10 Weird & Unusual Religious Sites You Must Visit in The World
Whether you’re religious or not, places of worship are usually on the bucket list when you travel to a new place. But after a while, maybe every temple, cathedral and shrine starts to look the same to you. Peaceful places for prayer with holy ornaments and symbols around.
However, there are a few places which deviate from the norm and are bound to stick in your memory for a lifetime. Some may even make you wonder how anyone could ever pray in them.
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1. Dainichibo Temple – Japan
Ever seen a mummy in the flesh? At Rysui-Ji Dainichibo Temple in Yamagata, Japan, come face-to-face with a mummified monk. This temple in Japan showcases one of 16 self-mummified bodies claimed to be living Buddhas.
This act of self-mummification termed sokushinbutsu is believed to form a spiritual bridge between the afterlife and the living. The monks achieve this process through a 1,000 days diet of nuts, seeds and poisonous lacquer. They will then await death in an underground tomb to achieve eternal enlightenment.
When you visit, you will be given a tour which will let you see the mummified bodies in person. A monk of the temple (still living, of course) will then describe self-mummification in thorough detail.
The act of sokushinbutsu has since been banned in Japan which makes this a very unique and rare experience. We just hope your imagination doesn’t run wild when you come face to face with a “living” corpse.
- Opening hours: May-Oct: 9 am – 5 pm, Nov – Apr: 10 am – 4 pm
- Admission fee: 500 Yen (SGD 6.30)
- Location: Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan
2. Goa Lawah Temple – Indonesia
The name of the temple literally translates into ‘Bat Cave’. Don’t expect a Batmobile or a butler named Alfred to be waiting for you inside. However, you can expect lots of bats to be hanging right above you.
Goa Lawah is a Hindu temple that is built around the entrance of a cave where many bats reside. Legend has it that the chirping of the bats which is amplified by the hollow cave helps to bring deep focus during meditation.
Locals from other cities and villages usually make a pit stop here before travelling elsewhere to offer prayers and give offerings. For tourists, this temple is a popular spot for because who wouldn’t want to visit a ‘bat cave temple’?
If you’re afraid of being bitten and turning into a vampire, fret not, because the nectar bats feed on nectar and pollen in flowers. And also because vampires don’t exist, right?
- Opening hours: 7 am – 6 pm
- Admission fee: 6,000 Rupiah (SGD 0.60)
- Location: Bali, Indonesia
3. Huashan Temple – China
Reaching Huashan Temple is truly a matter of life and death. Sitting 2,160 metres above sea level, the Taoist temple lies at the end of a series of complex slopes and many steps.
The first slope towards Huashan Temple is aptly named the ‘Heavenly Stairs’. It is a pretty fitting name because if you make a misstep on the steep path, you’ll tumble down and meet your maker in heaven.
Despite the difficult and treacherous journey, more tourists are starting to visit the temple. And to accommodate the growing number of visitors, the temple has introduced a tea ceremony as a means to compensate those brave enough.
Previously, the path towards the Huashan Temple was sparse and poorly demarcated. Over time, steps have been taken by the authorities to make it safer for tourists who make the journey but a number of climbers still fall to their deaths. Climb at your own risk!
- Opening hours: 24 hours
- Admission fee: Mar – Nov: 180 Yuan (SGD 35.50), Dec – Feb: 100 Yuan (SGD 19.80)
- Location: Huayin, Shaanxi Province, China
4. Cappella Sansevero Museum – Italy
Once you’re done eating the finest pizzas in Naples, visit the Sansevero Chapel Museum in the heart of the city. At first sight, the chapel looks ethereal much like other cathedrals in Europe but upon closer look, there are some oddities.
The famous Veiled Christ sculpture resides in Sansevero Chapel but alongside it stands the Anatomical Machines.
The Anatomical Machines are two life-sized models of humans with their circulatory system still ‘intact’ around their skeletons. The circulatory system was widely believed to have been the result of experiments done on two servants of the chapel. As part of the experiments, liquid metal was injected into their bodies.
It was believed that the servants were alive when the experiment took place which made the story much more terrifying. However, recent studies showed that the metal was in fact made of wires and wax which disproves the ‘inhumane’ experiments. This finding still doesn’t make the models look any less scary.
- Opening hours: Sun – Fri: 9 am – 6.30 pm, Sat: 9 am – 8 pm
- Admission fee: 8 Euros (SGD 12.30)
- Location: Naples, Italy
5. Zenko-ji Temple – Japan
Nagano is a Japanese temple town which was developed around Zenko-ji, a temple that houses the first ever Buddhist statue brought into Japan back in the 6th century. Much like other temples and shrines in Japan, you will be able to visit the main hall for free and maybe offer a few prayers.
