Patheos’ Sacred Spaces Initiative: Showcasing The 100 Most Holy Places On Earth



Patheos, a website focused on religion and spirituality, recently launched the Sacred Spaces Initiative, which explores the 100 most holy sites on Earth, providing valuable insights about each site.

The initiative unfurls this list on a weekly basis, with 10 holy spaces at a time each week over a period of 10 weeks. The top 10 spaces will be revealed on the week of Aug. 15. This list comprises multiple sites considered holy by diverse faiths, cultures and people across the world. The sites range from elaborate cathedrals and lush gardens to mountaintop monasteries and azure lakes. 

The Duomo di Milano in Milan, a sacred Catholic site. (Photo by Sean Jahansooz)

One of the latest sets of holy places on the list features the Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral) in Ital; the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh, Morocco; and the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, New York, which hold importance to Catholicism, Islam and Mormonism, respectively. However, certain sites higher on the list may also be considered sacred to multiple faiths simultaneously.

“So there’s the cross-faith part, where I’m learning about places that I didn’t know existed before, and I’m learning why they’re important,” Travis Henry, senior director of content at Patheos, told “And then second, maybe I’m learning about places that are important to my own faith that I didn’t know about. And third, I am now learning how a place that is important to my faith is also important to another faith. Especially places in Israel, where it’s important to the Christian faith, the Jewish faith, and the Muslim faith.”

The list is determined by an algorithm that operates on multiple data points. These include online searches and real-time foot traffic, coupled with how many faiths believe in the importance or holiness of the temple, shrine or garden in question. The algorithm also has a voting mechanism using a pairwise ranking program. Voters consist of 29 Patheos contributors, who are priests, imams, pastors and journalists of various faiths. The list managers say this kind of method is used by social scientists in studies of preferences and public choice, for example.

The Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh, Morocco, a sacred site in Islam. (Photo by imen)

“We know that this list is very subjective,” Henry added. “I know that somebody’s 95 could be somebody else’s No. 1. What could be very sacred to somebody else, which could be when they took a hike and found God — that could be the most sacred space to that person that’s not sacred to anybody else, and I want to acknowledge that. We call them the most holy places on Earth or sacred spaces, but there are sacred spaces everywhere. We are hoping to just surface places that are sacred to different faiths and millions of people, but I do encourage people to keep exploring and find their own sacred spaces, which may be even a little bit more special because nobody else goes there.”

Henry hopes this initiative will serve as both a quasi-travel guide to various religious sites and a mechanism through which people can learn about many religious faiths and perhaps the practitioners of those various faith traditions.

“We are hoping to create a library of sacred spaces where you can drop in and say ‘OK, this is where I can learn as much as possible about this place without visiting it,’“ he said, noting that some of the sacred places don’t even have their own websites. “So I hope that what we can do is introduce places to people of different faiths, so they can go and experience some amazing Buddhist temples that they’ve never seen.”

Patheos’ mission is to bring together people of different faith communities and the broader public to foster an environment of insight and discussion. The Sacred Spaces Initiative is another step toward that goal. 

Sacred Grove in Palmyra, New York, is a place Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says he received inspiration. (Photo by Richard Burlton)

According to a recent survey by the Radiant Foundation, 59% of respondents deemed it important that the news and other media cover multiple sets of religious perspectives on content, and 63% said that quality religion-based content is needed in their respective countries.

“We believe that people who believe in a higher power or spirituality tend to foster both a sense of community and a sense of betterment for their fellow humans.” Henry said. “In today’s world there’s a lot of division, sometimes over religion, and we believe if there’s an understanding of people’s different religions, that will actually bring people together.”

Henry added that Patheos doesn’t expect everyone to necessarily agree, but “you have to respect each other” and the right for the faith of others to exist.

Rafa Oliveira is an intern with covering technology and religion. He is a recent graduate of The King’s College in New York City with a degree in politics, philosophy and economics. He speaks Portuguese, English and Spanish and is an ardent Manchester United Supporter.


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