Many shrines in the Mediterranean have a history of intercommunal worship (Albera and Couroucli, 2012). The most widespread network of shrines attracting a multi-religious audience are those dedicated to the connected and occasionally overlapping saintly entities of Nabi Khidr (Islamic), Mar Jurjus (Orthodox Christian) and Mar Ilyas (Jewish in origin, yet also Christian and Islamic).
These and other saintly entities are the epitome of an awareness of a historically shared sacredness that transcends communal, as well as present day national borders. Many of these shrines continue to be popular places of worship, leisure and social gathering. In contrast to the more formal and mono-religious institutions of assembly, such as mosques, churches and synagogues, shrines also attract a more varied audience, in terms of background, gender and age. The larger ones often function as community centers and institutions offering social services.
However, the veneration of saints is contested, both by secular and fundamentalist voices, and in past and present war conditions many shrines in the Balkans and the Middle East have been damaged or destroyed by nationalists and/or Islamists. But saints and shrines, however contested, continue to offer space for communal and intercommunal exchanges, for alignment within and between, for outreach and reconciliation. Shrines are religious institutions that function next to, but also in association with more formal religious, social and other institutions, including those created by the modern nation-state.
Subsequently, the concomitant local and extra-local networks attached to these institutions, both formal and informal, connect to various (including more secular) networks. Shared sacred spaces and coexistent religious and social practice as a given historical condition, constitute important elements for empowerment of those who seek to recreate the common ground, countering the, at times, dramatic consequences of social and political fragmentation, and enhance processes of communal, national and regional reconciliation (see for Iraq: Sarkin and Sensibaugh 2009).