However, the most unusual part of the temple is the inner chamber which leads to an underground passage. Visitors are allowed to walk through the underground passage which is enveloped in complete darkness. The interesting feature inside this underground passage is a key which is dubbed the ‘key to paradise’.
Visitors who find or even touch the key are believed to find salvation. If you’re fine with complete darkness and cramped spaces, paradise awaits you at Zenko-ji.
- Opening hours: 6 am – 4 pm
- Admission fee: 500 Yen (SGD 6.30) for the inner chamber
- Location: Nagano, Japan
6. Baan Dam – Thailand
Thailand’s Black House, or Baan Dam in Thai, is low key a ‘temple’ dedicated to death and animal remains. The artist behind the Baan Dam decorated the place with taxidermy animals, preserved animal skins and skeletons. The sight of curved black horns also adorn many areas of the Baan Dam.
Although not strictly intended to be a temple or religious site, the Black House seems to display the total opposite of the famous White Temple in Thailand. Instead of religion, the artist’s intent was to reflect the human condition. Fans of morbid art should definitely visit.
- Opening hours: 7 am – 6 pm
- Admission fee: 6,000 Rupiah (SGD 0.60)
- Location: Bali, Indonesia
7. St. Kinga’s Chapel – Poland
The largest church built underground is located deep within the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland. For some context, the salt mine was excavated in the 13th century all the way to 2007 and has now been recognised as a historic monument.
Within the mine lies a chapel made of rock salt. Although it is 100 metres below ground, it is illuminated with grand chandeliers, salt sculptures and carvings. An iconic salt carving is one of the Last Supper.
Prayer service is still regularly held within the chapel for mass and Christmas. Weddings done by locals have also been done before simply because of the special nature of the place.
- Opening hours: Apr-Oct: 7.30 am – 7.30 pm, Nov to Mar: 8 am – 5 pm
- Admission fee: 89 złoty (SGD 32.20)
- Location: Wieliczka, Krakow, Poland
8. Snake Pagoda – Myanmar
Don’t be alarmed when you enter this temple and start to hear hissing. The Snake Pagoda is home to two pythons who are fed and taken care of by monks.
Legend has it that when the temple was built, two snakes were found wrapped around a statue of Buddha. This led to a monk bringing away the snakes to a nearby jungle and releasing them. But every time the monk released them, they would return the next day. The monks soon relented and believed that the snakes could be reincarnations of monks who used to tend to the old pagoda.
The pythons are the true VIPs of this temple as they regularly get rose petal baths from the monks, get dried off with money from donations and get fed on the regular. Get the chance to snap a picture with pythons as well after their bath.
30 minutes outside of town, the Snake Pagoda doesn’t get too jam packed with tourists which makes the grounds peaceful.
- Location: Mandalay, Myanmar
9. Awashima Jinja – Japan
Nothing sounds creepier than a doll that has hair that grows on its own. The Awashima-jinja Shrine claims to have such a doll but has kept it out of public view. To elaborate, dolls and toys are a common sight in this shrine. Rather than throwing out their dolls, people donate them here.
During rituals, these dolls are bathed to cleanse the souls within them. During the Japanese Dolls Festival, also known as the Hinamatsuri, dolls from the shrine are placed on boats and then sent away towards the sea by the river. This act takes away any bad luck and negativity which is brought away by the dolls.
Apart from dolls, the shrine is regularly visited by women who wish to pray for smooth delivery of a baby, female health and the increased chance of conceiving a child.
I’m not a fan but it is very interesting to see thousands of figures, dolls and toys planted across the temple grounds.
- Opening hours: 9 am – 5 pm
- Admission fee: 300 Yen (SGD 3.80) to enter Treasure Hall
- Location: Wakayama, Japan
10. Karni Mata Temple – India
Marble floors and silver ornaments decorate the Karni Mata Temple in Bikaner. But once you step in, you’ll notice bowls of milk and grains laid around in the temple grounds. Not to mention, you’ll also see rats congregating around these bowls. About 25,000 rats. Just another normal day in Karni Mata Temple.
These temple rats are believed to be reincarnations of male descendants of Karni Mata, a storyteller who was an incarnation of the god Durga. These animals are protected and the leftovers of food and water are considered blessed. Pilgrims who eat the leftovers are believed to receive good fortune.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to spot albino rats which make up only a handful out of thousands. Albino rats in the temple are considered holier than the others and if they run over your feet, you are considered to be blessed.
- Opening hours: 4.30 am – 10 pm
- Admission fee: Free
- Location: Bikaner, Rajasthan, India