Our first blog in this series was exclusively Christian and because of the multitude of stunning temples, mosques, and other religious centers in this great inclusive melting pot of a country, non-Christian religious sites deserved a post of their own. One great thing about the United States is that we practice the freedom of religion. As such, there is a plethora of religious centers, sacred sites, and more throughout the country. Whether you practice these religions or you appreciate the sacredness of a site and the faith built within the walls, these faith based destinations are among the most beautiful in the nation, making for a sensational retreat with your group.
Eldridge Street Synagogue
The historic Orthodox synagogue was built in 1887 to accommodate over two million Jewish immigrants who settled in New York City. The building was recently renovated to restore it to its original grandeur befitting holy worship. Along with uncovering architectural details and shooing the pigeons from the open rafters, artists were commissioned to replace the central stained glass window with a magnificent, utterly sensational piece. In the center of the navy blue window is a golden Star of David surrounded by smaller stars illuminating the dark background. The synagogue offers tours and museum exhibits on the history of Orthodox Judaism in America.
Temple of Emanu-El
This grand temple began with just 33 devoted members in 1845 and has grown to become one of the largest Jewish congregations in the nation. The large temple complex is complete with a considerable number of Art Deco mosaics in brilliant jewel tones depicting religious symbols, meaningful scenes, and beautiful designs to complement the space. The lofty ceiling, triumphant use of space, and the expansive archways catch sound and drifts to the ears of everyone within the sanctuary, excluding none to the teachings.
Islamic Center of America
Easily the largest Islamic community of believers in the U.S., the Islamic Center of America is styled after the traditional Eastern Islamic architectural designs with golden onion peaks, white stone walls, and minarets. This expansive religious wonder is the largest congregation of Shia Islam in the United States. Though this particular center is relatively new, opened in 2005, it has drawn devoted believers and curious alike to tour its facilities and worship among its faithful.
The Hsi Lai Temple of Los Angeles was completed in 1988 in the traditional Chinese Ming and Ching dynasty monastery architecture in its statuary, gardens, and stylistic details. Situated over 15 acres, the Hsi Lai Temple complex practices "Humanistic Buddhism," a subset of Mahayana Chinese Buddhism that teaches the principles of the Buddha and the acceptance of all other religious beliefs. The resemblance to the Forbidden City makes the Hsi Lai Temple an exotic and welcoming attraction for those of any faith.
A fairly unknown religion, Baha'i is an all inclusive religion practicing the unity of all people, all religious beliefs, and all walks of life. The Baha'i House of Worship in Dearborn, Michigan is only one of seven in the whole world and a beautiful destination. The temple design was based on the significance of circles, symbolizing "the merging of all religions into one" as architect Louis Bourgeois stated. From the intricate details in the architecture to the landscaping of the gardens, the cyclical and forgiving nature of the Baha'i religion is evident in every inch of the complex.
Part of the Hindu New Vrindaban community in West Virginia, the Palace of Gold is stylistically tantalizing, catching the eye at every angle with color, shine, and light. The entire exterior is encased in golden details, blues and greens that make the whole building seem like a heavenly construction unlike any other. Named one of the 8 religious wonders in the country by CNN, the Palace of Gold welcomes tourists and believers to explore the shrine, shop, gardens, fountains, and the community of New Vrindaban.
There are over a dozen Mandirs in the U.S. and while all are worth a visit, the Mandir of Houston is particularly beautiful. A Mandir is a place of worship for those of the Hindu faith. The temple itself was designed according to Indian architectural treatises that have been used for thousands of years, built to elevate the spirit toward the gods and the eternal spirit of the universe. Houston's own facility shines among the rest as a peaceful and beautiful sacred site with water fountains, tranquility pools, and the intricate details that blend into a complete and unified architectural wonder.
Not all religious sacred sites are temples or churches and the sacred sites of the Native American peoples often utilized the divinity of their natural landscapes. Among the many sites sacred to the tribes of North America, Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming is one of the most visited, best preserved physical constructions by native peoples. The stone cairns, similar to Stonehenge, are situated in a circle to align with the sun and stars. Here they would pray for guidance, healing, atonement, and more. Sweat lodges were situated nearby to facilitate visions and bring the presence of spirit guides.
The religion of native Hawaiians, like Native Americans of continental North America, focuses on their surroundings, on the volcanoes, the ocean, and the sun that seemed to dictate the nature of their lives. The Piilanihale Heiau Temple, archaeologists theorize, was one of the largest temple constructions in all of Hawaii. While the entire temple is no longer standing, the extant foundation and walls grant a look into the expansiveness of this religious center. The Piilanihale Heiau complex is now a national historical landmark part of the Kahanu Botanical Garden on Maui, offering tours and admitting visitors year round.