The gothic clad couple disappeared around the corner near the elevators, at the same time my friends rounded the corner and broke into a grin at seeing me. We talked for a while, awaiting our guide, and then a voice boomed out from behind me suddenly. I was glad I had used the ladies room prior to this. I jumped and quickly turned around to the black-clad male I had seen moments before. His arms opened wide, a rueful grin split his face and he bellowed, “WELCOME TO THE AUSTIN GHOST TOURS! Gather round as I tell you how you can safely enjoy this trip, and not give me one more grizzly story to tell the ghosts and guests. Although I wouldn’t be opposed to another tale of woe; I don’t think that sort of story would be good for business”. Ahhhh, a character indeed, I found myself mirroring his grin and became fully engaged in his performance and instruction.
Beginning the Tour:
After a debriefing for safety on the streets, when we would be traveling near 6th street (notorious in Austin for drinking games and accidents) we headed out the painful slow revolving door into the night. The air was thick and muggy, it perfectly set the stage for our walk among the haunted buildings of this strange city. Our guide led the group with the same purposeful walk I had seen him exhibit in the lobby. Why are people always in a hurry? Maybe he truly knew there were ghosts in this city and by keeping the group moving, we would avoid any tragedies or encounters along the way.
Our first stop was at HandleBar. This establishment was formerly a Blacksmith shop, according to our guide. A well known local patron died haphazardly (I forget the exact story of his demise), after weeks of the body sitting in the coffin on the sidewalk in the middle of August’s heat, it was finally agreed that cremation would be the best option. This was unprecedented! A cremation in Austin (then named Waterloo) had never been done before! Our guide continued looking all too pleased with the rapt attention we were giving him. He continued, “Please note that in order to burn bone properly heat must reach upwards of 1900 degrees Fahrenheit (1037C).
A typical blacksmith shop during that time period would typically only reach 1500 degrees Fahrenheit (815C). The first cremation turned out to be a little, shall we say, chunkier than what you would experience today”. The cremation, done so haphazardly, is now the reason this poor patron is doomed to wander around Handlebar at night. While our guide had not personally experienced any hauntings, he reported that there are multiple accounts of strange things happening within the bar itself & all we had to do was ask the staff to get all the ghoulish details.
He also suggested to get a Pizza next door, this is where the blacksmith forge turned crematorium was allegedly placed. So you can get a Pizza from the forge, and a beer with the ghost. If that is macabre I don’t know what is. For the non-believing patrons:Handlebar is well known in the city for its Wine, and rotating craft beers. Happy Hour is typically from 4-8 PM, Monday through Saturday and all day Sunday. They also have a free barbecue on Sundays at 4:30 for some authentic Texas brisket and pulled pork. Just don’t think too hard about this story when you go for the BBQ.
Our next stop was over at the infamous Buffalo Billiards, where hauntings, screams and unexplained phenomenon happen routinely. This place was built in 1861 by the Ziller family and reportedly was the town brothel back in the day. The ghost in this place has been named Bill, and even pulled out a chair for our guide when they did their team investigation. This happened after a scream was heard downstairs by his colleague, and he has sent his safety partner down to investigate. Walking along the bar, all the barstools were upturned on the counter as he ran his hand along the polished wood praying he wouldn’t die from boredom.
He turned around and started pacing his way back along the bar, and all of the sudden a barstool that was once on the counter was now on the floor in his path. While most people would be frightened by this, our guide reportedly called out, ‘Oh, Thank You!’ — and sat down. Nothing else happened that night to our guide. If you ask those who work at Buffalo Billiards if they think the place is haunted, you are sure to get a full accounting of the many many supernatural things that happen there. For those who still are having trouble believing in ghostly encounters: Buffalo Billiards is a great place to stop for beers and a friendly game of pool, foosball, darts, and multiple HD TV’s to catch your favorite football team.
We approached the Driskill Hotel and were greeted with the Romanesque revival type architecture complete with white trim and three grand archways leading into the hotel lobby. It was built in 1886 by a cattle rancher, who spent his entire fortune on this hotel. As people began to stay in this historic hotel, strange apparitions, sensations, and unexplained incidents began to happen to the guests. Room 525 is said to be the most haunted of all the rooms within this structure. It is said that two brides, on two different occasions, newly married, committed suicide in the bathroom of this room.
There were so many reports of hauntings, that the room was indefinitely closed until 1998 when renovations commenced. Even during the renovation, there were strange sensations, unexplained leaks, and visions reported by the construction workers. If you dare to try this room out, make sure not to bring any usable weapons into the room, lest you fall prey to the spirits enticings of woe. Oh, you want a few more modern stories? Ok, well our guide said that after he emailed a member of Concrete Blonde Band who stayed here years before – she related a chilling tale. She had a cat that was quite sassy and would bounce off the walls when she would bring it into a hotel room.
