Cultural Tourism: Bridge between Christianity and Islam

At first glance, the cover picture of this article seems to show a common scene from cultural tourism: Visitors are looking at the interior of a church. It could indeed be such a scene, since in the last Flash Eurobarometer survey on “Europeans’ preferences towards tourism”, just over a quarter (26%) of those questioned cited culture with a clear link to visiting religious sites as a reason for going on holiday[1]. But it is not quite so. This image has a slightly different history:

It was taken on a foggy and rainy evening at the end of November 2019 in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana. Christmas decorations were already glittering in the shops, but the Christmas market on the central Prešernov trg was not yet open, and the giant Christmas fir had not yet lit up. Brightly lit, however, was the entrance to the Church of the Annunciation of the Franciscan monastery, whose striking 19th-century façade faces the square.

From the church there was music of the evening mass, and the atmosphere had a Christmassy, solemn feel, carried outside by the approaching darkness and the beginning silence of the square. This may have prompted a group of four young people to climb the steps to the church portal and enter. Obviously they were visitors to the city, for they had strolled along the banks of the Ljubljanica River and had previously admired the view of the illuminated castle at length.

The three young women of the group were veiled with the Hidschāb, also their partly floor-length clothes allowed the conclusion that they were Muslim women.  They stood for a long time behind the last bench of the church room, looked at the frescoes extensively and listened without doubt concentrated to the church music. They respected the evening mass and refrained from walking around inside the church – by no means a matter of course in churches at the time of services and masses, one may now believe common signs on church portals. When they turned to walk, one could see from their faces and smiles that they had obviously enjoyed the music and artistic design of the church interior.

Why is this incident found in a cultural tourism blog? Because it shows how cultural experiences can overcome religious boundaries and allow experiences that bring people together.  The church space allowed the visitors a brief participation in a culture that was almost certainly not their own. It is very likely that a positive memory of an atmosphere of warm light, Christian church music and colourful frescoes will stick – as a peace-making souvenir that lasts.

[1] “Preferences of Europeans towards tourism”, Flash Eurobarometer 432, published March 2016 (based on data from 2015)