Last week, in the midst of the rain and dreariness that made up Labor Day weekend, my husband and I decided to venture a little bit outside of the Lehigh Valley to a place in Bangor (about 40 minutes away) rumored to be full of mystery and awe. One year ago, I had never heard of Columcille Megalith Park, but shortly after I began my current job, it came up over a lunch conversation and I knew I had to visit. Well, it took a year to get there, but when Kevin suggested going to “that stone place you were talking about” in between family visits that weekend, I jumped at the opportunity. So, we grabbed our rain coats, purchased a jug of antifreeze since I was losing a tank a day last week (all fixed now!) and hit the road.
Ascending the mountain to reach Columcille, we suddenly hit a supremely foggy patch and nearly missed the sharp turn to reach the park. Fortunately, our GPS alerted us and we found it. We crawled down the narrow road towards the park, excitedly shouting “There’s a sign!” when we found it. I had read online about a gravel parking lot, but we passed it thinking there must be a larger lot somewhere—There’s not. FYI, parking is on a gravel shoulder, head-in and at an angle.
Entering the park through the Infinity Gate, we found a board with several messages, including this one:
WARNING: ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK
COLUMCILLE IS A SPACE AND PLACE
WHERE THE HUMAN SPIRIT CAN BOUNCE ON A VOYAGE
INTO MYTH AND MYSTERY WITH EARTH AND SPIRIT
A LISTENING POST …
“WHERE THE VEIL IS VERY THIN”
AS YOU VOYAGE THROUGH THE INFINITY GATE
REMEMBER THE WORDS OF ST. ORAN
“THE WAY YOU THINK IT IS MAY NOT BE THE WAY AT ALL.”
COME AS YOU ARE
GO IN PEACE
Another note invited us to visit the Voyagers’ Lounge, behind the barn, to obtain maps or make honor system donations in exchange for Columcille souvenirs. We wandered behind the barn, towards a pond and the founder’s house, to discover a small outpost serving as the Lounge. Signs invited visitors to read a book from the small library, listen to some music or make a cup of tea or coffee. We poked around for a bit, donated a few dollars and took some neat gemstones, then picked up several maps (knowing some would get soaked in the downpour outside).
The park held a fascinating mix of natural and man-made elements, echoing various Pagan and Christian traditions. Throughout its 17 acres, we discovered offerings of seashells left to female goddesses, Christian crosses, rambling streams, many piles of stones (cairns) marking significant locations, fire circles, swords in stone, hydrangeas on altars sand secluded seats in groves of trees. The fog, rain and abundance of fungi added to the mystical vibe in the park, and aside from the mosquitoes biting our bare ankles, it was an incredibly serene location. Take a look through this photo gallery to get a better sense of what we experienced:
Two individuals were mentioned in the naming of sites at Columcille, St. Oran and St. Columba. The Columcille website tells the legend of St. Oran this way:
According to this very old island legend, Columba and his monks tried to build a chapel on Iona, but could not get the walls to stand. Frustrated, Columba turned to his friend Oran, who knew the old ways of the island. Oran suggested that he be thrown into the footers of the building to appease the ancient energies of the island. Columba did as he was told and the walls stood. But three days later, Columba had Oran dug out of the foundations. Very much alive, Oran said that he had traveled to theOther World and began to describe the many strange things he had seen. Oran ended his story with a bit of cautionary advice for his friend, Columba. Leaning over to him, Oran whispered, “The way you think it is may not be the way it is at all.”
Columba, the proud son of an Irish chieftain, did not take the advice very well. He promptly had Oran re-interred. But the incident survived in legend and islanders enshrined Oran’s words as folk wisdom. Fourteen centuries later pilgrims who ponder Iona’s mysteries are still likely to hear, “The way you think it is may not be the way it is at all.” In the Hebrides and Ireland, when someone mentions an uncomfortable subject, it is still common to silence them with the phrase “Throw mud in the mouth of St. Oran.”
The inscription in the St. Oran Bell Tower recalls this old legend and challenges the easy certainties of our modern world. Each time the bell rings it echoes Oran’s timeless wisdom:
“The way you think it is may not be the way it is at all.”
St. Columba is another name for Colum Cille, the Gaelic Irish missionary who spread Christianity to the Picts.
Another interesting reference we found in the park was a sign saying, “Excavation Site for a Hidden Chapel” near a tomb-like rock on a hillside, marked with a Celtic cross. This cryptic poem was laminated at the site:
The Chapel Guardian Stirs
Up from disturbed ground an ancient
Turtle crawled, and in the center
Fixed her hoary bulk: and slept. By
Dawn the shell had hardened down to
A great red stone. The hands she dreamed
Built a chapel round and over
Her, as if to shell her breath in
Walls of stone and a high-pitched roof.
Years passed around that head within
To bud and hurl, drop leaves to snow,
Amid the murmur of human throats
Pouring out sweet and bitter aches.
Then something deeper stirred in her,
Flexed, sighed: A crystal boat touched shore.
She bids us seek a lower door.
February 12, 2004
A CALL TO EXCAVATE THE HIDDEN CHAPEL
The excavation was dedicated on June 12, 2004.
Mysterious sites like this abounded throughout the park grounds, causing one to ponder, if nothing else. I cannot say I had an extreme spiritual experience while at Columcille, but it certainly was a place of utmost calm and natural beauty. I’ll definitely be heading back on a drier day.