Saint Denis, Holding His Severed Head, 1460-1480
Saint Denis is commonly depicted as if alive but holding his severed head, as he is in this striking image. In the mid 3rd century, the pope sent Denis and other missionaries to what is now France to give support to the struggling Christian church there. He and his companion, the deacon Eleutherius, built a church on an island in the middle of the Seine River by the village that became Paris. Their activities angered the Roman governor, who had them decapitated. The veneration of Saint Denis gradually became a national devotion. A limestone sculpture from 15th Century Burgundy, France.
Bali’s Stunning Sea Temple
Sitting on a large offshore rock in the sparkling blue waters on the coast of Bali in Indonesia is the temple of Tanah Lot or “Land in the Sea”. The carved rock temple is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bali due to its unsurpassed beauty and legendary origins. However its majesty can only be appreciated from the outside as tourist are not allowed inside the temple.
The temple is claimed to be the work of the 15th century priest Nirartha. During his travels along the island’s south coast, he saw the rock-island’s beautiful setting and rested there. Some fishermen saw him and bought gifts. After spending the night on the rock, Nirartha spoke to the fishermen and told them to build a shrine there. He felt it was a holy place and should be used to worship the Balinese sea gods.
The temple has been part of Balinese mythology for centuries and is one of seven sea temples that form a chain along the south-western coast of Bali. At the base of the rocky island, poisonous sea snakes are believed to guard the temple from evil spirits and intruders.
Elaborately Jeweled Skeletons
In 1578, a series of underground burial sites were discovered in Rome that contained the remains of thousands of individuals assumed to be early Christian martyrs. However, most of their identities were unknown. The bones were disinterred and sent to churches around Europe to replace holy relics that had been destroyed during the Reformation.
The receiving churches spent years covering the revered skeletal remains with elaborate costumes encrusted with gold and precious gems. For nearly three hundred years, these relics were worshiped as saints and protectors of their communities. When questions and doubts about their authenticity arised in the modern era, the jewel-covered saints became a source of embarrassment and many were either hidden away or destroyed.
In a new book due out October 8, 2013 titled Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, author Paul Koudounaris covers their long and misunderstood history. The book includes images of more than seventy jeweled skeletons and stories of dozens more.
Cemetery Garden Mausoleum’s Stunning Design
Created for the dearly departed but experienced by the living, cemeteries are spaces for remembrance and quiet contemplation. For the historic Lakewood Cemetery in Minnesota, which dates back to 1871, HCG Architects and Engineers designed a garden mausoleum that, in their words, “quietly embraces the landscape while offering a contemplative interior experience.”
Built into the hillside to preserve the cemetery’s pastoral quality, the mausoleum’s design protects the historic landscape and provides a representation of the eternal relationship between spiritual and physical worlds.
The horizontal 24,000-square-foot, two-level structure includes six crypt rooms, six columbaria rooms, three family crypt rooms, committal room, and support spaces. The design artfully integrates the exterior garden with its light-filled interior, beginning with a large stair that draws visitors from the mausoleum’s entry to its lower garden level.
The Lakewood Cemetery Garden Mausoleum received several architectural and design awards for the newly completed mausoleum and garden. Rather than a dark and cryptic place, this cemetery embraces light and a level of beauty and peace that respects and honors the deceased by preserving the historic landscape for the living.
Amazingly Beautiful Monasteries
- Hanging Monastery - Perched precariously halfway up a cliff some 75 meters (246 feet) above the ground, this Monastery is one of the most remarkable sights in China. Consisting of a complex of 40 rooms linked together by mid-air corridors and walkways, it appears to be glued to the side of a sheer precipice. The Monastery was built in the 5th century and has there for 1500 years.
- Yumbulagang - According to legend, Yumbulagang was the first building in Tibet and the palace of the first Tibetan king Nyatri Tsenpo. Its name means “Palace of Mother and Son” in Tibetan. Under the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama, the palace became a monastery of the Gelugpa school.
- Ganden Monastery - One of the ‘great three’ university monasteries of Tibet, located at the top of Wangbur Mountain. The other two are Sera and Drepung Monasteries. In 1959 the monastery was completely destroyed by the Red Guards and the mummified body of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Monastery, was burned. Reconstruction of the Monastery has been continuing since the 1980s.
- Key Gompa - A thousand year old Tibetan Buddhist monastery located on top of a hill in the Spiti Valley. The monastery has been attacked many times during its long history by Mongol and other armies and was also ravaged by fire and earthquakes. The successive trails of destruction have caused the monastery to look like a fort, where temples are built on top of one another.
- Thikse Monastery - A Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Yellow Hat sect. The monastery is located in the Indus valley in India. It is a 12-story complex. One of the main points of interest is the Maitreya Temple which is installed to commemorate the visit of the 14th Dalai Lama to the Thikse monastery in 1970.
- Taung Kalat - This Buddhist monastery is one of the most breathtaking sites in Burma. To reach the monastery, visitors must climb the 777 steps to the summit. One can see the ancient city of Bagan and the massive solitary conical peak of Mount Popa, the volcano that actually caused the creation.
- Taktsang Dzong - Situated on the edge of a 900 meter (3,000 feet) cliff, the Monastery is an impressive sight, and is the unofficial symbol of Bhutan. It is about 2-3 hour, uphill hike from the parking lot to the monastery. According to legend, Guru Rinpoche flew to this location from Tibet on the back of a tigress and Taktsang was consecrated to tame the Tiger demon.
Underground Salt Cathedral, Poland
Located 135 meters (443 ft) underground is the famous Wieliczka Salt Mine in southern Poland. Now a museum, the mine’s attractions include dozens of statues, three chapels and an entire cathedral that has been carved out of the rock salt by the miners. The mine, built in the 13th century, produced table salt continuously until 2007, as one of the world’s oldest salt mines still in operation. Commercial mining was discontinued in 1996 due to low salt prices and mine flooding.
Entered into the Unesco World Heritage List in 1978, the mine is located in the town of Wieliczka within the Kraków metropolitan area. The mine reaches a depth of 327 meters (1,073 feet) and is over 287 kilometres (178 miles) long. A wooden staircase with 378 steps provides access to the 64 meters (210 feet) level of the mine. There is a 3 kilometers (1.9 mi) tour of the mine’s corridors, and chapels.