Throwback Thursday: Sacred Places


In the spirit (hehe) of exploring religious museums and sacred places, below are just a few examples I have visited during travels in years past.

Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola in Campo Marzio (Rome, Italy)

Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola in Campo Marzio, photographed in 2015

Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola in Campo Marzio, photographed in 2015

In summer 2015, one of the many churches my father and I visited in Italy was the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola in Campo Marzio (Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola at Campus Martius). Among all the cathedrals and chapels we visited on that vacation, a few stood out, like the famous St. Peter’s and Sistine Chapel of Vatican City, but also some of the lesser-known sites. Sant’Ignazio, which first opened in 1650, was memorable for the optical illusions employed in painting its ceilings.

Andrea Pozzo attempted through his frescoes to make the ceiling look higher and more grandiose than it actually is, with a colorful scene of St. Ignatius and other figures ascending into heaven via a cloud-filled sky. The church also features a “dome” that is actually just a flat circle.

Loeb Visitors Center at Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, photographed in 2015

Loeb Visitors Center at Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, photographed in 2015

Loeb Visitors Center at Touro Synagogue (Newport, Rhode Island)

That same summer, my family also visited Rhode Island to see my mother’s stomping grounds: her first two houses, her first workplace (an ice cream shop), her high school, the church where my parents got married, the library where she wrote her name in a book as a child. While my father and siblings explored the little shops of Newport, my mother and I attempted to visit Touro Synagogue. She could remember a school field trip during which she was awed by the light inside the building.

Alas, when we arrived, the synagogue itself had closed for the day, but we were able to visit the Loeb Visitors Center. Its exhibits explained the history of the first Jewish settlors in Newport, from Portugal, in the 1600s, and the construction of the synagogue, which was completed in 1763. A common theme of the exhibition space was the idea of religious liberty – an ideal that was in many ways not realized, but that was especially manifest in Rhode Island in comparison to the other colonies.

This Is the Place Heritage Park, photographed in 2006

This Is the Place Heritage Park, photographed in 2006

This Is the Place Heritage Park (Salt Lake City, Utah)

Many lifetimes ago (i.e. 2006), I visited This Is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City. My visit mostly consisted of walking around and looking at the monument, which commemorates Brigham Young’s 1847 arrival at the location with fellow Mormon pioneers.

However, the park’s website lists a plethora of activities beyond just viewing the monument itself. Emphasizing FUN (in all caps), the website provides details on pioneer games and chores, farm animals, a Native American village, and mini-train rides.

The Awakening Museum, Santa Fe, NM, photographed in 2005

The Awakening Museum, Santa Fe, NM, photographed in 2005

The Awakening Museum (Santa Fe, New Mexico)

In 2005, a friend and I took a trip to New Mexico, where we immersed ourselves in The Awakening Museum that then existed in Santa Fe. (The building later turned into a cooking school, after apparent marital and financial troubles experienced by the painter of The Awakening, Jean-Claude Gaugy, and his then-wife.)

The Awakening was a single work of art that filled the walls and ceiling of one room, surrounding the viewer with biblical imagery. Outside was a quiet and peaceful meditation garden. Although the museum is no longer there, and I don’t remember the specifics of the audio tour all these years later, the memory of the vivid-yet-tranquil museum experience has stayed with me.

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About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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