A friend, in his comments on my last post, asked about Catholicism's view of place. I thought it would make an excellent short post (since I only have a little time) all by itself.
Place is important to our faith. Sometimes crucial. While we can, of course, worship in any place in spirit and truth, our faith is not merely spiritual. Our faith is incarnational. God has become man. Therefore what is physical and tangible is important, and ought not to be shrugged off. On the contrary, as all of us know, there is something highly attractional to places where we deem something important has happened. It is why we have memorials. And we all, as humans, have these places (and they can be of personal or communal importance). It is also an understanding that we have a connection, that there is communion, between us and them - a real communion that place, often, broadens the sense of.
Pilgrimages are made to such places because we want to be a part of this larger thing, this community of faith, we want to experience it for ourselves. And, as well, often times many are healed by God even still in such places, though the event took place hundreds of years before. (These are the same reasons why the Church values relics as well.)
This incarnational view of the faith is not something that only Catholics or Orthodox recognize. The vast majority of Protestants do as well. Most Protestants consciously understand memorial and place and the importance of the concrete. But some deny it to elevate the spiritual. And to me, the longer I am Catholic, this simply seems gnostic faith rather than Christian. Of course, even these celebrate Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, and Easter. Even these would jump at a chance to visit the Holy Lands. Even these kiss their wives.
We venerate these places because God has, in the past, touched them in a special way. There is significance in that. To honor the place or the relic is to honor God and to recognize his working, his real presence, in the world.
More, I hope, on this subject later. Until then, I would highly recommend Fr Stephen Freeman's (an Orthodox priest living in Knoxville) series on One-Storied Faith.