As she opened the door of the cat carrier, the cat did not come out, it did not move. She had to fight to get it out of her carrier and then hide the carrier so that it wouldn’t go back in. According to her email, this is something the cat NEVER did….and then as she climbed into bed, the cat jumped on the bed like a flash of lightning, curled up at her side under the blankets and did not move the whole night….again something the cat NEVER did.
I believe animals know when there is danger, and can sense things that we cannot. So for a sassy cat to behave in this manner…..it would make me question the safety of the place I was staying at. Other descriptions of ghosts seen at the hotel range from children to men and women. There is said to be a former housekeeper in a long gown arranging flowers in the lobby, a man who checks his pocket watch on the elevator and the little girl that chased her ball to the grand staircase to meet her untimely death is still chasing after that ball.
Who would like to stay at the Driskill Hotel? The rooms here are considered upper-class, and can cost $243-$628 per night depending on how much you want to treat yourself. If you are brave enough, call the hotel, and ask for room 525 for your own ghoulish encounter. You cannot come to Austin without at least walking in the doors of this iconic building.
Here we stopped to have our guide recount the tales of public hangings that allegedly happened in this park. This is where criminals, murderers, and thieves were publicly executed for their crimes. Our guide recounted how it would have been to have your last meal of rice and beans, to ask to lay down in the grass prior to being hung….and then to have hundreds of people watch as you slowly suffocated at the end of the rope. It is reported that 200 people were hung in this square, and at night you can still feel their presence.
It was then that things got really spooky for me, he started to talk about the servant girl murders. These murders are well documented in history, and it is said that the first serial killer was born in Austin. Our guide recounted a gruesome and gory tale in such detail I had to walk away from our group for a few minutes to let my stomach settle down. I am a Physician Assistant, and have seen plenty of gore, guts, and trauma to last me a lifetime – but when it comes to brutality for no other reason than being a sick, twisted and demented monster……I can’t stomach it. I was grateful my guide was kind enough to warn me and gave me time to walk away briefly — to be honest, it triggered my own memories of trauma.
After a brief stint looking at the random, and oddly carved pigeon at the other side of the park – I wandered back to the group just in time to hear what the townspeople tried to do to catch this serial killer. Several options were proposed, a bell to sound when a body had been found. The problem with this was that they would have to wait until someone else was killed to raise the warning. The next option was moon towers, only 15 remain standing in the city today, but these 165-foot towers were the first electric use in a United States City. These huge monoliths were used to help light the city at night so that prowlers and possibly the serial killer could be caught. One tower, in particular, the Guadalupe and West 9th street moon tower is associated with the Servant Girl Murders.
This was one of the last murders that occurred, and the Serial Killer was never found. In total, seven females (five black and two white) and one black male were murdered by the Servant Girl Murderer. Some speculate, although historians may argue this, that the Servant Girl Serial Killer fled to London and became Jack the Ripper. I will leave this up to you, but it does seem suspicious that the Servant Girl murders only happened 3 years before Jack the Ripper murders began happening.
Still not spooked? Then you should check out the wholesome and delightful Farmers Market that happens every Sat at Republic Square Park. It is truly delightful and you can serve yourself some delicious ice cream, and pick your own organically grown vegetable victims to snack on.
Our last stop was my least favorite location to stop due to the smell of the garbage cans, the loud music blaring behind me, the lack of breeze and the uncomfortable sick sensation from the last story. Needless to say, stopping at SpeakEasy, made me feel uneasy. This is where post-mortem photography would happen at the turn of the century. Coffins rolled in, pictures taken for the loved ones before being sealed in their graves forever. One night a fire broke out, and the diligent fire department showed up. This is when things took a turn for the worst for them.
The blaze was out of control, a scream was heard from the upper floors and the firefighters rushed up the stairs to investigate. One of these firefighters was named Jimmy Glass. As they pounded up the wooden stairs in their boots, the scream was heard again…..but from the lower floor as the flames licked the stairs. As the intended rescuers turned to head back down the stairs, there was a loud CRACK and the staircase collapsed taking all three to the ground floor instantly. Jimmy Glass became a victim of the flames as he was the lead, and plummeted straight into the flames that caused the staircase to collapse. It was too late for Jimmy, rescue efforts were attempted, but the flames were more intense and his firefighting brothers could not reach him. Thus Jimmy Glass became a victim, and the source of the blood-curdling scream that had prompted his bold rescue efforts was never found.
Our guide has had several conversations with the managers of SpeakEasy over the years. Recounting unexplained phenomenon of lights burning out within days, right below where Jimmy was said to have fallen to his death. Firefighters showing up at the SpeakEasy Bar multiple times over the years, when no fire alarm was said to have been pulled. Glasses shaking and rattling one night when it was thought an earthquake had hit; later to discover that no seismic activity had been registered in the area. Last but not least, the manager of SpeakEasy hearing a blood-curdling scream after things had closed down and he was finishing his books. He wandered the building, and as he went to look in the massive beverage cooler…..it shut behind him. After shouting for help for at least a half hour, the bartender went to lock up the merchandise and was able to release his boss who was chilled in more ways than one.
