji Subhash (NS) Road, St John’s is a quiet oasis in the maelstrom of modern-day Kolkata. Your transport can drive in and park outside the entrance of the church (leave a tip for the gate keeper on your way out).
Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is distressing for Palestinians not only for political reasons since East Jerusalem was seen as capital of a future Palestinian state, but because al Haram esh-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) in the heart of the old city contains places of worship associated with the Prophet Muhammad of equal importance to Mecca and Medina.
VIEW OF THE NOBLE SANCTUARY IN EAST JERUSALEM. IT IS DOMINATED BY THE DOME OF THE ROCK BUILT BY THE UMAYYAD CALIPHS RULING FROM DAMASCUS IN 692 CE. AL-AQSA MOSQUE IS LOCATED AT THE SOUTHERN END OF THE PLATFORM FACING MECCA.
THE DOME OF THE ROCK, QUBBAT AS-SAKRAH, IS AN EARLY EXAMPLE OF MUSLIM ARTISTIC GENIUS. IT IS BUILT OVER THE SACRED ROCK ASSOCIATED WITH THE MIRACULOUS MI’RAJ, OR ‘NIGHT JOURNEY’, MADE BY THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD FROM MECCA TO JERUSALEM.
PALESTINIAN SCHOOLCHILDREN VISIT THE DOME OF THE ROCK IN EAST JERUSALEM, A SACRED MUSLIM SHRINE, IT IS BUILT OVER THE ROCK FROM WHERE, AFTER OFFERING A PRAYER, THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD.
EVERY INCH OF BUILDING IS COVERED IN GLEAMING TILES EMBELLISHED WITH GEOMETRIC PATTERNS, TYPICAL OF ISLAMIC ART, AND STYLISED CALLIGRAPHY RECOUNTING SIGNIFICANT EVENTS AND VERSES FROM THE HOLY QUR’AN.
THE SACRED SHRINE IS CONSTRUCTED OVER THE ROCK FROM WHERE THE PROPHET ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN. THE FIFTH CALIPH, ABD AL-MALIK, EMPLOYED FIFTY-THREE CLEANERS TO DAILY PURIFY IT WITH A BLEND OF MUSK, AMBERGRIS AND ROSEWATER.
A LAMP IN THE BELLY OF THE SACRED ROCK. IN UMAYYAD TIMES, 5000 LAMPS BURNING OIL OF JASMINE ESSENCE AND TAMARISK WERE USED TO PERFUME THE BUILDING.
STEPS BENEATH THE ROCK LEAD DOWN TO THE ‘WELL OF SOULS’, SO-CALLED BECAUSE MUSLIMS BELIEVE THE SOULS OF THE DECEASED LINGER HERE, BEFORE THEIR OWN DEPARTURE. THE GROTTO CONTAINS ISLAM’S OLDEST PRAYER NICHE.
THE AL-AQSA MOSQUE BUILT IN THE EARLY 8TH CENTURY IMMORTALISES THE MI’RAJ RECORDED IN SURAH XV11 OF THE QUR’AN: Glory be to him who has made his servant go by night from the Sacred Temple to the farthest temple whose surroundings we have blessed.
The Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque enshrining the mausoleum of Umm Haram, the “foster-mother” or wet-nurse of the Prophet Muhammad, is considered one of the holiest sites in Islam. It is located on the shore of a salt lake, 6km west of Larnaca, on the south coast of the Mediterranean island ofCyprus.
THE HALA SULTAN TEKKE MOSQUE AND SHRINE IN SOUTH CYPRUS
Legend surrounding the old woman’s demise, claims she broke her neck in a fall off a mule, while riding on the western lake shore in 646 CE. Her tomb, discovered by a wandering Dervish, was reported to possess healing powers. On touching the stone, cripples were seen to rise and walk. Other pilgrims had their maladies miraculously cured.
In 1760, during the Ottoman administration of Cyprus, the Sultan in Istanbul, ordered a mosque to be built over the sacred site. The chamber containing the tomb lies behind a grill beneath a cross-piece formed by a slab of meteorite, similar to the ka’aba in the Muslim holy city of Mecca.
