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Kelpius & Hermit's Cave - Philadelphia, PA

Nestled in a secluded forest, the Hermit’s Cave is one of Philadelphia’s most interesting historical landmarks. Many hikers or mountain bikers pass it unknowingly or stumble upon it by surprise. The Wissahickon Hermit Cave, also known as the Cave of Kelpius, is a small, man-made cave located on a hillside in a wooded area of Wissahickon Valley Park. It was built and utilized by the followers of Johannes Kelpius, a hermit and religious mystic of the Rosicrucian order who immigrated to this area from Germany in 1694 to meditate and await the end of the world.

Young Kelpius was part of a radical German Pietist led by Johann Zimmerman, called the Chapter of Perfection. When Zimmerman died unexpectedly, he passed down all his writings and educational belongings to 26 year old Kelpius who became the leader of the group.

40 celibate monks (all of whom were men), called themselves “The Society of the Woman of the Wilderness.” They were inspired by a biblical passage from the Book of Revelations 12:16. Here a woman waited at the edge of the wilderness in prayer and meditation to prepare for the End of Days. The monks interpreted this verse to mean they should find a location at the edge of the wilderness to await the apocalypse.

In 1694, Kelpius led his followers to the wooded area of Wissahickon to wait for the end of the world. They faced dangerous storms and pirates during their travels. They sailed up the Schuylkill River on St. John’s Eve at the summer solstice on June 22, 1694. They took this landing date as another sign and climbed the promontory – the site of the current Philadelphia Museum of Art – to light bonfires and perform rites and rituals to get rid of the evil spirits and demons that surrounded them.

At first they moved into private homes in the Germantown village and shared their knowledge with settlers and the Lenni-Lenape tribe. Kelpius and his educated followers practiced alchemy, botany, mathematics, and astronomy. They were trained as doctors and lawyers and many were talented musicians and astrologists.

Kelpius wanted more privacy to meditate and pray in seclusion so he accepted from Robert Whitpain 175 acres of land as his reward for legal services at the Frankfort Land Trust Company. In August 1694 William Penn’s Surveyor-General Thomas Fairman transferred the land to the monks in what is now called The Hermit’s Glen.

When the world did not come to an end, Kelpius’s health began to fail. By 1706 he spent most of the winter confined to his bed and finally succumbed to tuberculosis in 1708 at the age of 35.

Located at: 777-795 Hermit Lane, Philadelphia, PA, 19128.

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