So should you find yourself, wandering the streets near this bar. Avoid the alley, and peer inside this popular place of local beverage worshipping. Who knows, you may even share your glass with Jimmy Glass himself. For those who want a more practical visit to SpeakEasy Bar & Music Venue: This is a great bar for live music, great historical value, carefully crafted cocktails, a bowling alley overlooking the stage in this three-story local favorite. If you are brave enough, take the 59 steps carefully to the outdoor terrace for an incredible view of the Austin skyline – raise your glass and make a toast to Austin.
Heading Back to Safety:
We concluded our tour and quickly huddled into pairs for safety sake as we made our way back to the JW Marriot hotel. I was very grateful for the comfort of the lights on the cars that passed by us. All in all, I truly enjoyed the Austin Ghost Tours Guide, his stories, and his passion for performing in an engaging way. There were only two stops that while I enjoyed the story, I didn’t entirely enjoy the location of the stop. Bottom line, I would recommend this as a 7/10 and would do it again purely for how entertaining our guide was.
As always…..Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See YOU on the Flipside 😉
The Hiding Place, I was shocked I had never heard of Corrie Ten Boom and her heroic efforts to save hundreds of Jewish victims from the Holocaust. Once I bought my ticket to Amsterdam, I knew I needed to visit The Hiding Place Museum in Haarlem.
Tickets for The Hiding Place Museum:
The Corrie Ten Boom home is still connected to a jewelry shop and has limited space within the home — you must book your tickets online.The tickets need to be booked five days in advance of when you are planning on visiting the museum. Reserve your tickets for The Hiding Place Museum, and learn of the courageous efforts of the Ten Boom family.
Getting to Haarlem:
Address: Corrie Ten boom House 19 Barteljorisstraat | North Holland, 2002 CE Haarlem, The Netherlands Getting to the Corrie Ten Boom home is fairly easy from Amsterdam. I would suggest taking the train from Amsterdam Centraal Station towards Haarlem. Once you exit the train station it is about a 15-minute walk or 5-minute bike ride to The Hiding Place Museum. Here is a Map to The Hiding Place Museum, from Rome2Rio.
Once you reserve your ticket, you will arrive at the home and go into the side door of the home behind the jewelry shop. The door will be locked and closed with times of when each tour starts. Once your tour is about to start, the door will open and you will be greeted by a volunteer from the church that Corrie Ten Boom had been associated with.
Who was Corrie Ten Boom:
It was 1837 when William Ten Boom, Corrie’s Grandfather set up his clock shop and opened his home to all dedicated Christian’s who wished to worship. The family lived by the Biblical verse Psalm 122:6
Pray for peace for Jerusalem: “May those who love you be at peace!”
Their family held weekly prayer service, open to all who wished to participate for over 100 years. This dedicated family welcomed anyone into their home who wished to pray, no matter what their religion was. This likely set them up in the community as the natural source of leadership, which was vital in saving hundreds of innocent lives in the coming years. Casper Ten Boom, Corrie’s father, began to have prayer meetings that included Jewish members in increasing numbers. The persecution of the Jewish people had started in Holland, and the need for a safe place became increasingly vital.
Their home was turned into a place of refuge, a Hiding Place, for as many as seven to ten Jewish people and the Dutch Underground members who were being hunted. Led by several generations of good examples, Corrie Ten Boom took the baton of the family with her faith in God and became the leader for the Dutch Underground in Haarlem.
Why was it called the Hiding Place:
When you enter the Museum, there doesn’t appear to be many places to hide ten adults from the Gestapo. The guide leads you up into a large room and several chairs set up in a circle, just as it would have been in Corrie’s time. There were pictures on the wall of family members, and Corrie Ten Boom herself.
After I acclimatized to all of the visual stimuli in the room, from the book Corrie Ten Boom write, and I so cherished as a child — I noticed a sheet of music on the piano titled, “You are My Hiding Place”. This touched me in a way that I didn’t expect. Not only was the home itself a Hiding Place, but the songs that must have been sung here preached that God is our hiding place. Now for those of you who may not believe in God, I hope you can appreciate that their belief in a higher deity is what helped bring them through one of the darkest times in European history. After a short history lesson from our guide on who the family was, how prayer meetings were held and eventually morphed into a full-scale rescue operation.
We were taken upstairs and told of how there was a bell in the kitchen downstairs that would be pressed, and only the people there for hiding could hear it. Once the bell rung, they would rush into a room at the back that had a false back on the bottom half of the bookshelf. A brick wall had been built providing just enough room for ten refugees to stand upright in this small space, for as long as it took to let the danger pass. Nothing was allowed in this small space so as not to attract rodents, and give away the Hiding Place. The area was not insulated from the bitter cold winters, so being trapped in this place was not ideal.
As you read the book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom writes of the training she received to be able to be woken in the middle of the night and evade the questioning of the Gestapo who would comb the Haarlem neighborhoods looking for Jews and traitors. There were several close calls with the Gestapo, and eventually, they were betrayed by a community member who knew of their operation; but not before they were able to save nearly 800 Jewish lives.