THE TOMB IS LOCATED BEHIND AN ORNATE GRILL IN THE MOSQUE
Though simple, the present mosque, renovated in 1816, exudes a spiritual quality remarked on by both Muslim and Christian visitors. The complex contains simple lodgings for pilgrims and was once known as “Gülşen-Feyz” (the rose garden of plenitude or enlightenment).
DAY 25 ON THE CAMINO TO SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
The Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St James, has been a Christian pilgrimage route since at least the 9th century. Winding some 800 kilometres from France across northern Spain, it ends at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the resting place of James the Apostle.
Former Qantas hostess, and mother of five, Australian Trish Clark, has walked the Camino and written a guide for those who want to follow in her footsteps. Below is a soupçon of her experience.
Throughout much of my life the Camino had been like a siren call, challenging me to follow this medieval pilgrim trail and finally, with the children grown up, I set out.
The walk started at St Jean de Pied de Port, in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, before heading west through a countryside dotted with rustic villages, until ending in Santiago de Compostela in north west Spain..
VIEW OF THE CAMINO IN THE FRENCH PYRENEES
I was soon to discover the pilgrimage is not for the faint-hearted. A physical wreck after the first day, I thought I had made a terrible mistake.
I was on my own, and missing a yellow directional arrow, I walked an unnecessary 10 km. before stumbling into a village with one thought: I cannot keep this up for 6 weeks. I will return to St Jean and make my way home to Sydney.
NOT ALL PILGRIMS MAKE IT
But the following morning, I experienced the first miracle of my Camino. I awoke refreshed with not an ache, or a blister and after a hearty breakfast, I strode out of town on a high.
Keeping the arrows in sight, I travelled light, carrying a 24 litre backpack and overnighting in guesthouses and pilgrim hostels along the way.
WITH A SWEDISH PILGRIM IN NAVARETE, LA RIOJA PROVINCE OF SPAIN
On reaching Santiago after 34 days, I presented a passport stamped from each location. The reward —a treasured Compostela certificate. And following the custom, I attended a pilgrim celebration Mass, held daily at noon in the magnificent 12th century Baroque cathedral.
PILGRIMS CELEBRATE OUTSIDE THE CATHEDRAL OF SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
Once the domain of the penitent, the Camino now attracts all sorts of people from church groups, to fitness fanatics and tourists.
As well as those walking to honour their faith, I met others in search of themselves, one training for a marathon, another making the trek in gratitude for recovering from an illness and one man who made it known to every female pilgrim that he was looking for a wife (I later heard that he was unsuccessful).
I still think about the Camino frequently. Following the yellow arrows taught me much about myself, about freedom, about perseverance, about trusting God and about the abundant joys of leading a simple life.
Also by Trish Clark, a guide to Convent and Monastery accommodation in Europe.
JERUSALEM AS IT MAY HAVE LOOKED AT THE TIME OF CHRIST
A holy city for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Jerusalem is central to the beliefs of all three religions. Indeed some early maps depict the ancient walled city as the centre of the world. Venerated and fought over, Jerusalem has been razed and rebuilt more than a dozen times. In 1981, both the Old City containing the sacred sites and its Ottoman-built walls, were inscribed on the World Heritage List.
ARMENIAN PRIESTS IN THE OLD CITY
Divided into four distinct quarters: Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Armenian, the meandering, crowded heart of Jerusalem is visited by some 3.5 million tourists a year, the majority from America followed by Russia, then France.
Local guides know that a priority for Christian visitors is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre believed built on the site where Jesus was crucified and where his body was anointed on the Stone of Unction, located just inside the main entrance.
CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE, FOUNDED BY EMPEROR CONSTANTINE IN 335 CE
ITALIAN PILGRIMS AT THE ‘STONE OF THE UNCTION’
The church is divided into zones administered by different custodians: Greek Orthodox, Franciscan, Coptic Christian, Armenian and Ethiopian Orthodox whose recorded presence in Jerusalem dates from the 4th Century and who are allocated the roof.
LOOKING UP AT THE DOME, CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE
The next most sacred site for Christian pilgrims is the Garden Tomb from where it is believed Christ rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. (Matthew 28:1-10). Within the Old City, scores of other holy sites include the Stations of the Cross where Christ walked along the winding route known as the Via Dolorosa.
