FaithWorld

Medieval Spanish pilgrim’s guide missing from Santiago de Compostela cathedral

(Codex Calixtinus, Santiago de Compostela, Archivo de la Catedral)

 

Spanish police are investigating the disappearance of the Codex Calixtinus, a valuable 12th century manuscript, from the Santiago de Compostela cathedral in northwestern region of Galicia, a spokesman said on Thursday. The manuscript is a collection of sermons and liturgical texts and served as a guide for the historical Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, which dates back to the Middle Ages.

The elaborately illustrated document disappeared from a safe deposit box in the cathedral last week. Its suspected theft, only reported to police on Wednesday, is considered a major loss for Spain’s cultural and religious heritage.

(Codex Calixtinus, Santiago de Compostela, Archivo de la Catedral)

 

Santiago Cathedral is the reputed burial place of Saint James the Greater, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ who according to legend arrived in Spain to preach Christianity. Another version of the story says the remains of St James – Santiago is Spanish for St James – were brought to Spain by two of his followers after he was beheaded in Jerusalem in AD 42.

The tomb was lost or kept secret for centuries until 813 when it was rediscovered by a bishop who was guided to the spot by a star. In the 11th century, work started on the cathedral whose ornate baroque towers, an 18th century addition visible from miles away, guide pilgrims towards their destination.

(Codex Calixtinus, Santiago de Compostela, Archivo de la Catedral)

 

The medieval centre of Santiago teems with hundreds of pilgrims, instantly recognisable by their bulging backpacks, muddy hiking boots and wooden walking sticks adorned with the distinctive scallop shells that symbolise the pilgrimage. Some particularly fervent groups wear brown capes and floppy hats like the ones worn by Saint James in many statues and paintings. They carry banners bearing the apostle’s special sword-shaped red cross and sing religious songs as they walk.

China plans to help Nepal develop Buddha’s birthplace at Lumbini

(A reclining Buddha at Wat Po temple in Bangkok April 8,2008/Sukree Sukplang)

 

A Chinese-backed foundation and Nepal’s government plan to transform Lord Buddha’s birthplace in southern Nepal into a magnet for Buddhists in the same way as Mecca is to Muslims and the Vatican for Catholics. The Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation plans to raise $3 billion at home and abroad to build temples, an airport, a highway, hotels, convention centres and a Buddhist university in the town of Lumbini, about 171 km (107 miles) southwest of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu.

The foundation, blessed by the Chinese government, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Nepalese government last month to jointly develop and operate Lumbini, where Buddha was born Prince Gautama Siddhartha about 2,600 years ago. The foundation also pledged to bring communications, water and electricity to Lumbini.

Buddhism was virtually wiped out in China during the chaotic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution when temples were shut, Buddhist statues smashed, scriptures burned, and monks and nuns forced to return to secular life and marry. In recent years, China has become more tolerant of Buddhism, which is considered “traditional culture” alongside Taoism and Confucianism.

Haj pilgrims flock to Mount Arafat to beg forgiveness

arafat 1 (Photo: Haj pilgrims at the Plains of Arafat, 15 Nov 2010/Mohammed Salem)

Millions of Muslims gathered around Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Mohammad delivered his last sermon, to beg for God’s forgiveness on Monday, the spiritual climax of the annual haj pilgrimage. Pilgrims flocked mostly on foot to Arafat, a rocky outcrop in a dusty plain a few kilometers away from Mecca, to pray until sunset. They set up tents where they could, squatted on the side of the road in shelters or stayed at the nearby Namira mosque.

A record of at least 2.5 million pilgrims have come to Saudi Arabia to perform this year’s haj, one of the world’s biggest displays of mass religious devotion. So far, the authorities have reported none of the major problems or disasters that marred the event in previous years, such as building collapses and deadly stampedes caused by overcrowding.

But the sheer number of pilgrims was still a worry for the Saudi government. Around 100,000 security forces have been deployed to the oversee the pilgrimage, security officials said.

Saudi Arabia opens Chinese-built haj pilgrimage train

haj 2Hoping to decrease accidents and boost tourism, Saudi has built a railway line to improve transport for millions of Muslims who flock to the kingdom on the annual haj and move en masse from one holy site to another. At least 2.5 million pilgrims are expected to perform the haj, which began on Sunday. One of the world’s biggest religious gatherings, it has been marred in the past by stampedes, accidents and political demonstrations. (Photo: Haj pilgrims in Mina, near Mecca,  November 14, 2010/Fahad Shadeed)

Authorities say the 6.6 billion riyal ($1.76 billion) project will lessen congestion of the pilgrim route swollen with
some 70,000 cars and buses jamming the roads. The railway is the first such project in more than half a century in the world’s top oil exporter. It will ferry pilgrims around holy sites outside Mecca to perform rites such as the “devil’s stoning”, when pilgrims stone a wall in ritual defiance of the devil and temptation.

The 18-km train line has stops at Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifa, haj sites that Islamic tradition says Prophet Ibrahim — the biblical patriarch Abraham — once visited and that Prophet Mohammad established as a pilgrim route 14 centuries ago. The Chinese-built train is the latest high-tech addition to the haj after Saudi Arabia built electric stairways in the Grand Mosque and showers to cool off pilgrims following the haj route. The ticket, good for a week, costs $70.

At least 2.5 million Muslim pilgrims begin haj

haj 1 (Photo: Pilgrims at Mena, near Mecca, November 14, 2010/Mohammed Salem)

At least 2.5 million Muslims began the annual haj pilgrimage on Sunday, heading to an encampment near the holy city of Mecca to retrace the route taken by the Prophet Mohammad 14 centuries ago.

