In another post I had fun describing the quirky vibe in the Arizona city of Sedona, but here I want to get more serious in telling you about two holy sites I loved there.
The first is the Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park. Located at the base of Thunder Mountain overlooking Sedona, its 14 acres are designed to be a place of spiritual renewal for people of all faiths.
Stupas are an ancient form of sacred architecture. In Buddhism, they are a symbol of the Buddha’s enlightened mind. Practitioners believe that by meditating on and walking around these stupas, they can find healing and peace.
The building of the Amitabha Stupa was initiated by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo, spiritual director of the Kunzang Palyul Choling, a Tibetan Buddhist organization committed to compassionate outreach. The 36-foot stupa is named after the Buddha of Limitless Light.
Like all stupas, the one in Sedona is filled with sacred relics, prayers and symbols, and it also contains earth from every continent.
When Bob and I visited, we were among a handful of people wandering through the grounds. Traditionally pilgrims walk around a stupa in a clockwise direction, reciting prayers as they go, always keeping the symbol of enlightenment at the center of their attention. This lovely prayer is recommended by the designers of the stupa, but its blessings flow no matter what words are used:
By this effort, may all sentient beings be free of suffering.
May their minds be filled with the nectar of virtue.
In this way, may all causes resulting in suffering be extinguished,
and only the light of compassion shine throughout all realms.
A Church Built on a Rock
The other sacred site in Sedona has an even more stunning setting: the Chapel of the Holy Cross. You may have seen pictures of it before, because it’s one of the most beautiful places of worship in the world.
The chapel owes its existence to Marguerite Brunswig Staude, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. She first had the idea of creating a cross-shaped church in the 1930s, and had considered various spots around the world. None were quite right, until she saw this massive rock face near near Sedona.
It took decades to secure funding and permission to build on the land, but the result is amazing.
Completed in 1956, the chapel (which was designed by architects Richard Hein and August Strotz) rises from a cleft in a 200-foot rock that juts out from a 1,000 foot wall of stone. From below, it seems as if the chapel has grown organically out of the red standstone. The cross that marks its front is visible for many miles.
The chapel is part of St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Sedona, but (as at the stupa) people of all faiths are welcome. It has just one service a week—a Taize service on Monday evenings—but it’s a magnet for pilgrims and tourists throughout the day.
Inside, the chapel itself is surprisingly small and simple. Glass windows provide a panoramic view of the surrounding hills and the city of Sedona spread below. A cross forms the center of the window, echoing the much larger cross on the exterior of the building.
This being Sedona, both the stupa and the chapel are believed to be sacred vortices of energy. And after having spent time at both, I have no trouble at all believing this is indeed the case.
Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of The Soul of the Family Tree, Near the Exit and Holy Rover. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.