Those who were taking refuge in the home were able to escape, and three of the four Jewish members in the home at that time survived the war. One even came back to the Hiding Place, unknown to the Museum staff, to face the harrowing two days of being trapped in The Hiding Place while the Gestapo combed through the Ten Boom home. The museum staff told the moving story of being able to meet a man who had benefited from the Ten Boom’s efforts during the war.
They may have been caught, but as you read the book of Corrie being separated from her beloved father, placed with her sister in the brutal Ravensbruck. You realize just how deeply courageous she was, and the dedication to her faith could inspire anyone. Everyone Corrie met both inside and outside the concentration camp was both inspired and infused with hope, due to her ability to resist fear and despair in the face of evil. Several camp prisoners in the Ten Boom bunker were converted to Christianity due to their faith while being imprisoned.
Who was the involved in the Resistance?
Corrie was the ringleader for the Haarlem underground. Her “Beje group” strategically search for families willing, able, and courageous enough to harbor refugees and members of the Dutch Underground movement. Much of Corrie’s time was spent finding ways to feed the refugees, continue to give them hope and so forth despite rations being severely limited throughout Holland.
The sign in the window of the shop was used to let members of the Underground know that the area was safe when it was in the window. The night that Corrie and her family were taken, they were unable to remove this from the window — and 20 other members of the Underground movement were caught and brutally treated in order to obtain names of other members. Fortunately, they held on as long as they could, so that those members and subsequent refugees would have time to escape and relocate to other safe havens within the city.
Lessons from the Past:
At the time of the capture of the Ten Boom home, two Jewish men, two Jewish women, and two members of the Dutch underground were hidden behind the brick wall of the Hiding Place. They were forced to stand for two days, in the middle of the harsh winter in that small space without food, water, or bathroom — remaining deadly quiet to save their own lives. The house remained under guard to catch any other members of the Underground movement in the area. One of the survivors remembers there were two guards that played cards in a nearby room, while his heart pounded from the fear of being caught. Two days after the initial seige, the refugees were able to climb out a window onto the roof and make their way to another safe house.
Why were the Ten Boom’s taken, if the refugees were not caught or found in their home? The Gestapo scoured the house and found extra ration cards and some of the Underground operation materials within their home. Corrie’s father, Casper, was 84 years old at the time and was taken to Scheveningen Prison, where he died 10 days after arriving. When he was asked why he would risk his life for the Jewish people, when he was Christian, he responded eloquently by saying, “It would be an honor to give my life for God’s ancient people”.
Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsie spent time in three different concentration camps over the next 10 months. The last camp, was Ravensbruck Concentration camp, right near Berlin.
I don’t know that I will ever understand why they were betrayed, or that God didn’t warn the family that was so dedicated to him and to doing good. One thing I will take away from this story is that Corrie Ten Boom was true to what she believed was right; she was the change she wished to see in the world and saved hundreds of lives from never giving up hope that things could change.
The brutality that human beings inflict upon one another is unlike anything else in the animal kingdom, this is a fact. It is the warped sense of feeling ‘our way’ is the ‘right way’, that leads to derision and war. Seeking first to understand another’s mindset, religion, culture is the first step to making the world what we want it to be.
While I truly believe this is the first step, we must fortify ourselves against the inevitable reality that there will always be humans who for whatever reason….refuse to understand or take this first step. Do not give up hope in your efforts, take the message of the Ten Boom family’s efforts to heart and realize that with dedication, heart, faith, and effort — lives are impacted and may one day be saved from the despair that seems to be ever present in this aging world.
The Ending of the Story and A Message For All:
We all have our own internal demons, people who may have harmed us that it is difficult to forgive. I have my own past that is fraught with traumatic events from people I feel never got justice for stealing my self-worth, trust in humanity, and the ability to have a relationship. I don’t know how long it will take to forgive the people that caused these unsavory characteristics. I don’t know if I will be able to have a family of my own, or if my efforts in this platform will be of use to anyone. What I do know, is that in those moments I lose hope….I feel I let my past win.
So I keep the messages from the book, The Hiding Place, close to my mind and heart. I am trying to use the example of Corrie Ten Boom and many others – to forgive, forget, and let God into my life again. As Corrie Ten Boom said once,
“There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still,” and “God will give us the love to be able to forgive our enemies”.
God bless all those who gave their lives and put themselves at risk to save the Jewish people in Europe. May those who did not survive rest in peace, and be remembered for their courage and fortitude. I hope that the world and those who fight for good, may remember the past and stand in the face of ridicule and danger, to help these things not be repeated. Make a Donation to the Corrie Ten Boom – The Hiding Place Museum, and help them continue to operate this house and spread the message of forgiveness and love to all who enter.
As Always, Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side.
