Weekly Trust

Tourism has spiritual face too

In recent times, there have been phrases like religious tourism and faith-based tourism. Where does Nigeria fall in this category, especially now with our efforts to promote tourism and rebrand Nigeria?

All over the world, churches, though sacred, are a part of the history and lives of the people around them. It has meant civilisation and a way of life which locals adopted due to the influence of the religion in that area. In France and many other countries, it was the leadership until the state was separated from the church. In Africa, it symbolised a new life, hope, as well as exploitation.

Many of these church buildings which dated back to centuries ago now serve as tourism attarctions for younger generations who through them learn about their history and ancestors. The frequency of local and foreign tourists to these sites has brought about the coinage of the term ‘religious tourism’ or ‘faith-based tourism’.

Nigeria just like other African countries has begun to recognise this line of tourism as was reported by Leo Sobechi thus: “The Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Federal Capital Territory, Senator Anthony Agbo, has praised The Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) for its contribution to Nigeria’s tourism development especially the Federal Government’s re-branding efforts.

The lawmaker noted that the SCOAN and its pastor, Temitope Balogun Joshua, have contributed immensely to tourism development in the country. The number of foreigners who troop to the church made him to think about any other spot in the country that could attract such mammoth influx of people into Nigeria, stressing that such outlet could only be possible as a blessing of God.

A similar report also stated that the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) survey reports that big evangelical churches attracted over 15 million people to their retreat grounds generating N90 billion (approximately $890 million] during the Christmas period of 2008.

In the United Kingdom, reports state that the Churches Tourism Association is UK’s leading body for promoting best practice in welcoming visitors to places of worship and developing the tourism potential and visitor experience of a unique part of our historical and contemporary sacred heritage captured for the future, living in the present and distinctive to the location of every community across the land.

Although Nigeria is yet to fully exploit this line of tourism as regards making her old churches which were the beginning of a new way of life for her people, there are churches around the world which operate as worship centres as well as tourist locations. Some of them are:

The Lalibela, Ethiopia

Lalibela is often referred to as Africa’s Petra or the New Jerusalem because of its numerous hardly credible churches hewn into solid rock some 800 years ago. Craftsmen initially dug vertical trenches into the red volcanic rock leaving a solid rock in the middle which was then chiselled out from the inside to create a freestanding church inside a well of solid rock. At left is shown Bet Giorgios shaped like a Greek cross. Thirteen of these churches exist in the town and various others lie in the surrounding hills.

The interior of each church is quite different, some with elaborate wall murals, others quite simple, all with remarkable wall paintings done in Byzantine style, with ancient illuminated manuscripts and priests holding their ceremonial staffs suitably adorned with a cross.  Carved into the outer walls of some of the churches live ancient monks like the man on the right who spend their lives reading and chanting the scriptures.

St. Catherine’s Orthodox Byzantine Church, Greece

Set in the heart of Athens on Plaka Street, this 11th Century-built Byzantine church still stands firm for Athenians and visitors alike to behold its grandeur from all those years. It’s not just a place of worship; it also holds treasures and art which educate on styles and items which are evidences of the existing practices of that era.

The Cathedral, Lucca, Tuscany

The Cathedral was completely rebuilt between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries; in 1261, it was joined to the adjoining bell-tower, hence the unusual asymmetry of the facade and its smaller arch to the right.

Some of the carving dates back to the fifth century and some work has been attributed to Nicola Pisano.

The Tomb of Ilaria is the work of Lucca’s famous son, Matteo Civitali, and dates from the fifteenth century.

The Volto Santo (Holy Face) is a wooden effigy that is said to be a true image of Christ carved by Nicodemus at the crucifixion. Once in a year, the revered effigy is removed to head a procession through the streets of Lucca.

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