Paris has Notre-Dame, Barcelona has Sagrada Família, and London has St Paul’s Cathedral. Religious sites make up a huge portion of Europe’s top landmarks, but problems are arising on an increasingly secular continent. Reports suggest that many tourists do not treat hold sites with the reverence they require. However this is a problem that stretches far beyond Christianity, and far beyond Europe.
Some of these tourists will be religious themselves. As a Catholic I often seek out local churches when travelling abroad. The experience of mass in a foreign language often adds a sense of mysticism to worship. Some believers will even plan a trip specifically for its religious significance – an event known as pilgrimage. I myself did this in 2013 when I travelled to Lourdes, a town in southwest France where a vision of the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared.
Many secular visitors are also attracted to religiously significant landmarks. Throughout much of human history religion has been the source of society’s greatest art. As a result, much of the world’s most beautiful architecture comes in the form of cathedrals, mosques, temples or synagogues. These buildings have also often found themselves at the centre of great historical events. It is therefore no surprise that so many secularists are drawn in.
One of the most unique churches I have ever visited was in the north of Finland, where I stumbled across a chapel made entirely from ice.
This site, like countless others, is remarkably interesting to secularists and the faithful alike. Similarly, Phuket’s Wat Chalong temple was one of my favourite points from a recent visit to Thailand. Despite my Catholicism, I deeply and sincerely enjoyed learning about Buddhism and appreciating the designs’ stunning intricacy.
Problems arise when visitors do not show the expected level of respect. Inappropriate dress and photography can be restricted, but other issues such as talking and general rowdiness are much more difficult to prevent.
Those who see religion as utter nonsense may consider some rules pointless. Problems can then occur, even with overwhelmingly decent people with no intention of disrespect.
Religious sites often find themselves facing a complex and paradoxical dilemma. In order to preserve their beauty and capabilities, faith centres must often rely on money from tourism. Many also encourage visitors from an evangelical perspective.
However these same tourists can sometimes bring more harm than good.
Nonetheless, many religious sites consider tourism an absolute necessity. Rules and restrictions can be useful, but it is inevitably down to the visitor’s own personal choice as to whether or not they respect the sanctity of these special locations. For this problem to be solved global communities need to consider more deeply their own responsibilities.
It is okay not to be vegan, but to carve up a turkey in the middle of a vegan’s dining room would make you a bit of a dick. In the same way, you shouldn’t have to be religious to respect people’s faith. British society may be moving towards secularisation, but this should not equal growing religious disrespect. Most secular people hold tolerance, equality and respect as key principles to live by.
It is only right that these values are extended to matters of faith and those who hold it dear.