What is a Shrine?

Mary McMahon

A shrine is a sacred space set aside for religious contemplation, commemoration, or ceremonies. Classically, shrines contain sacred objects such as relics, icons, or other objects of religious importance, and many shrines have a space at which the faithful may leave offerings. When a shrine contains a space for offerings, it is known as an altar.

The Black Stone is embedded within a corner of the cube-shaped Ka'aba, which is a religious shrine located in the Saudi city of Mecca.
The Black Stone is embedded within a corner of the cube-shaped Ka'aba, which is a religious shrine located in the Saudi city of Mecca.

Originally, a shrine was a box used to contain relics, icons, and other religious objects. Such boxes were of great religious importance, and they might travel the countryside so that the faithful could see them, or be stored in special buildings, including houses of worship. Over time, the term “shrine” came to be used more generally to describe a sacred place where such relics are stored.

Shrines often include religious statues.
Shrines often include religious statues.

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Any number of locations can serve as shrines. For example, some tombs become shrines, because the faithful wish to visit them and honor the people who are buried there. A shrine can also be part of a church or another religious structure, with many religions keeping precious relics in the care of religious officiants so that pilgrims can visit. People can also construct shrines at home; in many Eastern religions, homes and businesses have personal altars dedicated to the ancestors or specific gods, and many Christians make shrines in their gardens with religious statues to create a space to sit and contemplate religious matters.

Shrines may serve as a personal space for prayer.
Shrines may serve as a personal space for prayer.

A typical shrine is considered sacred because of the objects it contains, and people may travel a great distance to view especially venerated or holy objects. In some religions, people believe that visiting or touching sacred shrines is an important part of religious faith, and it can bring good luck to the pilgrim. Some specific shrines have special pilgrimages associated with them, such as the haj to Mecca in the Muslim tradition.

People who visit religious shrines are encouraged to be respectful, and to pay attention to regional manners and traditions. For example, in Buddhist temples, it is considered very rude to show the soles of your feet, so you should be careful about how you sit. For people of different faiths visiting shrines out of interest or curiosity, such marks of respect are greatly appreciated by the keepers of the shrine and religious visitors. In some cases, all visitors to a shrine must follow certain rules of conduct, regardless of faith, and it can help to have a local guide assist you.

The term “shrine” is also sometimes used in a secular sense. For example, the sites of disasters and fatal accidents are sometimes turned into shrines with various objects which commemorate the event, and such sites are often treated with the same veneration accorded to religious shrines.

Shrines contain relics and other religious objects.
Shrines contain relics and other religious objects.

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Discussion Comments


I think that when people make shrines after a disaster, such as 9/11 or a car accident, they are a religious act. Maybe not in an active sense, like, "We are worshiping a god in this act", but by remembering the person, people, or places that you lost, I think you are showing faith in at least abstract way.


Interesting article -- though I have to say, I've never met a Christian that calls one of those things a shrine. I've always heard them referred to as a reliquary, or place of relics. Perhaps it's a regional thing?


A holy place

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