Address: Baluachraig PA31 8QG, UK The Kilmartin standing Stones are about a 45-minute drive outside of Oban. The drive takes you along a very picturesque coastline, winding through farms and into an expansive field with 6-8 foot standing stones. Within the immediate six-mile radius, you can find 350 ancient monuments. Monuments include standing stones, a henge monument, numerous cists, and a ‘linear cemetery’ comprising five burial cairns.
When you approach these massive standing stones, you will immediately notice the geometric pattern, linear in nature, and despite the distance, it is perfectly aligned. Keep this in mind as we explore some of the other ancient structures.
This Cairn was one of my favorite Cairn’s to visit in Scotland. You park about a mile away with an elevation gain of 50-100 feet. The walk is on private property, the trail is boggy and at one point you will need to walk across a wooden walkway to continue on the trail due to the amount of water.
As you make your way along the trail, you will come upon a barbed wire fence. The owners have lovingly placed a set of wooden steps on either side for people to climb over. Please do not agitate the livestock as you approach the cairn, don’t ruin it for everyone else.
The Cairn is at the top of a hill overlooking the surrounding countryside. A perfect place for the sun to hit the Cairn. It is a round chambered structure with two forecourts that face North and South. Once you enter the Cairn, it is about 10 feet long (3.3m). The cairn itself is about 7 feet in height (2.25m). The cairn was discovered and excavated in 1866, where seven sets of remains were found in the forecourt and more cremated remains were found in the main chamber.
Nearest town: Inverness Latitude: 57° 28′ 25.21″ N Longitude: -4° 04′ 27.66″ W These well preserved Bronze Age cemetery complex of passage graves; ring cairns, kerb cairns and standing stones in a beautiful setting. Clava Cairns or the Prehistoric Burial Cairns of Bulnuaran of Clava is a group of three Bronze Age cairns located near Inverness. A hugely significant and exceptionally well preserved prehistoric site, Clava Cairns is a fantastic example of the distant history of Highland Scotland, dating back about 4,000 years.
The cemetery was used in two periods. At around 2000 BC a row of large cairns was built, three of which can still be seen today. A thousand years later the cemetery was reused and new burials were placed in some of the existing cairns and three smaller monuments were built including a ‘kerb cairn’. Traces of a smaller cemetery can also be seen at Milton of Clava, a short distance up the valley to the west. The cairns at Balnuaran of Clava extended along a gravel terrace raised above the River Nairn.
Excavations have found evidence for farming on the site before any of these monuments were built. The settlement was directly replaced by the cairns and it even seems possible that some of the material used to build them had been taken from demolished houses. If you look closely you may even find the ring-and-cup marks symbolizing and unknown tripartite god or the Triple-Goddess of the Maiden-Matron-Crone.
This Goddess is a number of the Celtic myths and legends – in the Wiccan and Neopaganism she is thought of as the ‘Great Goddess’. Three signifies balance and stability. The first stage is maiden, the second stage is matron or mother, and the last stage is known as the crone. These different stages are often portrayed by the moon and the different phases of the moon as well as colors.
What is the meaning of the Cairns for that time period?
We are born into maidenhood, and when our innocence is lost, this is when we have gained our sexuality transforming us into the matron. Pomegranates (from the tales of Persephone being raped by Hades, losing her innocence and then fed Pomegranates to be trapped in the underworld with him) are symbolized by color.
First, the seeds are white, then age to red, then when dried are black. These are the colors of the three goddesses’ of the world: Maiden, Matron, and Crone. Demeter is the Mother Goddess and Matron. Persephone is the Spring Goddess and is offered gifts. Hectate is the crone, she is the one that carried the torch for the maiden as she evolved into the mature Persephone, Queen of the Dead, and also the Queen of life’s rebirth in the spring. Hectate is considered to be the guide to the souls through maidenhood to womanhood. Hectate stands at the doorways quietly awaiting the soulful cries of the innocent, to help light their way.
A winding tunnel where one had to crawl, sometimes on their stomach to reach the burial chambers represents the further journey through life and these phases. Flecks of cremated bone were found on some of the surfaces inside the tombs and was the final resting place for only a select few. The outside of the cairns showed there was evidence of quartz, a white stone that when the body was cremated would have glowed, combined with the suns reflection.
When the winter sun sets, the entrances align with the position of the setting sun. Think of the symbolism of that – white snow surrounding a charred interior of black, with the sunlight guiding the way of the deceased to the underworld. I’m sure there was some sort of red involved in the ritual to complete the maiden-matron-crone, but I didn’t find anything conclusive that would have suggested this.
I like to speculate that maybe they were buried with some sort of red fruit, or there was an animal sacrificed – but this is just Scottish History according to Janiel, which could have me skewered by the locals for even speculating such history. Scotland is full of magic, and otherworldly creatures were often believed in, so I don’t think it is too far-fetched to speculate such things. I would like to think that the symbolism means, but the significance of this is still highly debated among scholars.
