The United States is full of amazing faith-based attractions, from shrines where miracles are believed to have occurred and a full-size replica of Noah’s Ark to museums full of biblical artifacts, multisensory rides, virtual reality presentations and full-stage immersive musical productions that tell the most famous stories from the Bible. Here are just a handful of attractions that are a must for any faith-based tour group.
Museum of the Bible
The Museum of the Bible was founded by Hobby Lobby president Steve Green, who began collecting religious artifacts in 2009. The six-story, 430,000-square-foot museum opened in 2017 about two blocks off the National Mall and three blocks from the Capitol.
The museum’s state-of-the-art exhibits explore the impact of the Bible on America and the world, showing how it influenced fashion, science and art. The most popular exhibit is the Hebrew Bible Experience, a 30-minute interactive and multisensory walk through the stories of the Bible. The fourth floor is dedicated to the history of the Bible and features hundreds of rare artifacts, handwritten scrolls and an exhibit that gives a visual representation of all translations of the Bible that currently exist, as well as some being worked on today.
A multisensory ride called Washington Revelations takes visitors on a seven-minute flight around the city, showing monuments and museums that pay tribute to the Bible through carvings, sculptures and Bible verses.
In early 2022, the museum will host a Shroud of Turin exhibit that will use the latest technology to teach visitors about the shroud, its history and the impact it has had on millions of people around the world. It will run through July 31.
Ark Encounter and Creation Museum
Williamstown and Petersburg, Kentucky
The Ark Encounter is Kentucky’s most popular attraction and features a 510-foot-long replica of Noah’s Ark. Its sister museum, the Creation Museum, is a few miles down the road in Petersburg. Together, they are the leading faith-based destination in the country.
The Ark Encounter recently started raising funds for a future attraction, the Tower of Babel, which will give visitors a biblical perspective on racial issues and show how all people developed from one biological race. The exhibit will use genetics research and passages from the Bible to confirm the origin of all people groups around the world. In addition, the museum plans to include a massive indoor scale model of what Jerusalem may have looked like at the time of Christ — likely to open in 2023 — and a Bible-themed carousel.
In 2020, the Ark Encounter opened Truth Traveler, a virtual reality experience where guests take a trip through time to Noah’s day in high-tech headsets and moving seats. It also added new animals to the Ararat Ridge Zoo and increased seating at Emzara’s Restaurant, which can accommodate 1,700 diners at one time.
The Creation Museum added a new exhibit called “Borderland: Israel at the Time of Jesus” that features artifacts, models, original artwork and replicas of what life was like in Israel in the time of Jesus. The Stargazer Planetarium reopened in 2020 after a multimillion-dollar upgrade that included a new surround sound system, two new laser projectors and a new tilted dome that offers a better viewing experience from every seat.
Sight and Sound Theatres
Branson, Missouri and Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Sight and Sound Theatres in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Branson, Missouri, bring Bible stories to life onstage in a spectacular way. Using original scripts, sets and music, the productions feature 50 to 60 actors per show, as well as live animals. The theaters, which are still owned by founder Glenn Eshelman’s family, have 2,000 seats wrapped around a stage, with set pieces that rise four stories. Each show lasts about two and a half hours. The original shows take up to four years to produce.
Sight and Sound is beginning the design and writing phases for the next show, slated to launch in 2024. All new shows premiere in Lancaster before traveling to Branson. It takes about 55 tractor trailers and six months to move one show with props and sets from one location to the other.
The goal of every show is to immerse the audience in biblical stories, from Moses parting the Red Sea to Samson being onstage as the temple collapses. In 2022, “David” will premiere in Lancaster, and “Jesus” will move to Branson.
The theaters were started by Eshelman, a landscape painter and photographer, in the 1970s. To earn a bit of extra money, he began selling his paintings from the trunk of his car and eventually began giving multimedia presentations of his works in various places. The reception was amazing, and his shows eventually grew to include live actors and music.
Richard Diamond and his wife, Alwilda, got the idea for BibleWalk when they attended a crusade in Atlanta. While there, they toured a historical wax museum that included scenes of presidents, generals, war heroes and the Ascension of Jesus Christ. Their vision for a museum wasn’t realized until the pastor moved his church to its current 20-acre location in 1980. In 1983, the couple began searching for wax and fiberglass figures to begin their museum.
In 1987, the museum opened to the public with 19 scenes made of museum-quality fiberglass figures. Seven representing scenes of the Old Testament and the rest depict scenes from the New Testament. It expanded its tours to include Miracles of the Old Testament in 1992. The museum now has more than 100 scenes with 325 figures that are made of either vinyl or wax. Each tour takes visitors on a multisensory journey through some of the Bible’s most famous stories.
The most recent visitor experiences — “Museum of Christian Martyrs” and “Kingdom of God”— opened in June. In August, the Museum of Woodcarving opened with the largest collection of woodcarvings in the world created by one person. The artist, Joseph Barta, spent nearly five years completing his life-size carving of the Last Supper.
Mother Cabrini Shrine
The Mother Cabrini Shrine is a landmark in the foothills outside Denver. Groups heading west on Interstate 70 can see the statue of Jesus perched atop Mount of the Sacred Heart from miles away, but the 22-foot-high statue isn’t the only reason to visit the site. The 373-step staircase up to the shrine follows the Stations of the Cross, marked by stone mosaics.
Visitors can attend Mass in the beautiful chapel, peruse the museum and walk the grounds. Several meditation gardens are available for people who just want a moment of solitude or reflection, among them the Rosary Garden and the Cabrini Garden, which is dedicated to Mother Cabrini and her love of Jesus.
Cabrini purchased the property in the early 1900s as a summer camp for the little girls living at the Queen of Heaven Orphanage in Denver. She wanted a place for them to get out of the city in the summertime. Cabrini was canonized in 1946, at which time the property began to turn into a shrine in her honor. The beautiful chapel was completed in 1970, and over the years, the property was upgraded to include a large gift shop, conference spaces and retreat lodging.
The shrine is the midst of a capital campaign to raise $4.5 million to repair the stairs leading up to the shrine, expand the chapel, remodel and expand the gift shop and make a new conference area on the main floor.