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For other uses, see Shrine (disambiguation).
Note: "shrine" is also used as a conventional translation of the "Jinja" (Shinto shrine).
The shrine of the Hodegetria at the Assumption Cathedral in Smolensk, Russia, photographed by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (1912).
The Shrine, Oil on canvas, by John William Waterhouse (1895).

A shrine (Latin: scrinium "case or chest for books or papers"; Old French: escrin "box or case")[1] is a holy or sacred place, which is dedicated to a specific deity, ancestor, hero, martyr, saint, daemon or similar figure of awe and respect, at which they are venerated or worshipped. Shrines often contain idols, relics, or other such objects associated with the figure being venerated.[2] A shrine at which votive offerings are made is called an altar. Shrines are found in many of the world's religions, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese folk religion, Shinto, and Asatru as well as in secular and non-religious settings such as a war memorial.[3] Shrines can be found in various settings, such as churches, temples, cemeteries, or in the home, although portable shrines are also found in some cultures.[4]

A shrine may become a focus of a cult image.

Types of shrines[edit]

Chinese Buddhist household shrine 1850–1860, Bankfield Museum

Temple shrines[edit]

Many shrines are located within buildings designed specifically for worship, such as a church in Christianity, or a mandir in Hinduism. A shrine here is usually the centre of attention in the building, and is given a place of prominence. In such cases, adherents of the faith assemble within the building in order to venerate the deity at the shrine.

Household shrines[edit]

Historically, in Hinduism, Buddhism and Roman Catholicism, and also in modern faiths, such as Neopaganism, a shrine can commonly be found within the home or shop.[5] This shrine is usually a small structure or a setup of pictures and figurines dedicated to a deity that is part of the official religion, to ancestors or to a localised household deity.[6]

Small household shrines are very common among the Chinese and people from South and Southeast Asia, whether Hindu, Buddhist or Christian. Usually a small lamp and small offerings are kept daily by the shrine. Buddhist household shrines must be on a shelf above the head; Chinese shrines must stand directly on the floor.

Yard shrines[edit]

Small outdoor yard shrines are found at the bottom of many peoples gardens, following various religions, including historically, Christianity. Many consist of a statue of Christ or a saint, on a pedestal or in an alcove, while others may be elaborate booths without ceilings, some include paintings, statuary, and architectural elements, such as walls, roofs, glass doors and ironwork fences, etc.

In the United States, some Christians have small yard shrines; some of these resemble side altars, since they are composed of a statue placed in a niche or grotto; this type is colloquially referred to as a bathtub madonna.[7]

Religious shrines[edit]

Shrines are found in most, though not all, religions. As distinguished from a temple, a shrine usually houses a particular relic or cult image, which is the object of worship or veneration, or is constructed to set apart a site which is thought to be particularly holy, as opposed to being placed for the convenience of worshippers. Shrines therefore attract the practice of pilgrimage.[8][9]


Shrines are found in many, though not all, forms of Christianity. Roman Catholicism, the largest denomination of Christianity,[10] has many shrines, as do Orthodox Christianity and Anglicanism.

Catholic shrine: glass coffin of Saint Catherine Labouré

In the Roman Catholic Code of Canon law, canons 1230 and 1231 read: "The term shrine means a church or other sacred place which, with the approval of the local Ordinary, is by reason of special devotion frequented by the faithful as pilgrims. For a shrine to be described as national, the approval of the Episcopal Conference is necessary. For it to be described as international, the approval of the Holy See is required."[11]

Another use of the term "shrine" in colloquial Catholic terminology is a niche or alcove in most – especially larger – churches used by parishioners when praying privately in the church. They were also called Devotional Altars, since they could look like small Side Altars or bye-altars. Shrines were always centered on some image of Christ or a saint – for instance, a statue, painting, mural or mosaic, and may have had a reredos behind them (without a Tabernacle built in).

However, Mass would not be celebrated at them; they were simply used to aid or give a visual focus for prayers. Side altars, where Mass could actually be celebrated, were used in a similar way to shrines by parishioners. Side altars were specifically dedicated to The Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph as well as other saints.

