My career as a photographer of sacred architecture and pilgrimage sites began when I was a young boy. My father was in the US diplomatic service and because of this I was privileged to travel widely around the world. Archaeology and photography were my father's hobbies and my mother was fascinated by classical music and painting, thus from my earliest years I was immersed in the arts and antiquities of foreign cultures. When I was twelve years old our family moved to India for four years. During this period I went on frequent journeys, both alone and in the company of wandering holy men, to the temples, mosques and sacred caves of India, Nepal and Kashmir. Reading widely in the fields of Buddhism and Hinduism, and intrigued with the beauty and mystery of the sacred places, I dreamed of one day producing a guidebook and photographic atlas of the great Asian pilgrimage shrines. After my family's return to the United States I entered the University of Arizona with the intention of studying Mesoamerican archaeology but soon left, drawn back to India by the call of the spiritual quest and the desire to become a mountain hermit in the tradition of Theravada Buddhism. While living in northern India I became a member of a monastic order and for the next ten years, both in India and the west, cultivated a deep practice of meditation.
At the age of twenty-eight I left monastic life behind, returned to the US, and started two travel companies. Within three years these companies were bringing thousands of tourists to the Caribbean and Mexico and I was becoming a very successful businessman. Yet there was an emptiness in my heart and soul for I yearned to do something more aligned with my spiritual practices. My prayers were soon answered. On a journey to South America, visiting the archaeological sites of Easter Island and Machu Picchu, I experienced a powerful reawakening of my interest in ancient sacred places. So strong was this interest that I decided to pursue my earlier ambition of photographing the world's great sacred architecture.
Returning to the US, I sold my business and began a twenty year period of traveling as a wandering pilgrim to over 1000 sacred sites in more than 80 countries around the world. Traveling frequently by bicycle and visiting hundreds of temples, monasteries and sacred mountains, I conducted extensive studies of sacred site mythology, the history of religions and the anthropology of pilgrimage traditions. Along the way, I also conducted a comprehensive photographic documentation of the great holy places.
During my travels, I recognized the sacred places to be repositories of many of the world's greatest artistic and cultural treasures. However, because of their out-of-doors locations and their resulting exposure to industrial pollution, the sacred structures do not receive the protection which paintings, sculptures and other art are given in museums. Viewing this situation, I recognized that my research and travels had a greater purpose than merely my own education or the production of a beautiful photography book. Public attention needed to be drawn to the degraded condition of these wondrous art pieces so that they might be preserved for the benefit and education of future generations.
In an attempt to assist in this education and preservation work I created a multi-projector slide show that communicates both the extraordinary beauty and precarious situation of the sacred sites. During the past fifteen years, I have presented this slide show at museums, universities and conferences around the US, Latin America, Europe and Asia, to more than 125,000 people. Building on the success of these slide shows, I created the Places of Peace and Power web site that has, since its inception in late 1997, received more than 25 million visitors. In 2004 National Geographic published The Geography of Religion, of which I was the principal photographer. In 2007 Sterling published Sacred Earth, a collection of 200 of my color photographs of sacred sites around the world.
Located in the rolling hills of southeastern Turkey, the lovely ruins of Aphrodisias contain what was once the preeminent temple of the goddess Aphrodite in Asia Minor. Yet long before the Greek sanctuary of Aphrodite was constructed in the 1st century B…"
The Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) is the principal Franciscan church of Florence, Italy. Situated on the Piazza Santa Croce to the east of the Duomo, it is best known for its Florentine artwork and its tombs of illustrious dead, in…"
Begun in 1093, Pisa Cathedral (Duomo di Pisa) is a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture. Despite its proximity to the eye-catching and tourist-attracting Leaning Tower, the Duomo still dominates the monumental Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa. The first st…"
Near Cusco Cathedral is the Church of the Society of Jesus (Iglesia La Compañía de Jesús) which rivals the cathedral in grandeur and prominence on the main square (an intentional move by the Jesuits, which did not go over too well). …"
The Museo Inka (Incan Museum), also known as the Archaeological Museum of Cusco, contains artifacts that trace Peruvian history from pre-Inca civilizations and Inca culture to the impact of the Conquest and colonial times on these native cultures. The b…"
The combined sacred sites of Koricancha (also spelled Qoricancha or Qorickancha) and Santo Domingo in Cusco vividly illustrate ancient Andean culture's collision with Western Europe. The temple of one culture sits atop and encloses the other. History T…"
The Musée du Petit-Palais was originally the bishop's palace and it is where the first two Avignon popes lived before the Palais des Papes was constructed. Today, the palace houses the Musée du Petit-Palais, an outstanding collection of 13…"
Next to the Palais des Papes in Avignon is the 12th-century Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms. The cathedral was first built in a pure Provençal Romanesque style in the 12th century but was soon dwarfed by the extravagant palace that rose besi…"