RELIGIOUS TOUR GROUP AT THE GARDEN TOMB
STATION V ON THE VIA DOLOROSA WHERE JESUS WALKED TO HIS CRUCIFIXION
In the heart of Jerusalem is the Temple Mount, al-Haram ash-Sharif in Arabic (Noble Sanctuary) enclosing 35 acres of gardens, fountains and religious buildings of immense significance for Muslims, and also for Jews.
THE DOME OF THE ROCK, MUSLIM SHRINE ON THE TEMPLE MOUNT
At its southern end of the sanctuary is Al-Aqsa Mosque, dating from 705 CE the focus for Jerusalem’s Muslim community. Hosting daily prayers, the mosque can accommodate 5,000 worshippers on holy days such as eid al-fitr, the feast following the end of the fast month of Ramadan.
THE AL-AQSA MOSQUE ON THE TEMPLE MOUNT, THIRD MOST HOLY SITE IN ISLAM
Planted in the centre of the sanctuary is the Dome of the Rock, a gleaming shrine erected over the rock where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad made his miraculous “Night Journey” into Heaven. Jewish tradition associates the rock as the place where Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, but was stopped from doing so by an Angel of God. (Genesis 22.2-8). The oldest Islam edifice in Jerusalem, the shrine was raised by the Umayyad Caliph Abd-al-Malik between 688-691 CE.
THE DOME OF THE ROCK, TILEWORK COVERED WITH VERSES FROM THE HOLY QUR’AN
Below the sanctuary is the Western Wall, formerly known as the Wailing Wall, the holiest of sites for Jews who come there to mourn the loss of the Second Temple destroyed by Rome in 70 BCE.
THE WESTERN WALL, ALL THAT REMAINS OF THE SECOND TEMPLE
Jews from all over the world, come to pray at the wall where they believe God will hear their prayers. The most devout scribble a wish on a scrap of paper and wedge it into gaps between the huge lower stones which date from Herodian times.
ORTHODOX JEWS PRAY AT THE WESTERN WALL, MOST SACRED SITE IN JUDAISM
SCRAPS OF PAPER, WITH REQUESTS TO GOD, ARE JAMMED BETWEEN THE ANCIENT STONES
Pilgrimage tours visiting Jerusalem’s sacred treasures are packaged by many travel agents. It is important to wear comfortable shoes as many sites in the Old City can only be accessed on foot.
OLD GREEK ORTHODOX PILGRIMS REST THEIR WEARY FEET OUTSIDE THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE
RELIGIOUS TOUR GROUP FROM FRANCE, ST BARBARA COPTIC ORTHODOX CHURCH IN CAIRO
Faith travel is as old as time, but from a niche market associated with church groups, it has grown into a dynamic industry. Along with adventure tourism and eco-tourism, religious tourism has become big business, estimated to be worth $18-20 billion worldwide.
While atheists may consider it a curse, religion embraces far more than just belief and worship. Consider it’s influence on dress and diet, sacred sites, ecclesiastical architecture and the associated arts.
One way or another, religion has always impacted on travel. For thousands of years Hindus have trekked to holy places such as Badrinath and Gangotri in northern India while Christian pilgrims have travelled to locations in the Holy Land associated with the ministry of Jesus since at least 4CE.
It is undeniable that religious extremism is impacting on travel in parts of the Middle East and West Africa, but more and more moderate believers are visiting sacred sites associated with their faith.
Australians, who may have never set foot in St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, flock to St Peter’s in Rome. French groups book holidays featuring ancient Buddhist cities in Sri Lanka and Coptic churches in Egypt, The hajj (a requisite of Islam that requires all able Muslims make a pilgrimage to the holy shrines in Mecca)—attracts 2 million visitors a year generating some SR32 billion ($8.5 billion) for Saudi Arabia.
The visit of the late Pope Benedict to Sydney in 2008 attracted 223,000 Christian pilgrims from 58 countries. In 2012, thousands of devotees welcomed His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Bodghaya, the place of Buddha’s enlightenment emphasise the economic value of religious tourism, especially for developing nations.
A PARTY OF RELIGIOUS TOURISTS FROM OHIO VISITS ST PETER’S IN ROME
PRIESTS FROM BOTH ANGLICAN AND CATHOLIC CHURCHES LEAD THE GLASTONBURY PILGRIMAGE
NURSES, THE INFIRM AND PILGRIMS ATTEND THE BLESSING AT LOURDES