A nativity set could also be viewed as a shrine, as the definition of a shrine is any holy or sacred place.


Sunni Islam[edit]

According to the classical chief sources of legislation and jurisprudence in orthodox Sunni Islam, primarily the Quran and Hadith texts (and notably the practice of the Salafi school of thought and early Muslims), it is understood to be totally forbidden to build structures over graves based on the legal evidences where the Prophet Muhammad ordered to demolish all the structures over graves and forbade acts of worship at the graveyards (aside from the funeral prayer) including calling upon other than Allah. It is commonly misunderstood that the grave of the Prophet is an exception to this rule however historically the grave was originally located in the home of Aisha and the Mosque was extended over and the grave incorporated due to lack of space for the growing number of worshipers.[12]

Muslims stop to offer greetings at the grave of the Prophet Muhammad in Medina's Al Masjid al Nabawi
  • It was narrated that Abu’l-Hayaaj al-Asadi said: ‘Ali ibn Abi Taalib said to me: “Shall I not send you on the same mission as the Messenger of Allah sent me? Do not leave any statue without erasing it, and do not leave any raised grave without leveling it.” (Narrated by Muslim, 969).[13]
  • It was narrated that he (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “May Allah curse the Jews and the Christians, for they took the graves of their Prophets as places of worship.” ‘Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) said, “He was warning against what they had done.” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 1330 and by Muslim, 529).[14] [15]
  • And when Umm Salamah and Umm Habeebah told him about a church in which there were images, he (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “When a righteous man died among them, they would build a place of worship over his grave and put those images in it. They are the most evil of mankind before Allaah.” (Saheeh, agreed upon. Narrated by al-Bukhari, 427 and by Muslim, 528).[16] [17]
  • And he (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Those who came before you took the graves of their Prophets and righteous people as places of worship. Do not take graves as places of worship – I forbid you to do that.” (Narrated in his Saheeh by Muslim, 532, from Jundab ibn ‘Abd-Allaah al-Bajali).[18]
  • From Surah Al Jinn (72:18) "The places of worship are for Allah (alone): So do not invoke anyone beside Allah."

There is a clear prohibition of raising the grave in the name of venerating the dead as it may lead to Shirk such as accounted in the story of the people of Noah, from Surah An Nuh 71: 23 it is quoted;

“And they have said: ‘You shall not leave your gods, nor shall you leave Wadd, nor Suwâ’, nor Yaghûth, nor Ya’ûq, nor Nasr (these are the names of their idols)."

Ibn Abbas commented on this saying, “These are the names of the pious people from among them. Following their deaths, Shaytan inspired their people to erect status in the place where they used to sit, and to call them with their names. They did so, however at this point, they were not worshiped until that generation died and the new generation deviated.”

However in contrast to this, throughout parts of the Islamic world there has developed a deep cultural tradition of shrine veneration usually linked to the practice of Sufism or due to the prevalence of associated cultural traditions linked to Sufism such as Barelvi shrines in Pakistan.[19]


The Data Durbar Shrine Lahore Pakistan.

Although classically in orthodox Islam it is prohibited to worship or engage in acts of worship surrounding graves; various movements and sects took the stance that it is permitted to supplicate with the 'Tawasul' or intercession of the deceased pious person (Sufi/Wali). For these groups, shrines hold a notable position and considered as places to seek spiritual guidance. Most venerated commemorate his life. In several countries, the local shrine is a focal point of the community, with several localities named specifically for the local saint.

In some parts of the Islamic world, such as in Pakistan, these festivals are multi-day events and even draw members of the Hindu and Christian minority who often revere the Muslim saint, such as in the case of the famous Lal Baz Qalandar shrine in Sindh, Pakistan – an important example of religious syncretism that blurs the distinction between members of different religions. Sufi shrines in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan are also host to a night of commemoration by Mehfil Samaaa (Qawali) and 'Zikr' every Thursday. Some academics assert that such practices were influenced by Hinduism long ago when Muslims and Hindus co-existed in the sub-continent.