The Almoravid Koubba (also called Koubba Ba'adiyn) is the oldest building in Marrakesh and the only Almoravid building remaining in Morocco. The Almoravids (1062-1145) were reformers and monastic-type warriors from the nomadic Sanhaja Berber tribe (in w…"
Construction on the Koutoubia mosque began shortly after the Almohad conquest of Marrakesh, around 1150. Built on the site of an 11th-century Almoravid mosque, it was completed during the reign of Sultan Yacoub el Mansour (1184-99). Its name comes from t…"
Made famous by James Bond, Agia Triada (also Ayías Triádhos, Ayia Triada or Aghia Triada; "Holy Trinity") is probably the most dramatically positioned monastery of the Meteora. It is perched atop a slender pinnacle and accessible …"
Gortyna (also known as Gortyn or Gortys) in southern central Crete was a major Roman city and later became the seat of the first Christian bishop of Crete. Gortyna was the chief city of Crete during the Roman period. Its city walls were nearly 6 miles l…"
The Isabey Mosque in Selçuk (near Ephesus) is a beautiful example of Seljuk Turkish architecture in an atmospheric location. It is the oldest known example of a Turkish mosque with a courtyard. The Isabey Mosque was built in 1375 at the direction…"
The Basilica of St. John (St. Jean Aniti) was a great church in Ephesus constructed by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. It stands over the believed burial site of St. John, who is identified as the apostle, evangelist (author of the Fourth Gospel) a…"
The Ephesus Museum (Efes Müzesi), located near the entrance to the Basilica of St. John in Selçuk, displays excavations from the ancient city of Ephesus. The main highlights are two statues of the Ephesian Artemis, frescoes and mosaics. The …"
Built in the 11th century and decorated in the 14th, the Church of St. Savior in Chora (formerly the Kariye Camii and now the Kariye Müzesi) in Istanbul contains one of the best-preserved collections of Byzantine mosaics and frescoes anywhere. The…"
The Istanbul Archaeology Museum is housed in three buildings just inside the first court of Topkapi Palace and includes the Museum of the Ancient Orient. The museum has an excellent collection of Greek and Roman artifacts, including finds from Ephesus an…"
The Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière sits high atop the Fourvière Hill in Lyon, France. It was built between 1872 and 1876 in the typical Baroque style of the period and offers a magnificent view over the city. Like the Basilique Sacr&eac…"
Officially named Le Mémorial de Caen, un musée pour la paix - "The Caen Memorial, a Museum for Peace," the Caen Memorial is regarded as the best World War II museum in France. With over 6,000,000 visitors since it opened, it is th…"
Wat Traimit (Temple of the Golden Buddha) in Bangkok might not rate a second glance if not for its astonishing Buddha image. Wat Traimit is thought to date from the 13th century. The Golden Buddha image is about 900 years old and is cast in the Sukhot…"
History: Begun in 1434, Nantes' cathedral was dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. The cathedral wasn't finished until the end of the 19th century, but it remained amazingly architecturally harmonious. After a 1972 fire destroyed the roof, the interior…"
The Tours Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Gatien de Tours), dedicated to Saint Gatien, its first bishop, was begun about 1170 to replace the just-started cathedral that burned down in 1166 during the quarrel between Louis VII of France and Henry II of Englan…"
The Kairaouine Mosque (Djemaa el Kairaouine) in Fes is the second-largest mosque in Morocco (after the new Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca) and gives Al-Azhar in Cairo a run for its money as the world's oldest university. Its minaret dates from 956 and is…"
The Saadian Tombs in Marrakesh were sealed up for centuries until their rediscovery in 1917. Occupying a quiet enclosure at the kasbah, the tombs are magnificently decorated with colorful tiles, Arabic script and elaborate carvings. The enclosure consi…"
In the ancient Greek world, Palea Paphos was one of the most important pilgrimage centers due to its famous Sanctuary of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and fertility. Today, virtually all that remains is the holy ground itself. The ancient Sanctuary of…"
Traditionally regarded as the heavenly abode of the Greek gods and the site of the throne of Zeus, Olympos seems to have originally existed as an idealized mountain that only later came to be associated with a specific peak. The early epics, the Illiad a…"
The Prophet's Mosque has a flat paved roof topped with 24 domes on square bases. Holes pierced into the base of each dome illuminate the interior. The roof is also used for prayer during peak times, when the 24 domes slide out on metal tracks to shade a…"
The prayer space is built on a five-meter grid. Its arcade is roofed with square coffers decorated with plaster molding. The columns are clad with marble panels, whereas the arches are covered with artificial stone and plaster moldings. Along the axis li…"
Nestled in the forests of sacred Mt. Parnassus are the ruins of Delphi, the supreme oracle site of the ancient Mediterranean. Archaic legends mention a holy place of the earth goddess Gaia, whose shrine was guarded by her daughter, the serpent Python. K…"
Vast, mysterious and enchanting, the ruined city of Palenque is considered to be the most beautifully conceived of the Mayan city-states and one of the loveliest archaeological sites in the world. Its geographic setting is splendid beyond words. Nestled…"
Located in the heart of the teeming city of Damascus, the Great Mosque is known to be the oldest existing monumental architecture in the Islamic world. For millennia before the birth of Islam however, the city of Damascus was a sacred site of other cultu…"