Secular Places of Pilgrimage



This question was totally inspired by the wonderful, newly-published AO article “How to Take a Literary Pilgrimage in the Real World” by Jessica Leigh Hester.

So, it got me thinking, what are the places you all would like to make a “pilgrimage” to? Maybe it’s somewhere of great personal significance, or that you’ve been contemplating visiting for a long time, and you would just absolutely melt at the opportunity to go. These places don’t necessarily have to be religious, but would give you the feeling of wonder and euphoria that often comes with the pilgrimage experience!

(Or maybe you’ve already been to your desired site of pilgrimage-- I’d love to hear that, too!)


This (as per usual) is an awesome question! For me, and it’s a little touristy at this point, but I’ve always wanted to visit The Magic Castle, and engage with one of the most important magic sites in the world.


Such a good q. Here’s one of mine:

My boyfriend and I went to Paisley Park twice in one year. I played ping-pong on Prince’s ping-pong table. I ate his personal chef’s vegan coconut curry. I categorically refused to record anything in his studio. I’ll probably think of another later…


This is a really good question ! I suppose my places of secular pilgrimage would be anywhere with natural surroundings where I can get in closer contact with nature , National parks , woodlands , forests etc.


I love this question. And I always think it’s weird how, as an atheist, I still find myself visiting a bunch of cathedrals in new cities (but cool architecture is cool architecture).

Well, I’m a musician. So visiting Beethoven’s apartment in Vienna was pretty awesome. He wrote the bulk of Fidelio there. Here’s one of my pictures.

In fact, Vienna’s well set up for music worshiping like this. I also visted Hadyn’s house. Didn’t get a chance to see Schubert’s or Mozart’s, but they can be visited, as well.


Way less touristy than you would imagine. The whole “you have to know someone to get in” thing keeps Joe and Madge from Idaho from wandering in. I’ve only been once, but it was all local magic fanatics. And it’s awesome there.


And hey, since you’re in LA now, anyone into films can go insane tracing the steps of its history. Here’s one of my favorites - An alley in Hollywood that served as a location for Chaplin’s “The Kid”, Harold Lloyd’s “Safety Last”, Houdini’s “The Grim Game”, and one of Keaton’s best gags in “Cops”. If you want to check it out, it’s on Cahuenga, south of Hollywood, next to the newsstand.

It is a bit bewildering to know that barhoppers will spend their nights knocking around an area where 100 years ago a new artform was being damn near invented.


Wow … I would have never expected it to look so minimalist … It comes as quite a suprise as I would have thought Beethoven would have wrote his composition in a setting more baroque and ornate.


Ahhh! I’m jealous, but glad to hear that it still has some of that old… magic. I need to perfect a few more false shuffles before I show my face there though…


I really love this question. One place for me is Joshua Tree National Park … the landscape is so dramatic and otherworldly, like a Dali painting come to life and I feel like if it was in Europe there would have been churches and monasteries tucked away all over, like at Meteora. Even though it’s a ‘secular’ location, it feels profoundly spiritual to me.

Growing up in Los Angeles, I tried to make a yearly pilgrimage to Mailbu on my birthday because I was born there, a personal pilgrimage that felt more like a salmon or a turtle visiting a spawning site than anything else. I really like the idea in general of doing miniature pilgrimages that don’t necessitate traveling such a long distance. There are many places within cities I’ve made home that serve as sights of refuge and reflection from the everyday, usually because I associate them with a particular person or a moment of calm.

This question makes me want to think of more pilgrimages I’d like to take and reactivate that practice, thank you!


I genuinely teared up when I went to the Holmdel Horn Antenna, right of the Jersey Turnpike. It’s where the Big Bang was confirmed, and went from being a minority theory to the definitive theory of how everything came to be.

Concisely, the Russian cosmologist Alexander Friedman had developed a theory that indicated that the expanding universe theory would be proved right (over steady state theory) if we could see far enough to view images of the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation. This humble site is where humanity first glimpsed it.


Love this question. My secular pilgrimages have centered on the writers of the Lost Generation and include:


I visited the Fitzgerald museum in 1997 and received a wonderfully gossipy tour from a docent who knew Scottie, the famous couple’s daughter.


You might still be right. Beethoven moved around a lot, so this is only one of the places he lived in Vienna. Apparently, it’s only one of the apartments he lived in in that very building. They didn’t really take any pains to decorate it as it was when he was there because so many other people have lived there since. They’re probably not sure exactly what it looked like.


Compared to the responses I have read, my place of pilgrimage is quite other: Lambeau Field – on a game day.

It is a cathedral, of sorts, dedicated to a faithful following who come early and stay until the bitter end.

It is a sanctuary for those who relish both time spent with family and friends, often in the cold, and courteous – if heated – competition.

It is a congregation that embraces the moment, and joins enthusiastically in that most particular form of call and response that flows between this team and their champions in the stands.