In Turkey, the famous Sufi Whirling Dervishes perform their whirling at the shrine of Jalal-ud-Din Rumi in Konya, while in Morocco and Algeria, brotherhoods of Black African Sufis, the Gnouia, perform elaborate songs at the shrines of their Saints.

Numerous shrines were once located in Saudi Arabia in its initial days. However, due to the revival of puritanism in favour of Islamic orthodoxy by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (strongly clinging to the Hadith texts and Quran) against developed cultural practices they were destroyed by local authorities who identified them as sources of Shirk and of being reprehensible innovations in Islam or 'Bid‘ah'. Other important Shrines were once found in Central Asia, but many were destroyed by the Soviets.


Pilgrims outside the Shrine of Imam Hussain ibn Ali in Karbala, Iraq.

Shia's have several shrines dedicated to various religious figures important in their history, and several elaborate shrines are dedicated to Shia Saints and religious figures, most notably in Kerbala, Najaf, and Samarra in Iraq, and Qum and Mashad in Iran. Other important Shia shrines are located in Mazar-e-Sharif ("the Noble Shrine") in Afghanistan, and in Damascus, Syria.

Opposition to shrines[edit]

Although shrines are prevalent in many parts of the Muslim world, conservative Muslims do not condone the practice of visiting and building shrines. Many shrines have been demolished arousing the opposition of practitioners of Sufism. Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Al Azhar, has criticized the destruction of shrines and public property as unacceptable,[20] as has the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of the Islamic Research Centre of Egypt.[21]


The two most well-known Bahá'í shrines serve as the resting places for the respective remains of the two central figures of the Bahá'í Faith, the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh. They are the focal points of a Bahá'í pilgrimage:

Other sites have been designated as Bahá'í Shrines, the most notable being the home of William Sutherland Maxwell and May Maxwell in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.[24]




Buddhist shrine just outside Wat Phnom

In Buddhism, a shrine refers to a place where veneration is focused on the Buddha or one of the bodhisattvas. Monks, nuns and laypeople all give offerings to these revered figures at these shrines and also meditate in front of them.

Typically, Buddhist shrines contain a statue of either the Buddha, or (in the Mahayana and Vajrayana forms of Buddhism), one of the various bodhisattvas.[25] They also commonly contain candles, along with offerings such as flowers, purified water, food, and incense. Many shrines also contain sacred relics, such as the alleged tooth of the Buddha held at a shrine in Sri Lanka.

Site-specific shrines in Buddhism, particularly those that contain relics of deceased buddhas and revered monks, are often designed in the traditional form known as the stupa.

Germanic paganism[edit]

In Germanic paganism, types of shrines were employed, but terms for the shrines show some level of ambiguity:

  • Hörgrs, which may have originally exclusively referred to "holy places", whereas its Old English cognate hearg could mean "holy grove" and/or "temple, idol"[26]
  • Vés (Old Norse) or wēohs (Old English), referring to either a types of shrines or sacred enclosures. The term appears in skaldic poetry and in place names in Scandinavia (with the exception of Iceland), often in connection with a Norse deity or a geographic feature. The name of the Norse god , refers to the practice.[27]


A sanyasi performing Vyasa puja traditionally held on Guru Purnima day, as a part of Chaturmas rituals with shrine of Vyasa Guru at the center

In Hinduism, a shrine is a place where a god or goddess is worshipped. Shrines are typically located inside a temple known as a mandir, though many Hindus also have a household shrine as well. Sometimes a human is venerated at a Hindu shrine along with a deity, for instance the 19th century religious teacher Sri Ramakrishna is venerated at the Ramakrishna Temple in Kolkata, India.

Central to a Hindu shrine is a statue of a deity, which is known as a murti. Hindus believe that the deity that they are worshiping actually enters and inhabits the murti. This is given offerings like candles, food, flowers, and incense. In some cases, particularly among devotees of the goddess Kālī in northern India, animals are sacrificed to the deity.