Traveling on foot, by public transport and in private cars, the pilgrims will stream through a mountain pass to a valley at Mina, some three km (two miles) outside Mecca. The path is the same as the Prophet himself took on his last pilgrimage.

The haj, one of the world’s biggest displays of mass religious devotion, lasts for five days. In the past it has been marred by fires, hotel collapses, police clashes with protesters and deadly stampedes.

Mecca goes upmarket but commercialism unnerves some Saudis

meccaSitting in the marble lobby of a luxury hotel in Mecca, Moroccan bank director Mohammad Hamdosh gets a breather from the cacophony of pilgrims bustling around the Grand Mosque in Islam’s holiest city. Millions have flocked to the city in Saudi Arabia for the annual haj pilgrimage, a duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it. But some can afford more than others, and a controversial construction boom is catering to their needs.

“Every pilgrim comes according to his means. God gave me money, so why shouldn’t I stay in this hotel?” says Hamdosh, on a trip that has cost him 12,000 Euros ($16,545). “Haj is tiring so it’s good to have a room to rest.” (Photo: The Kabaa andt the Grand Mosque dwarfed by luxury high-rise hotels, 12 Aug 2010/Hassan Ali)

Inside the mosque, all pilgrims are equal as they circle the black stone known as the Kaaba toward which Muslims around the world turn in prayer every day. But outside an array of towering five-star hotels have sprung up where the wealthy can bask in a 24-hour view of the Kaaba. The high-rises dwarf the mosque and the surrounding town, nestled in the mountains in the hinterland of the port city Jeddah.

Mecca hopes to revive pilgrim tourism during haj

mecca (Photo: Muslims shop outside the Grand Mosque in Mecca, September 15, 2009/Fahad Shadeed)

Rashed Abdullah displays Oriental perfumes on a glass table to late-night shoppers in his small shop in Mecca ready for what he hopes will be a sales bonanza during this month’s haj pilgrimage. He is confident of attracting customers after fears of a swine flu outbreak kept many away last year.

“This year will be the best. There is really strong demand,” he said, standing behind an incense collection in one of dozens souvenir shops around the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Business has picked up in Islam’s holiest city since Ramadan, the Islamic fasting month which fell in August and September when many visit Mecca. In 2009, the number of pilgrims fell to about 2.5 million but a record 4 million are expected next week when the haj begins.

Cuban pilgrimage mixes Santeria with Catholic faith

santeria1

Worshipper pushes rock to shrine of Saint Lazarus, 17 Dec 2009/Desmond Boylan

Some dressed in sackcloth, a few crawling on their hands and knees, thousands of Cubans paid homage  to a Catholic saint who doubles as a powerful deity in the Afro-Cuban Santeria faith. The Saint Lazarus pilgrimage on Thursday is one of the most important religious events on the communist-run island, melding Afro-Cuban faiths with Roman Catholic beliefs that were marginalized for decades after the 1959 revolution.

Devotees of Saint Lazarus, who traditionally wear sackcloth and purple clothing as symbols of repentance, flock to the shrine at a church near the village of El Rincon in the countryside just outside Havana.  Saint Lazarus is associated with helping the sick, and many of the pilgrims go to ask the saint to cure relatives’ ailments. Others make long, hard journeys barefoot or haul themselves along the ground on their hands and knees.

Experts explain this fusion of Santeria and Christian figures by saying that African slaves in Cuba originally pretended to worship the Catholic saints of their Spanish masters while secretly paying homage to their own deities.

from Photographers' Blog:

Pilgrimage to Mecca

Coverage of the 2009 Haj pilgrimage was an enlightening experience for me as a photographer. I have covered many religious events in Iran but never anything as enormous as the Haj - this year complete with the added threat of H1N1.

I arrived in Jeddah several days before the start of the Haj and found Saudi Arabia to have all the luxuries and organization of the United States. My picture was taken at passport control and fingerprints scanned.  I was met at the airport by our minder from the Ministry of Information with a driver and a large American SUV. We went straight to the media center to get my press credentials and on to the road leading to Mecca to take pictures of checkpoints and security. Police officers were wearing masks to protect them from flu as were many pilgrims.

The following day we left for Mecca at 3 am to be on top of Noor Mountain at sunrise. It was a long, tiring climb but well worth it as the sun started to rise and light allowed me to make images. In the afternoon we went to a military base to take pictures of security arrangements for the Haj, attended by many Saudi and foreign dignitaries including Saudi Arabian Interior Minister Prince Naef bin Abdul Aziz. It was basically a military parade showing the security hardware for police to deal with any security concerns.

Age-old haj stoning of devil pillars in modern multistory complex

mena (Photo: Haj pilgrims stone pillars symbolising the devil in Mena outside Mecca, 27 Nov 2009/Caren Firouz)

Around two million Muslim pilgrims stoned pillars symbolising the devil in a narrow valley in Saudi Arabia on Friday at what has traditionally been the most dangerous stage of the haj pilgrimage. The pillars stand at Mena, where Muslims believe the devil appeared to the Prophet Abraham.

The Jamarat Bridge in the valley of Mena outside the holy city of Mecca, where pilgrims stone the walls three times over three to four days, has been the scene of a number of stampedes, including one which killed 362 in 2006. But Saudi Arabia has erected a massive four-level building with several platforms for throwing stones to ease congestion and prevent stampedes at the Jamarat stoning areas.

mena-2 (Photo: Haj pilgrims walk from camp to Jamarat to throw stones at pillars in Mena 27 Nov 2009/Caren Firouz)

Throngs of predominantly white-clad pilgrims filled the road that leads them to and from the Jamarat Bridge. Some stopped to buy fried chicken nuggets while groups from different countries formed human chains with their fellow countrymen to move more quickly through the crowds.