It is in a city that celebrates tradition, effort and excellence.

You grab a hot bratwurst and a cold Dr. Pepper, walk the wide winding concrete ramps to your section. Follow the incline up and out into the open air of the bowl, where thousands of your neighbors are sitting. The electricity in the air. The excitement of enjoying and sharing such a day! I could go on forever but I will offer only this more –



It’s not that weird at all to have an interest in cathedrals tralfamadore. While I do not identify with any named religion or philosophy, I have always visited every major cathedral in places I have been. There are many secular aspects to these buildings that make them fascinating even if they had no religious connotations at all. For example, when visiting the cathedral at Real del Catorce, in Mexico I learned that most of it had been constructed by indigenous labor without the use of measuring instruments. “Eyeballing” massive beams and stones to within a fraction of an inch struck me as incredible innate skill. Following up on that through the years I found that use of indigenous labor to exploit this ability continued even into the present with US companies as Levi and Dickies Workwear setting up factories in Mexico hiring local women almost exclusively for their unique abilities.
In the cathedral in Heidelberg, I was shocked to behold a gigantic statue of Satan (Or perhaps it was just Pan)in the same room as plaques of previous bishops dating back to Roman Empire. Also there was a huge wine barrel larger than many mobile homes and could have served as such. I’ve seen cathedrals whose interiors were covered extensively in gold leaf in the most impoverished regions yet they’d never been stripped or even damaged during the numerous conflicts that wracked the area over hundreds of years. I think the allure is the same as that we have for ancient monumental temples though we have no connection with the religious ideology that underlies their construction. They are Wonders of the World in their own right.


Apologies about the late reply tralfamadore ,

It really fascinates me how the rooms of writers , musicians or artist look. Sometimes they are hellishly chaotic like the studio of Francis Bacon was meant to be, or obsessively ordered with millions of hoarded stationary like Stanley Kubricks mansion, or they reflect the time period by having a vintage mid-century elegance like Hemmingway’s place in Cuba or full blown Victorian domesticity like Darwin’s House .

But it strikes me as just really strange when they are these minimalist rooms where writers or musicians produce their masterpieces. I know he’s in no way on the level of Beethoven but I saw this video once of the room where Nick Cave composes his music and its completely minimalist too.


Visiting Independence Hall in Philadelphia and thinking about all that was accomplished there, and all that would come next, while looking at George Washington’s chair was pretty overwhelming. I knew I wanted to visit but I didn’t know how moved I would be until I was there.

In terms of the arts, Monet’s home and garden was a place I always hoped I’d be able to visit, and it did not disappoint, although I felt closest to the artist when viewing Water Lilies at Musée de l’Orangerie.

Finally, I wasn’t inclined to admit to anyone how much I wanted to visit the Hobbit movie set, but based on how much time I spent running around the Shire in LOTRO, my husband decided we should go — and I’m grateful! It felt like visiting Hobbiton rather than a set.


Noor already mentioned Joshua Tree National Monument, but there’s a specific reason many make a pilgrimage there. For fans of the FLying Burrito Brothers or Byrds at the germination of Alt-Country or Americana legend has it that the guys from the Byrds took Graham Parsons’ body after he died and burned it in a funeral pyre at Joshua Tree.

I just found out that an old friend used to run around in a scene with Chris Stills and was told that this is indeed true. I’ve been told there’s a movie about it that’s supposed to be hilarious, too.


Bug Tussle, Texas marginally qualifies as a secular place of pilgrimage since the annual antique car run uses it as the turnaround spot to head back to Bonham. People have come there for years from all over Texas just to get their picture taken in front of the one building in this “ghost town”. I would not dignify it with the term town though. Like Ely, Texas and Frog Knot, Texas, it’s just a sign with no town to go with it. Ely has an old school house sitting out in a pasture. and Frog Knot has a couple of water storage tanks.

I’ve made pilgrimages to Bug Tussle many times since I put down roots in Fannin County. Not to see the shack specifically, because the first time you see all there is to see and the novelty of the name had worn off decades before I ever laid eyes on it. However, the pilgrimage is unavoidable if you’re headed for the North Sulphur River from Honey Grove. The North Sulphur is the real mecca that draws fossil hunters from all over the state. The last time I passed that way, someone had put new windows in and nailed back the loose siding slats. Despite what this article says, I’ve never seen ten people bunched together anywhere near Bug Tussle. The name which was originally Truss in more populous times, derives from the most authoritative local lore, which says that it commemorates the time a swarm of bugs disrupted an ice cream social being held there. Here’s a link to a fairly good overview of Bug Tussle from Texas, but caveat lector.
Bug Tussle Texas.


I’m pretty surprised at Nick Cave, just because what he makes is so chaotic sounding. Kubrick’s fastidiousness doesn’t surprise me a bit. Nor Darwin. Most of the time, I find creative spaces to look exactly like what one might expect.