the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem
Image courtesy of anaulin via Flickr


Two decades ago I spent a lot of time researching the architectural typology of the temple.  I really wasn't too enamored with the subject at first, because I thought it had already be exhausted.  But as time wore on, I discovered a great depth of love for the topic.

Sacred Places

One question that I have continued to ponder ever since is
"What makes a place sacred?"

This turns out to be a really extensive topic with many perspectives that I won't get into today...
But I will report that the results of my research revealed that the "highest and best use" of a sacred place is personal prayer & revelation.

The Short Answer

Sunrise Over Mount Sinai
Image courtesy of Thom Chandler via Flickr
What if you can't get to a temple for your personal prayer?   According to years of research, the top two* places are these for communicating with the Divine:

*You may be surprised, like I was, that church isn't at the top of this very short list.  A church building is primarily for the gathering of worshippers for fellowshipping and mutual encouragement as well as for group communion/sacrament/ordinance.  This use is quite distinct from a sacred place for personal prayer.  Having said that, some large churches do have small niches that are intended specifically for private prayer.

Prayer in our Home

In our home, prayer isn't terribly solemn.  It looks something like a group small of monkeys trying to be still & quiet and not poke the dog while mommy & daddy painstakingly ignore them.

Our family prayer never looks like THIS.
1903 portrait of the Manwaring family
Image courtesy, L.Tom Perry Special Collections,
Harold B. Lee Library, BYU, Provo, Utah

We try to teach about prayer, about the importance of

  • avoiding distraction (kneeling, folding arms or hands & closing eyes),
  • being reverent (focusing minds in gratitude to our Heavenly Father), and 
  • speaking our desires (help with struggles, blessings for others, guidance)
We usually do this on the living room floor (once it's been cleared of toys) or on the bed in the master bedroom (once it's been cleared of laptops & doggies).  And family prayer is a struggle pretty much every time.  So like I do with just about every problem, I started thinking about an architectural solution!

Domestic Chapels

Of course, having a sacred space in a residence is nothing new.  Royalty and even aristocracy often had private chapels.  Some, which were basically closets, adjoining a bedchamber.  Others were in the gallery (not visible to those below) of a larger church associated with the palace (see a panoramic view of the one at Frederiksborg Castle HERE, illustrated with paintings of the life of Christ).

But to be honest, these options are a bit out of my price range.

Prayer in a Home that is not ours

Image courtesy of Paul Mannix via Flickr
I was visiting Vermilionville in Lafayette, Louisiana last week.  It's a wonderful cultural heritage park with transposed historic buildings and authentic Cajun music (we even heard Jolie Blon), crafts and food surrounded by cypresses and their little knees, drowsy swamp and a more deliberate bayou.  There were beware-of-alligator signs at the entrance, and the trees were drowning in Spanish moss.

One of the two-room, raised-above-the-ground-cabins we saw had the most lovely corner dedicated to private prayer.  There was a kneeler, about twenty small candles and a folk painting of Madonna and Child above.  I can
Image courtesy of torbakhopper via Flickr
remember seeing these kinds of places growing up and thinking (from my very Protestant perspective) that they were too shrine-like, almost pagan.  

I saw it very differently this time.

First of all, I was thoroughly impressed that a home shy of 400 square feet had a dedicated place for private prayer, when most homes today do not (regardless of size).

John Wesley's personal prayer chapel
Image courtesy of bobgjohnson via Flickr
Secondly, that this quiet little corner achieved (architecturally) exactly what I was trying to teach my children!  
  • There are not too many other things you could be distracted by when kneeling in a corner.  
  • It's hard not to contemplate the nature of God when there is an artist's attempt at representation in front of you.  
  • A candle is lit to mark supplications, helping to focus on each one individually.  

Where do you pray?

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