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Worship: Holy places


Jerusalem (in Hebrew, Yerushalaim; in Arabic, Al-Quds) is holy to all three religions.

Jews have seen it as their spiritual focus for 3000 years. Many of the holiest sites are inside the walled Old City. The only surviving part of the old Second Temple (515BC-70AD) is the Wailing Wall (or more usually now, Western Wall) the holiest site generally accessible to Jews. Jews can be seen praying in front of the wall all day and night.

Muslims traditionally regard Jerusalem as their third holiest city after Mecca and Medina. The Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock from where Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to heaven are built on what Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary (Haram al-Sharif) and Jews call Temple Mount.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the holiest spot for Christians, because it is built on the site of Christ's tomb.


Mecca and Medina

Mecca (in Arabic Makkah), in Saudi Arabia, is regarded by Muslims as one of the holy cities, along with Medina and Jerusalem. The Ka'bah, a large cubic building now surrounded by the sacred mosque, is said by Muslims to have been built by Adam, and rebuilt by Abraham. All Muslims should make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their life.

Medina, where the prophet Muhammad is buried along with his companions and later caliphs Abu-Bakr and Umar, is the next holiest place in Islam. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter Mecca or Medina.


Rome, Lourdes, Santiago

For Catholics another holy site is St Peter's Basilica in Rome. It is the seat of the Pope, and the Catholic church. Canterbury in England was a notable destination for medieval English pilgrims as the place of Thomas Becket's martyrdom.

Lourdes, in France, attracts Catholic pilgrims hoping for a healing miracle. In 1858, a young woman had a vision of Jesus' mother Mary, and waters sprang from the mountainside which are believed to have effected miraculous cures.

Another popular pilgrimage is the 800km-plus walk across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela, where the church is said to hold the remains of St James.

Western Wall, Jerusalem

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

The Ka’bah and Sacred Mosque, Mecca, Saudi Arabia

St Peter’s Basilica, Rome