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Encyclopedia of Religion, 15 Volume Set

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A sacred space is any place recognized for its ability to direct the mind and body to holy matters. The basis for this power varies considerably. Sometimes spaces act like reliquaries—enclosures that mark the deposit of a saint’s remains, or the site of an unusual event such as a vision or manifestation of divine power, or the place where a holy person preached or lived. Alternatively, sacred spaces are often built environments that seek to shape human consciousness toward states of worship or mindfulness. For example, Father Paul Matthias Dobberstein, an immigrant Catholic priest, constructed the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa (a and b), as well as seven other shrines and grottos in the midwestern United States, as spaces meant to awe and fascinate, but also to claim attention for the purpose of reflection and devotion. The beauty the priest admired in stone was dedicated to the spiritual beauty of Mary. Sacred space is therefore in many instances intended as an aesthetic shaping of consciousness as an act of adoration, an attempt to segregate the worshiper from other forms of life for the sake of cultivating a special dedication to a saint or deity.

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