Religion’s in the heart, not in the knees.
Douglas Jerrold, The Devil’s Ducat (1830)
One of the more prominent geographical dimensions of religious expression is the notion of sacred space. Most religions designate certain places as sacred or holy, and this designation often encourages believers to visit those places in pilgrimage and puts responsibilities on religious authorities to protect them for the benefit of future generations. Geographers have explored a wide range of questions within this area, such as why and on what basis space is defined as sacred, what implications this designation might have for the use and character of those areas, how believers respond to the idea of sacred space, and how is their response (especially through pilgrimage) reflected in geographical flows and patterns.
Much of the work on this theme builds upon the foundation established by Eliade (1959) in his influential book on The sacred and the profane. He explores how ordinary (profane) space is converted into holy (sacred) space, and suggests that this symbolic process reflects the spiritual characteristics associated with both the physical features and the deeper, abstract implications of delimiting a particular site as sacred. Designation of a site as sacred is generally a response to two types of events. Some events (which he calls hierophanic) involve a direct manifestation on earth of a deity, whereas in other (theophanic) events somebody receives a message from the deity and interprets it for others.
In this chapter we shall encounter examples of sacred space with reflect both of these types of event. We begin by looking at some contexts where religious belief in nature as the home of gods has elevated particular dimensions of the natural world to the status of sacred space.