Doomsday cults continue to entice followers into believing the prophecies of world-ending calamities. Such cults have a long history, the first of these was formed by a group of German monks in what is now Wissahickon Valley Park in Philadelphia.
The group of monks was known as The Society of the Woman in the Wilderness and they lived near the Wissahickon Creek awaiting the Second Coming of Christ. Their leader was Transylvanian born Johannes Kelpius who had predicted the end of the world in 1694.
The monks were part of the Pietist sect of Lutheranism and they were named from a story in the Book of Revelations. The story was of a woman who sought refuge in the wilderness from impending apocalypse and the monks chose to follow this example for their doomsday event. When they chose this location it was a remote place positioned on the 40th parallel.
Numerology was important to the monks, believing that the number 40 had a mystical significance they built a 40 square foot tabernacle structure on the top of the ridge. The log-built structure contained rooms for living, worship, and included an observatory where the monks would watch the night skies for the Second Coming of God.
Cave of Kelpius
The leader of the group of 40 monks lived in what started as a natural cave further down the hill near a spring. This was enlarged with the addition of a roof and walls out of the hillside. This cave was said to be packed with scientific instruments and books with the rest of the monks housed in small cabins elsewhere on the hillside.
The monks used music in their worship with Kelpius having composed a collection of hymns, some of which are still used today. The first pipe organ in America was constructed by a convert from England named Christopher Witt for the monks.
As is often the case with doomsday cults, the date of the end of the world changed when 1694 came and went without cataclysmic incident. This seemingly didn’t deter the monks who remained at the location until the death of their leader in 1708. Kelpius is believed to have died from tuberculosis, a condition which couldn’t have been helped by the damp conditions of the cave. Most of the monks left the area at this point but a few lived on in the area until the 1740s.
Little sign of the monks’ existence on the hillside remains today aside from the small Cave of Kelpius. Though whether this is really the former home of the monk’s leader is debatable, as it has the appearance of a typical Pennsylvanian springhouse.
The area around Hermit’s Cave offers hiking opportunities through the trails alongside Wissahickon Creek. Other nearby attractions include Lover’s Leap which offers a great view of the area and the historic Wissahickon Hall beside Gypsy Lane.
Rittenhouse Town was the first paper mill established in America in 1690 and is a short distance from Hermit’s Cave on the other side of the creek. Rittenhouse Town grew to more than 40 buildings by the 1850s of which seven survive today. Tours and paper making demonstrations are offered on the second Saturdays of the summer months.
Hermit’s Cave is located in the Wissahickon Valley Park between Germantown and the Schuylkill River. If you are in this area and need advice with compensation claims for serious injuries, Console and Associates have been serving their clients well for 25 years.
Directions from Hermit’s Cave to the offices of Console and Associates P.C. starts by following Hermit Lane westward to Henry Avenue. Taking a right turn onto Henry Avenue sees you travel towards the center of Philadelphia passing the Thomas Jefferson University East Falls Campus.
Turn right onto Midvale Avenue and follow that road until you see the Schuylkill River in front of you. At the end of Midvale Avenue turn left on Kelly Drive and follow the river for 4 miles until you come to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Passed the museum you continue straight on Benjamin Franklin Parkway and carry on straight ahead at Logan Square roundabout.
Parkway ends and you will find yourself on Arch Street, take the first right onto North 15th Street. Stay left and follow the road round onto South Penn Square, then almost immediately turn right onto South Broad Street. Take the second turning on the right into Sansom Street where you will find a parking lot just behind the office building of Console and Associates.