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A shrine is a sacred space set aside for religious contemplation, commemoration, or ceremonies. Classically, shrines contain sacred objects such as relics, icons, or other objects of religious importance, and many shrines have a space at which the faithful may leave offerings. When a shrine contains a space for offerings, it is known as an altar.
Originally, a shrine was a box used to contain relics, icons, and other religious objects. Such boxes were of great religious importance, and they might travel the countryside so that the faithful could see them, or be stored in special buildings, including houses of worship. Over time, the term “shrine” came to be used more generally to describe a sacred place where such relics are stored.
Any number of locations can serve as shrines. For example, some tombs become shrines, because the faithful wish to visit them and honor the people who are buried there. A shrine can also be part of a church or another religious structure, with many religions keeping precious relics in the care of religious officiants so that pilgrims can visit. People can also construct shrines at home; in many Eastern religions, homes and businesses have personal altars dedicated to the ancestors or specific gods, and many Christians make shrines in their gardens with religious statues to create a space to sit and contemplate religious matters.
A typical shrine is considered sacred because of the objects it contains, and people may travel a great distance to view especially venerated or holy objects. In some religions, people believe that visiting or touching sacred shrines is an important part of religious faith, and it can bring good luck to the pilgrim. Some specific shrines have special pilgrimages associated with them, such as the haj to Mecca in the Muslim tradition.
People who visit religious shrines are encouraged to be respectful, and to pay attention to regional manners and traditions. For example, in Buddhist temples, it is considered very rude to show the soles of your feet, so you should be careful about how you sit. For people of different faiths visiting shrines out of interest or curiosity, such marks of respect are greatly appreciated by the keepers of the shrine and religious visitors. In some cases, all visitors to a shrine must follow certain rules of conduct, regardless of faith, and it can help to have a local guide assist you.
The term “shrine” is also sometimes used in a secular sense. For example, the sites of disasters and fatal accidents are sometimes turned into shrines with various objects which commemorate the event, and such sites are often treated with the same veneration accorded to religious shrines.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the definition of a shrine?
A shrine is a sacred place, which is dedicated to a specific deity, ancestor, hero, martyr, saint, daemon, or similar figure of awe and respect, at which they are venerated or worshipped. Shrines often contain idols, relics, or other such objects associated with the figure being honored. By visiting a shrine, individuals show their respect or devotion to the figure or ask for blessings and protection.
How do shrines differ from temples or churches?
Shrines are typically smaller than temples or churches and are focused on a particular figure or deity, whereas temples and churches are more general places of worship that can accommodate larger congregations for regular services. Shrines may be part of a temple or church or exist independently, and they often serve as a site for individual prayer and offerings rather than communal worship.
Can shrines be found in all religions?
While the concept of a shrine is common across many religions, the form and significance can vary greatly. For instance, in Shintoism, shrines are central places of worship, whereas in Christianity, shrines are often associated with saints and may be located within churches. In Islam, shrines are sometimes dedicated to revered religious figures, such as saints or prophets, although the practice is not universally accepted within the faith.
What are some examples of famous shrines around the world?
Famous shrines around the world include the Ise Grand Shrine in Japan, dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu, the Shrine of the Báb in Haifa, Israel, which is a significant site for the Bahá'í Faith, and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, which is one of the most visited Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world. Each of these shrines attracts millions of visitors annually, reflecting their cultural and religious significance.
What is the purpose of making a pilgrimage to a shrine?
Making a pilgrimage to a shrine is often considered an act of devotion and can be a way for believers to deepen their faith, seek spiritual guidance, or request divine intervention. Pilgrims may also undertake the journey to fulfill a vow, seek healing, or as an act of penance. The pilgrimage itself is seen as a spiritual journey, with the shrine serving as a focal point for prayer and reflection.