Weird Pilgrimages | Why Scientologists Flock to East Grinstead (And Other Strangely Specific Holiday Destinations)

Who knew that Tom Cruise lived in a tiny town in Sussex?

by Kieran Morris
Jun 29 2018, 10:02am

Where do you think Tom Cruise spends most of his time? If you guessed Beverly Hills, St. Barts, Brisbane, or anywhere of the sort – you’re wrong. If you took the obvious route and guessed ‘a small market town in the northeastern corner of Mid Sussex’ – pat yourself on the back and advance to the next round. The lilliputian leading man is the current resident of Saint Hill Manor, a deeply mysterious stately home in the quaint little town of East Grinstead.

This manor has almost-Vatican status amongst the Scientologists, as the former home of their founder L. Ron Hubbard, and Cruise took residence with the intention of making the manor into the centre point of international Scientology.

East Grinstead has long adapted to the tourist trips of practicing Thetans, but if Cruise’s plans come to fruition, the town could become a bonafide pilgrimage point unlike anything else in the UK. If you think this is bizarre, or if you fancy planning your own tour, here’s four more weird points of pilgrimage across the world:

Seborga, Italy – for Anime Heads

Photo: Courtesy of the Principality of Seborga

The self-proclaimed Principality of Seborga – which claims to be an independent state within itself – has enough strange quirks, like its flag, currency and diplomatic missions to the UN. But stranger still is its popularity amongst fans of the manga & anime series, Hetalia: Axis Powers.

The micronation routinely attracts tourists looking to learn more about the fictional character, Seborga, who is described by Wikipedia as a “womanizer”, unrecognised by others “for his passive nature.” Just what they hope to learn from their trip around the tiny Italian separatist village is a mystery, but the attraction cannot be denied.

Interlaken, Switzerland – for Bollywood Fans

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Switzerland is probably not the first place you think of when Bollywood is mentioned, and to be honest that’s perfectly understandable. However, prepare to be enlightened: Yash Chopra, perhaps the most esteemed Bollywood director in cinema history, adored the town of Interlaken after visiting on his honeymoon, and immortalised it in many of his films.

As such, he inspired hundreds, if not thousands, of Indians to travel across the world, hit the slopes, and eat raclette cheese. Chopra’s association with Interlaken was so profound that a train is named in his honour there, and a statue of him stands in one of their picturesque gardens. So the next time somebody asks you which country you associate with Bollywood, say Switzerland without any hesitation.

Liangjiahe, China – for Xi Jinping Devotees

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

We all remember our first rough summer job. For some, it’s potwashing; for others, glass-collecting. For Chinese President Xi Jinping, it was seven years hard labour in the small village of Liangjiahe, as part of Mao’s ‘Up to the Mountain, and Down to the Countryside’ re-education programme.

Through sleeping in a cave, digging holes for sewage, and harvesting crops, Xi – by his own account – learned the value of hard work, perseverance, and collective endeavour. Now Xi has ascended to levels of popularity unknown since the Premiership of Deng Xiaoping, Liangjiahe has become a shrine of sorts, selling tours of the village and ‘President’s Meal’ banquets to the adoring throngs of visitors.

Shashemene, Ethiopia – for Dedicated Rastafarians

Photo: Courtesy of David Stanley, via Flickr

“Look to Africa when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is near.” Those were the prophetic words of Marcus Garvey, the iconic pan-Africanist, who inspired thousands of Jamaicans to look upon the continent and see their saviour – Emperor Haile Selassie I, of Ethiopia: the black king born as Ras Tafari.

Selassie himself did not predict a movement to be formed in his name, or for Jamaicans to deify him in the way that they did, but as a result of Garvey’s prophecy, Ethiopia became the Rastafarian Zion; bestowed by God to be a point of return for all those stolen from the continent.

The Rastafarians were granted the town of Shashemene by the confused-but-grateful Selassie, and remain there to this day, farming the land, attending church, and smoking marijuana. The coronation of Selassie didn’t usher in the day of deliverance that Garvey promised, but it landed some Rastas a pretty sweet set-up.