Should you find yourself on the NC500 Coastline, be sure to make a few stops along the way starting in Inverness and seeing Clava Cairns, Wick and Cairn O’Get. This is an important part of the ancient history of Scotland. Take a walk around the standing stones, the Cairns and imagine and speculate what the religious meanings must have been for these ancient people.
Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See you on the Flip Side.
Hidden in the Red Light District is the religious relic the Museum of Our Lord in the Attic. It is something you have to search out, but is well worth the visit due to the religious history it represents for not just the Netherlands but Europe as well.
Why was a Church built in the Attic?
Jan Hartman was a dedicated German and Catholic that was stripped of his rights to public worship in 1663. Calvinists prohibited the ‘non-reformed Catholics’ from worshipping in public spaces. Catholic churches were converted and could not be recognizable to anyone on the street per the local laws of that time. Let us rewind this story and figure out why a particularly popular religion throughout Europe during that time would need to hide in an attic in order to worship.
The Dutch Golden Age and the Reformation:
Catholicism ruled most of the Dutch region until the 16th century when Calvinism was introduced and spread like wildfire. This led to the Dutch Revolt, a revolt against the Roman Catholic King Phillip II of Spain who was suppressing the Hapsburg crown. This revolt produced the Dutch Republic, whose leader was the famed William of Orange (a supporter of King Phillip of Spain). Skirmishes along the French borders, imposing countries vying for lands led to a revolt resurgence in 1572, which forced William back to Delft (his ancestral home) until he was assassinated in 1584. Spain was at its limit, waging war on multiple fronts. Their wars included those against the Ottoman Empire, France, England, and its colonies in the Atlantic. New taxes were introduced into the Netherlands to help fund these wars. The militant Calvinist groups grew restless and agitated, hoping to suppress and oust the Catholic Phillip II of Spain. William of Orange was so hard pressed, he eventually converted to Calvinism himself in 1573. Northern Holland was over-run by the Calvinists and all churches were converted to Calvinism, and the members either fled or were forced to convert to Calvinism. While Holland prided itself on religious freedom and was accepting Protestants and Jewish refugees into its borders, the subversive persecution of the Catholic religion continued. As the number of Catholic priests became rare, so did the ability of the members of the Roman Catholic faith ability to worship.
Hiding their Faith
This wealthy merchant bought the 2 houses on either side of him and built a church where Catholics could worship. When you first enter the home it is a museum in and of itself. Here you will walk back in time to a home as it would have appeared 350 years ago. Complete with corridors, steep stairs, tiled kitchen, and the ornately adorned gathering room. The steps are warped, narrow and steep — this is very typical for the architecture of that time period, but may not be safe for those who have difficulty getting up and down stairs. As you make your way up the different levels, you see the bedrooms, how they kept themselves warm, and then come upon the entrance to the attic.
The entrance is hidden, and in the side wall, there is a rotating aspersorium where worshipers could bless themselves with holy water as a reminder of their baptism. Doing this helped the worshipers transition from the secular world into the world of the divine.
Preparing them to receive the sermons and teachings of their religious leader or priest. Once you enter, you must ascend a set of stairs that leads behind the organ and into the back of the chapel. On the left-hand side of the altar (if facing the altar) there is a pullout pulpit that is built into the wall. The two floors allowed for many attendants to be present for mass.
The Organ is masterfully built, with a dampener to help conceal the sound of worship. If you look out the side window, you will see the steeple of (what was then) their prior cathedral and place of worship. They devout Catholics were likely ousted, and the former cathedral converted for Calvinism uses. How difficult would it be to remain faithful to your beliefs and not give in to despair when you could see your former place of worship outside the window, while you were forced to worship in secret, at the peril of your own life.
Important Information for Tourists:
How to get there
Address: Oudezijds Voorburgwal 38. 1012 GD Amsterdam Get on the Metro tube, and stop at Central Station. From there it is a 10-minute walk to the Red Light District. Don’t try and drive here, there is virtually no parking in Amsterdam except for bikes. Map to Museum of Our Lord in the Attic
Tickets and Hours
Hours: Open Monday to Saturday 10am-5pm, and Sundays from 1pm-5pm. Ticket Prices: Adults are around 10 Euros, Kids between 5-18 years old are 5 Euros, and kids less than 5 years old are free. Purchase your tickets here.
Despite the beautiful facades, cobblestone streets that line the canals of Amsterdam, it still has a religiously troubled past that led to the prominent atheism and agnostic population today. Be sure to visit Museum of Our Lord in the Attic, and be witness to a turbulent part of the history of the Netherlands.
Just outside of Oban is a remote Island called Staffa Island. This is a protected area due to the nearby basking sharks, and the puffin sanctuary on Staffa Island. There is something else on this enchanting island….Fingals Cave. With not just folklore legends being inspired from the massive structure, but poetic and music legends as well.
