Article: Urban Parks as Sacred Places: Pilgrimage, Solitude, and Access to Nature, by Chad Thralls

The Ramble in Central Park
CC BY-SA 3.0

Many of us would agree that green spaces in urban environments offer a welcome respite from the often hectic pace of city life. In Chad Thralls‘ article, we find an argument for considering a city park as a setting for a spiritual pilgrimage. Here is his article’s abstract:

The paper begins with an appreciation of the ‘turn to nature’ seen in recent scholarship in Christian spirituality, and then proceeds to offer a suggestion how this rich literature might be made relevant to those who connect with God through the natural world, yet live in cities far removed from wilderness areas. An urban park is often an oasis of green in a ‘desert’ of streets, sidewalks, and buildings. By offering access to natural scenery, parks provide relatively quiet spaces in stark contrast to the noise and distractions of the city surrounding them. To understand their spiritual use, the paper claims that parks serve as pilgrimage sites in cities because they provide spaces where it is possible to find a degree of solitude and access to scenic natural features such as trees, flowers, and small bodies of water. Using the author’s experience as an example (and Victor and Edith Turner’s work on pilgrimage as a guide), the paper concludes that walking out of Manhattan’s street grid into The Ramble, a wooded section at the heart of Central Park, can facilitate a transition of attention inward from the concerns of everyday life to the presence of Christ in the heart.


Thralls,Chad. “Urban Parks as Sacred Places: Pilgrimage, Solitude, and Access to Nature,” in Transforming Spirituality. Proceedings of the International Conference held at Soeterbeeck (the Netherlands) 6 and 7 May 2016, Studies in Spirituality 28 (2018): 211-231.
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