on 24 October 2008
This is a surprising book in several ways. On first glance it appears to be a coffee-table travelogue: it is 11 x 9 inches, and every page is dominated by photography (albeit extraordinarily beautiful photography). Some of the sacred places he has selected are those which you may expect to see, such as Stonehenge, and the Pyramids of Giza. Others are less well known yet equally wonderful, such as Lake Funduzi, in South Africa, the Ellora Caves in India (a favourite of mine!), and Mount Tongariro in New Zealand. Yet there is a lot more here than what may be found in other books of its kind. What Carr-Gomm has attempted to do, successfully I think, is expand the understanding of what a sacred place is. Three particular ways stand out in my mind.
The first is that a sacred place need not be "discovered" It can also be created. Certainly, there are places which seem to call out to humanity, and appear as if they have magic whether or not people acknowledge it. Mountain heights like Kilimanjaro, Denali, and special lakes like Walden Pond or the Source of the Blue Nile, are included for this reason. But it is also the case that some places have become sacred because of human activity: perhaps it is the location of a traditional ceremony or an important historical event. Perhaps it is the site of an temple or other edifice of human hands. He therefore includes impressive cathedrals and monuments such as Santiago de la Compostela, and Mecca, and a few that are partially in ruins now, such as the Oracle of Delphi, and the Temples of Malta.
That point may seem obvious to some. The second, more original point that Carr-Gomm raises, is that a sacred place need not be ancient. Carr-Gomm has therefore included the Temples of Humanity in Damanhur, Italy, and the Tarot Garden, also in Italy. Indeed in his introduction he describes a parkland in Wellington, New Zealand, which enchanted him with its beauty. He also noted signs that other people found the park to be most magical, as there is a clearing where people leave offerings of feathers, prayer-ties, and the like, on the trees. Yet the park was built on a reclaimed rubbish dump. Part of his purpose here, I think, is not just to draw attention to these wonderful places. It is also to assert the case that a sacred place can be very new, and it need not be any less sacred because of its youth. I find this an encouraging thought.
The third is that a sacred place is not always entirely peaceful. Carr-Gomm describes not only the wonder and beauty of each site he describes. He also mentions that many of them have long been the site of some terrible conflicts, and even of wars. Sometimes the conflict concerns who or which group controls the site, or who is (or is not) allowed in. It may concern environmental degradation. It may even have to do with political conflict at a regional or national level, from ethnic tension to outright warfare. Carr-Gomm describes the legal and political problems associated with Bear Butte, in South Dakota. A federal court ruled that the land had been seized from the Lakota Nation illegally, and ordered the government to pay damages. The Lakota refused the money, as they wanted their sacred homeland back. This fight for justice continues to this day. Carr-Gomm also describes how Luang Prabang, a World Heritage city in Laos, is threatened by the extreme poverty of local inhabitants, and the consequences of a secret war that the USA fought against Laos during the Vietnam era. Carr-Gomm describes the message of the Kogi people, the indigenous nation that lives in the Sierra Nevada northern Columbia, concerning the environmental disaster taking place there. A sacred place is not "apart from the world" in the sense that it is immune from invasion. I think this is a socially and religiously important insight, and deserves to be acknowledged in the unapologetic way that Carr-Gomm does. Indeed I think he shows great respect to these sites by not white-washing away the problems, and by presenting the social and environmental situation of many of these sacred places as it really is.
Overall, I'm most delighted to recommend this book to anyone. I think it may make excellent Yuletide gift-giving, especially for people who may want to visit these places but cannot afford to travel. And for those who can, let Carr-Gomm suggest a few unusual and less well known but equally amazing places to visit. For the whole of the world is wonderful - if only we look around.
on 6 July 2009
This excellent pictorial book deals with 51 "sacred places" -not 50 as stated on the dust cover.The location of the sites cover all continents as follows Africa 5,Middle East 4,Europe 16,Americas 10,Oceania 4and Asia 12.
There is a strong religious conotation with nearly all the places.The better known ones include the Pyramids,Stonehenge, Machu Picchu and Uluru -Ayres Rock plus less well known ones eg.Walden pond,Sillistani and Externsteine.
Each place is given 4 pages and a very few 6.For each site there is a location map,a time line and an informative and well written text plus pictures.
In general the picrures are good but the picture of the Potala Palace in Lhasa is poor.A few picrures cover 2 pages which is unfortunate as iit does them no good.