The Formation of the Cave:
Rising out of the Ocean this gargantuan Oceanic cave rises 72 feet (22m) out of the water, and the depth of the cave is approximately 269 feet (82m). Geologists estimate the cave itself is 50 million years old. Staffa island itself is mad in layers, like an onion (Shrek reference :), The first layer is the tuff layer (the part underwater), the second layer is crystalline structures that make up the top of the island, and connecting the two are the black columns of black fine-grained tertiary basalt. This type of layering bodes well for the folklore surrounding the island, and what mythological characters may have built it.
Folklore Surrounding Fingal’s Cave on Staffa
There is an Irish legend sung in Celtic, ‘Uamh-Binn’ meaning the Cave of Melody. This melodious legend sings of an Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhail who longed to go to Scotland so needed to beat his rival Benandonner. As a little backstory to this legend, there is a geological formation in Ireland known as the Giant’s Causeway. The legend continues its verses of the Giant creating a bridge from Ireland to Scotland and Staffa Island and Fingal’s Cave are the two ends of the giants bridge.
With the storms, quick currents and fairyland like areas throughout both Ireland and Scotland — even the most non-creative souls leave feeling that this legend could be true. Still skeptical of this legend? What if I told you that this legend could be real based of science? The island of Staffa is made entirely of volcanic rock with very unique geological formations of basalt columns. These columns were made from slow cooling of Volcanic rock, creating their characteristic hexagonal shapes. The same type of volcanic rock and basalt columns are also found 82.8 miles (133 Km) South of Staffa Island.
Another myth dating back to 250 AD regarding an Irish general Fin MacCumhaill, also known as Fingal. A traditional Irish poet, and father of many of the stories that migrated from Ireland. The Scots wanted to preserve the memory of this fabled character and named the cave after him. In the 17th century, the cave was rediscovered by Sir Joseph Banks. He inspired others to visit in steamboats, paddleboats etc… Poets were so inspired by the cave, a poem called “Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books” by James Macpherson was written – basically, it was the translation of the poem from the Gaelic Irish Legend to English.
Beyond the legends and poems Pink Floyd, Queen Elizabeth, and many other notable artists have visited the cave specifically for the magnificent acoustics of it. Sadly due to erosion from visitors over the years, you can no longer enter the cave by foot.
The Puffin Sanctuary on Staffa
What they didn’t tell us before booking the tour, is that the rocks to Fingal’s Cave are VERY slick and precarious, so be sure to hang on to the ropes tightly. Make sure your footing is sound before turning quickly or putting your full weight on each step. The other situation I should warn you of is the VERY steep (think more like a ladder) metal grated staircase up to the top of Staffa island. At the top of the staircase, you want to turn right, follow the 15-20 minute trail to the edge of the island (on the opposite side of the island from where the cave is). Here you will find nests of Puffins. The tiny little Toucan and Penguin cross bred looking birds that chirp like new baby birds.
Their tiny little heads pop up from the long grass and look at you quizzically. They don’t seem to be afraid of humans, but it is best not to ruin this natural wonder and their nesting grounds. If you visit, please do not try to pick them up, trample to the side of the cliffs attempting to get photos with them. There are hundreds there, and we want to preserve the area for future generations of both humans and puffins to appreciate. The thing about these birds that surprised me the most, that left me both stunned and giggling was when they took flight.
I nearly missed the boat to the next destination because I was so entranced by these magnificently strong yet so delicate birds. I did not anticipate that these birds that so resembled penguins could fly so deftly against the Scottish Sea Winds. They would plunge off the edge of the cliff, gliding along the wind, streamlined against the gusts. They would play along the cliff face, skim the water searching for fish stirred up by the waves. So if you take a tour, make sure you allot yourself enough time to see these magnificent animals. When we had to go back to the boat, I felt a little piece of my heart was left with these adorable creatures. This place was so remote and special…..I don’t think I will ever forget how it felt to watch these birds fly, and so up close.
Tours to Fingal’s Cave on Staffa:
There are several options in order to visit this geological mysterious masterpiece.
Option 1: Commercial Boats, quick tour of the Inner Hebrides via Staffa Tours Due to time constraints, we took a tour via Staffa Tours. It is a big company, with big ships. If you are prone to sea sickness then this is the way to go. There was a storm the day that we went, the swells were so big that my roommate, Bree, go very ill on the way back. They were timely, allotted us just enough time to make it to the island, see the cave, the puffins and then we were off to Iona Abbey. Due to erosion, going inside the cave to hear the acoustics is closed. You can still walk up to the entrance, but cannot go inside.
Option 2: Spend a multi-day trip exploring the Inner and Outer Hebrides of Scotland on a SUP, Kayak, Diving, or Snorkeling with Basking Shark Scotland Tours. Even on a calm day, the swells in the cave can be quite large, there is only a small weather window in which you can safely enter the cave. There are so many unexplored islands around the area, but due to the currents being so fast – what should be a 30-minute boat ride can take up to three hours. So go and explore the islands of the Hebrides, see just how beautiful the beaches are, the untamed wilderness of Scotland is. The beaches of Scotland are cold, but nothing a full wetsuit couldn’t handle in the summertime. Next time I go to Scotland, I will be spending the majority of my time in the Hebrides and hope to do some diving and maybe even swim inside Fingal’s Cave.
