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The Columcille Stones

Cruising around northeast Pennsylvania on my motorcycle, I came across quite the oddity. Sticking up out of the ground like the proverbial sore thumb, the mysterious oblong stones of Columcille lured me in. I had been puttin’ around enjoying the countryside when without warning, there it was. In an instant, my life had changed. Columcille had found me!

  So, just what in the heck is a Columcille anyway? Mostly, it’s a bunch of rocks––BIG rocks. A profusion of them actually, and they’re planted into

the ground. If you get off on Stonehenge, or the statues of Easter Island, or delight in nature’s offerings and aspire to a higher level of being, then this crazy place may well interest you. I must warn you though, it has a dark side as well, so be careful out there solace seekers. 

To begin your journey to enlightenment, just set your gaze toward the Blue Mountain ridge of northeast Pennsylvania, and the little town of Bangor. Columcille represents the offbeat dream of two highly spiritual fellows: Bill Cohen Jr., and Frederick Lindkvist. Their official line on the place reads something like this: Columcille was built to resemble an ancient spiritual retreat called the Isle of Iona, located off the west coast of Scotland. There, 350 stones were planted into the ground to mark it as a place where "The veil is thin between worlds." While Columcille comes up woefully short in its number of stones by comparison (80 in the ground at last count), it nonetheless faithfully approximates the ancient design. 

In addition to the planted stones there are chapels, altars, gates and Cairns, that are all made from stone. The site is open to all. But is there more than meets the eye here? Is there more to this place than its stone planters let on? Or am I perhaps a little on the neurotic side, with one-too-many conspiracy theories fogging up my mind and clouding my judgment?

Columcille was dreamed up by two gents, William (Bill) Cohen Jr. and Frederick Lindkvist. It is patterned after an ancient spiritual retreat called the “Isle of Iona” located off the west coast of Scotland.

Spread out across seventeen acres of forestland and open meadow, Columcille contains more than 80 oblong stones set in the ground, loosely interpreting the ancient design. Interconnecting trails run throughout the site and lead to a number of spots set aside for tranquility and reflection. Most notable amongst these is St. Columba chapel. This wonderful building oozes feelings the medieval. The structure is hexagonal in shape and composed mostly of rock, with a heavy wooden door opens to find a large central stone holding candles, with benches encircling it in altar-like fashion.

No matter what your religious or spiritual convictions, it’s difficult not to feel the pull of this place. Perhaps it’s important to note here that

Columcille is non-denominational. In fact, its founders invite all to experience this peaceful place––whether for meditation, reflection, or merely to form a firmer bond with nature. Other features on the grounds include a bell tower, a stone gate, cairns alongside the paths, and many outlying sites intended to provide a quiet retreat––the better for each of us to pay heed to our “inner voices.” Built in 1979, Columcille operates on a non-profit basis. All funding for construction was provided by the founders, and through contributions made by friends and visitors. Many events are scheduled throughout the year, and a bulletin board with up to date listings greets you upon arrival.

As night descends upon the monoliths, eeriness hangs over the place like a pall. On my third visit there, at dusk, I stepped into St. Columba chapel (a hexagonal alter built of stone) to satisfy my curiosity, and immediately felt as if I’d made a huge mistake. I simply couldn’t shake the notion that I was being watched. On my second visit, I was told by some locals that strange things occur here, particularly at night, and that Columcille does attract its share of kooks and lunatics. In fact, one woman seemed so nervous about pursuing our discussion any further she curtly cut me off at mid-sentence proclaiming, "Nobody has any need to go there at night––nobody!" 

That ominous statement weighed heavily on my cowardly constitution as I extricated myself from the chapel. Carl Lewis himself couldn’t have caught me as I bolted back to my car. I’ve returned to Columcille since, but now limit my visits to daytime ones exclusively.

What is the meaning behind the stones? Why do the locals speak in such hushed tones about the happenings here? What scared me so at the chapel? I still can’t answer these questions with certainty, but this I can tell you: By day, Columcille is a land of enchantment, a place so airy and light, it seems to have sprung from whimsy. If you go there, I’m sure you’ll sense it. I still do. By night though, a very different dynamic is at work amongst the stones. It’s a palpable feeling that something sinister is lying in wait, just off in the shadows. That feeling so unnerved me, I’m sorry I ever chose to tour it by twilight. Apparently, it has traumatized its share of local folk as well. 

Columcille is a remarkable place to behold. Filled with mystery, and enticing in its beauty, it is easy to see how it can move a person toward the spiritual, and allow them to leave feeling cleansed and restored.

You can meditate on it yourself by visiting Columcille at 2155 Fox Gap Rd., Bangor. –Jeff Bahr

Weird Pennsylvania

 

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