At a mandir, the congregation often assembles in front of a shrine, and, led by priests, give offerings and sing devotional hymns.


The line between a temple and a shrine in Taoism is not fully defined; shrines are usually smaller versions of larger Taoist temples or small places in a home where a yin-yang emblem is placed among peaceful settings to encourage meditation and study of Taoist texts and principles. Taoists place less emphasis on formalized attendance and ritualized worship than other Asian religions; formal temples and structures of worship came about in Taoism mostly in order to prevent losing adherents to Buddhism.[28] Frequent features of Taoist shrines include the same features as full temples, often including any or all of the following features : gardens, running water or fountains, small burning braziers or candles (with or without incense), and copies of Taoist texts such as the Tao Te Ching, Zhuangzi or other texts by Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu or other Taoist sages.

As with all Taoist worship, Taoist shrines are organized around a sense of appreciation of nature and surroundings that inspire meditation on, and living in accordance with, the Tao ("Way" or "Path", a concept of living harmoniously with one's natural surroundings and environment) and the Three Jewels Of Taoism (different from Buddhism's concept of Three Jewels) - compassion, moderation, and humility.

Secular shrines[edit]

In the United States and some other countries, landmarks may be called "historic shrines." Notable shrines of this type include:

Halls of fame also serve as shrines into which single or multiple individuals are inducted on the basis of their influence upon regions, cultures or disciplines. Busts or full-body statues are often erected and placed alongside each other in commemoration.

By extension the term shrine has come to mean any place dedicated completely to a particular person or subject such as the Shrine of the Sun in Colorado Springs, Colorado."Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun". Artsopolis Network. Retrieved December 30, 2011. 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Etymology Dictionary
  2. ^ Definition of shrine
  3. ^ Aso wants Yasukuni as nonreligious war memorial
  4. ^ British Museum Portable Tibetan Shrine
  5. ^ Shrines in shops in Chinatown
  6. ^ Gualala Arts – Household Shrines
  7. ^ Front Yard Shrines
  8. ^ Sacred Destinations
  9. ^ Shrine Pilgrimage in Turkmenistan
  10. ^ Wikipedia Roman Catholic Church
  11. ^ Sacred Places
  12. ^ "Why is the Prophet’s grave in his mosque even though it is forbidden to take graves as places of worship?". 
  13. ^ Muslim. Muslim, 969. 
  14. ^ Bukhari. Bukhari, 1330. 
  15. ^ Muslim. Muslim, 529. 
  16. ^ Muslim. Muslim, 528. 
  17. ^ Bukhari. Bukhari, 427. 
  18. ^ Muslim. Muslim, 532. 
  19. ^ Martin Parsons (1 January 2006). Unveiling God: Contextualizing Christology for Islamic Culture. William Carey Library. pp. 149–. ISBN 978-0-87808-454-8. Retrieved 20 April 2011. 
  20. ^ "Salafi destruction of shrines and public property unacceptable". Ikhwanweb. Retrieved 24 February 2013. 
  21. ^ "Salafi Violence against Sufis". Retrieved 24 February 2013. 
  22. ^ Bahá'í World Centre (2007). "Shrine of the Báb". Bahá'í World Centre. Retrieved 2009-02-03. 
  23. ^ Bahá'í World Centre (2007). "Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh". Bahá'í World Centre. Retrieved 2009-02-03. 
  24. ^ Bahá'í Community of Canada (2014). "Bahá'í Shrine in Canada". Bahá'í Community of Canada. Retrieved 2014-12-06. 
  25. ^
  26. ^ Simek, Rudolf (2007), translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology, page 156. D.S. Brewer. ISBN 0-85991-513-1
  27. ^ Simek, Rudolf (2007), translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology, page 335. D.S. Brewer. ISBN 0-85991-513-1. and Orchard, Andy (1997). Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend, page 173. Cassell. ISBN 0-304-34520-2
  28. ^ Facts and Details - Organized Taoism, Retrieved 2008-10-28.

External links[edit]