About the Series
Americans are from everywhere and they have brought their faiths and their building traditions to their new home. A Sacred Piece of Home, a documentary series to be broadcast by Public Television in 2021 will bring to viewers a visual feast of distinctive architecture in styles from all over the world. Viewers will discover monumental and iconic places of worship and learn about the communities who commissioned them.
The Immigrant Experience: Irish immigrants left Ireland in the mid-1800s and came to America because of the Great Famine. Cuban Catholics escaped from Cuba in the early 1960s when Castro declared Cuba an atheist state, closed down Catholic institutions, and expelled hundreds of priests. It became dangerous for Catholics to practice their faith, so they fled in droves to nearby Miami. European Jews fled Hitler’s Holocaust in the mid-20th century and joined Jews in America who had escaped the pogroms and persecutions of Eastern Europe a century earlier. Indian American professionals began migrating to the US when immigration laws changed in 1965. An Immigration Historian will discuss the immigrant experience of various ethnic groups throughout the series.
War, famine, persecution and political turmoil, as well as the quest for a better life, have driven many people to America over time. The Constitution of the United States has consistently promoted freedom of religion. A Sacred Piece of Home will showcase that treasured freedom in tangible form as Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples are all part of the American religious landscape today.
Moving to a new country: When people migrate from one country to another, they take with them their language, culture, and traditions. Constructing a place of worship is equivalent to putting down roots in the new home; a place composed of longing and memory where they can sing hymns in their native tongue and share memories with others who remember their past home; a place where they are surrounded by familiar images and rituals that allow them to be themselves. Most humans need the familiar to stabilize and integrate into the mainstream.
Preserving the Past, Embracing the Future: Interviews with clergy and congregants will give a sense of the role played by the church or temple in their lives. This is not just a place for prayer. It serves as the nucleus of an immigrant sub-group – a cultural center. Under these roofs friendships are forged, marriages are made, children are baptized and initiated into the faith, co-ethnics bond with and support each other. Language and religion classes for children help anchor them to their parents’ traditions while English and citizenship classes help prepare adults for a future in a new country. Indeed, the desire to preserve their heritage for the next generation is probably the most important impetus for creating a sacred piece of home.
As new people and religions come into the nation, mysteries multiply on all sides. Why are there carved snakes on the railings of the Buddhist temple? Why do Carpathian structures have onion-shaped domes? How can you tell a building is a synagogue? What is the difference between Catholic and Protestant sacred space? An Art Historian’s commentary will help answer these questions.
Understanding Other Religions: Non-Christians are mystified by the “Eucharist” a central rite in Christian worship. Those belonging to monotheistic faiths wonder why Hindus have so many deities and why they have so many arms and heads. Why do Orthodox churches have a golden screen before the altar? Why do Muslim women cover their hair? There are so many questions that folks have about each other and so many doubts and stereotypes floating around. A specialist in Comparative Religion, will explain the basic tenets of each faith and the modes of worship. This is one of the important goals of our series: to help foster an understanding of the many faiths that surround us in the 21st century.
Dr. Diana Eck, the founder of the Pluralism project says: “Pluralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. In the world in which we live today, our ignorance of one another will be increasingly costly.” She is right. With every passing day, we hear about dreadful shootings and massacres – people acting upon their fear and hatred of people different from themselves. Interfaith understanding is no longer an option. It is a necessity.
Miami: Gateway to the Americas
South Florida was first settled by the Spanish and much of its sacred architecture bears a Spanish imprint. Over the years its proximity to South America and the Caribbean has attracted a great influx of immigrants made up of mostly Christian and Jews. Their architecture, language, culture and traditions are what makes up the distinctive flavor of this cosmopolitan city by the sea.
Spanish Monastery, Miami FL
The Washington D.C. area hosts the world’s embassies and hence has an international population from all over the planet. Because it is the nation’s capital, it has several sacred edifices of historic importance, many of them massive and monumental in order to accommodate huge audiences for events of national significance. African Americans, including those who moved north during the Great Migration which began in the early 20th century, also established important churches here.
Islamic Center, Washington D.C.
Chicago: City of Immigrants
The industrial center and transportation hub of the 19th century, Chicago was a magnet for immigrants looking for work from Germany, Poland, Ireland and other European and American cities. Initially, the immigrants settled in separate ethnic neighborhoods where they could live and worship amongst others with the same language and culture. Each group imprinted its legacy on the city in the form of ornate churches and synagogues that resembled those they left behind. The population evolved with the influx of Mexican workers and African Americans. As the earlier groups prospered and moved into better neighborhoods, they sold their churches to the new arrivals.
Polish church, Chicago