Should you find yourself in nearby Oban Scotland, be sure you leave an entire day to be inspired by Fingal’s Cave on Staffa Island. Be careful when walking along the Basalt columns as they can get hazardously slick when the waves douse them in seawater. Get caught up in the folklore surrounding this Giant’s Bridge and let yourself believe in the unordinary and extraordinary. Be sure to leave yourself enough time to visit the Puffin Sanctuary on the other side of the island. Watch the clock and set a timer to give yourself enough time to get back to the boat. Lastly, enjoy the magic that is and always will be Scotland.
It was 563 AD, Irish settlers were migrating into Scotland bringing Christianity with them. St Columba arrived on Iona, looked out over the sea and deemed the spot that Iona Abbey now sits on the sacred ground. St Columba is the revered Saint of Iona Abbey (for more on his life, see the books below).
As time passed, 795 AD brought in the first wave of Viking raiders. The first raid was brutal, much of the Abbey was looted of its precious relics. Subsequent raids in 802, 806, and 825 resulted in burning of the original wooden Columban monastery, and a replacement stone abbey being built to help protect the monks. The remaining Abbey relics were hastily spirited away to Denkeld Cathedral in Perthshire and back to the Kells in Ireland for safe keeping.
Inside of Iona Abbey
In 1200 Reginald MacDonald turned Iona Abbey into a true Christian Pilgrimage. The Benedictine Monastery and an Augustinian Nunnery were built on the island. Pilgrims flocked to the Abbey by boat, making their way to the Monastery pausing at each cross that lined the road giving an offering of supplication.
The 8th Duke of Argyll swept in and commissioned the restoration in 1899, then turned it over to the Iona Cathedral Trust. Restoration of the Abbey continues today slowly returning to its former glory.
The Experience that is Iona:
What I expected from Iona Abbey was not what I experienced….. What I expected to see was a cold, dank, dark stone house with a few crosses and lots of gold embellishments. What I expected to feel, well….frankly I expected to feel bored by yet another abandoned religious establishment with some historical facts.
After the hustle and bustle of getting off the boat, I started the trek to the Abbey (a 20-minute walk up a slight incline). The tiny stone houses that dotted the road were quaint and full of local crafts and artisanal products. Giving the feeling you were in a small, yet tightly knit town. Another few minutes of walking, and you come upon the farms filled with plants sprouting produce & color on the gray and blustery day.
What I experienced was turning the corner nearly missing the 13 foot Celtic Cross. I wondered why this cross was so far away from the Abbey. There was a sign at the bottom that told of how pilgrims to the Abbey would stop at each cross and make an offering. This was to prepare the soul for worship, and I felt that in a way it helped introduce the story of this Abbey & all it has been through.
When first seeing the Abbey, it indeed was a stone church but set against the backdrop of the mainland, I couldn’t help but feel inspired that it was a refuge from the threatening storm moving into the area that day.
I paid for my ticket, inquired about the small graveyard. The graveyard itself is home to several Scottish Kings due to the belief that Iona Abbey was the closest place you could get to heaven on earth. There is said to be 48 Dalriadan (Scottish) Kings, 8 Norwegian kings, and 4 Irish Kings.
Walking through the ancient nunnery, made me feel that there was once determination, hardiness, love, and order that contributed to this being a spiritual place for many. It is always a beautiful thing to see human beings working together in harmony for the same peaceful purpose, it is not something often seen in the world today. When experiencing other cultures religions, I try to keep not only an open mind but an open heart. Doing this leads to greater understanding and insight for me personally.
Making my way to Iona Abbey I was regaled with tales of resistance against the invading Vikings. The plundering’s of the relics, the persistence of the priests, the miracles said to have been performed here. The thing that struck me to the core though, was with the images of Vikings, being brutal warriors and conquerors. Many Vikings ended up converting to Christianity and became protectors of a faith that they once attacked. It just shows how love, patience, kindness and long-suffering won them over.
How many wars have been fought both in the name of religion and in the name of power? So often we try and force our beliefs upon another, or take their beliefs away because we feel we are ‘right’. Ultimately when approached this way, everyone loses. Yet, when approached with love, longsuffering, kindness, open-mindedness, and suppressing our own internal boundaries….it creates change that is far greater than the change that would have occurred if it was forced.
The conversion of the Vikings’ to Christianity, knowing this Abbey was the key that allowed Christianity to come into Scotland gave me a sense of spirituality as well as inspiration to be a better example and human being. I am Christian, learning of the Abbey in the face of such dangers, I hope inspires all of us to be better at being an example and being that change we wish to see in the world.
Should you find yourself near Fort William, Glasgow, the NC500 or just want a holiday. Head to the west coast of Scotland, stay in Oban for a few days, then head to the Isle of Mull and Iona Abbey. You are sure to come away from this place feeling inspired by the enduring spirit of the early Christians in this area that helped to create change for the good.
Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side…