During my research on Alexandria, Egypt and Austria not long ago for my upcoming third book of the Temple Chronicle series, I ran across notes from an amazing experience of serendipity back in 2005. As I combed through my journal notes that I had originally jotted down in haste while traveling, memories of my visit to a special mountaintop chapel in Kärnten returned. Only in retrospect did I grasp the importance of my visit to Katreinkogel so many years before.
I remembered that in the Celtic tradition, St. Katherine of Alexandria, lived in 3rd century Egypt. She was held in great esteem as patron saint of knowledge, philosophy and wisdom. Also the Templars revered her as the essence of “Notre Dame” and the divine feminine. Her symbols included the broken wheel, the palm branch and the sword. …the broken wheel, for breaking free of the wheel of fate; the palm, for resurrection; the sword, for sharpness of wisdom. All these notions swirled around in my head as I recalled making our way up the mountain narrow gravel road.
Katreinkogel is a conical shaped hill located near Frög, in Kärnten, Austria, where a complex of Bronze Age archeological sites layer over Ancient Celtic dwellings, and mingle with Gnostic communities of early Christians. Actually this hill is one of many out-of-the-way archeological sites scattered across southern Austria, filled with keys to European spiritual heritage, hidden below the surface of daily lives in earthen graves.
My visit took place September, 2005 during one of my stays with Austrian friends. The rain finally subsided as my friend and I parked the car along side a tiny winding road that ended at a farm house. A rustic barn, a huge shaggy dog, and several apple trees laden with their sweet harvest welcomed us in silence. Only a small sign marked the path that continued where the road ended to lead us up the mountain. Otherwise, there was no sign of what awaited at the top of the hill. Soon another sign indicated that the museum at the hilltop was closed today. We decided to make the trek anyway because we heard the distant ringing church bells further up the hill, as though calling to us.
I looked around, hoping to find evidence of life, but thick forest gave no hints of any previous habitation, let alone the magnitude of what we were about to experience. We met only one man on the trail during our one hour ascent. Only the sounds of church bells ringing and ringing signaled another presence on the hill, and we could only hope that the church and little museum were still open when we reached the hilltop.
The woods were beautiful, with lush saturated softness along the forest floor. Low lying whiffs of mist laced between tall conifers, releasing their scent into the chilly air. Eventually, we came upon a low lying wall that revealed part of an expansive archeological excavation. This hill had once flourished as a burgeoning settlement for centuries.
Further along the trail, we found signs marking the findings of a weaving loom, grave sites, and city walls. The heart of the Celtic village ruins were covered in moss. When we finally arrived at the museum, the bells ceased ringing. The museum curator appeared and warmly greeted us. It was as though he had been waiting for us to arrive! As we browsed through the artifacts, my friend chatted with him in German. We learned that the Celts populated this area as early as the Stone Age and that this was an economic center in the late Bronze Age ( 11-10th Century B.C. E.).
The interior of the museum consisted of an ancient cistern, which reminded me of the Essenes and Cistercian communities that also collected rain water in this manner, and held similar views to both Celts and Templars. I also learned that during the middle ages, the Templars actually occupied this territory and protected it as sacred.
But the best was yet to come as we kept climbing the hill. We first came upon a ruin of a Celtic chapel, dedicated to St. Katherine of Alexandria. The site curator told us that this chapel had been built upon an even earlier Druidic sacred site, where the Celts had venerated a triad of Celtic goddesses known as the three sacred virgins ,,AINPET, GBERPET, FIRPET’’. These were the goddesses of the wheel, the tower and the dragon…Trinitarian forces of the body, soul and spirit, keeping balance in the cosmos. The early Christians assigned new names to these goddesses, but continued the essence of their older traditions as St. Katherine of Alexandria, St. Barbara and St. Margaret of Antioch.
These were local, alpine-regional deities, so to speak, and not on the official register of Roman Catholic saints, and it has been postulated that they are pre-Christian, reformed into good Catholics simply by putting new stories on them and calling them the Three Virgins.
Then further up the hill still , we came to the bell tower and lovely chapel! Of course this was not the original building. The original Christian chapel was built in the 5th Century C.E. under the Hellenistic influences of Constantine. But the beautiful chapel before us, (also dedicated to St. Katherine) was said to have been built in the 15th century after the Templars had vanished into the forest shadows, or had they?
The dates associated with these two chapels were uncanny. First, I had stumbled upon a chapel built during the time when the Gnostics of Alexandria were at their peak of power (far away from Alexandria Egypt) and then another chapel that was almost contemporary to the Templars. I was mesmerized…
To the left of the entrance to the chapel, an original fresco of St. Katherine (see above) which revealed a beautiful young woman, barefoot in a blue dress and a red cloak, standing next to a wheel. In her right hand rested a large sword and in her left draped a palm branch. The landscape background featured Katreinkogel and a beam of light streamed in from the upper left corner. The colors of the fresco were soft, with pastel hues. It was absolutely stunning! This painting was my original inspiration for the character of Hannah de Dalrymple for my books.
Yet there was a lot to sort through. In many cultures and spiritual traditions, we find that human destiny, in terms of past, present and future, are often represented by a triad of female deities, with usually one of the three being linked to an individual’s fate. It seems that St. Katherine also served as intercessor for many Scots. The most notable was King Robert the Bruce, who prayed to her. Did St. Katherine’s sword also mark her as an intercessor for warrior knights and reserve her as protector of those who serve in battle? I cannot answer this, but in the fresco, she obviously held a plain Templar style sword.
Then to the right of the chapel entrance was a small votive or baptismal font with an ancient Celtic knot design that incorporated a pretzel motif of mirrored hearts. When I asked the curator about the meaning of this design, he explained that this symbol represented infinity, eternity the soul’s wandering journey through time. But I also wondered if it could be a Hermetic symbol of the axiom, “As above, so below.”
Our explorations continued behind the chapel and further up the path to the top of the hill. To my astonishment, there stood a grove of very old oak trees, that sent tingles through me, rising from the earth below my feet. The energy of the ritual site was powerful! The panoramic vista of the glacial valleys and the ‘larger than life’ perspective of the Austrian Alps only augmented the sacred feel of the space.
The fresco which adorned this chapel and its orientation with the Kathreinkogel archeological site in 2005, provided concrete evidence that St. Katherine’s cult not only survived for over two thousand years, but was also associated with the Celtic tradition, the Templars and Alexandrian Gnosticism.
So, before signing off here… I found myself asking what makes this off-the-beaten-path museum complex of ruins and chapels relevant to today? Why share this intensely personal experience with the world? The answer comes from a desire to give weight to goodness in the face of current chaotic upheavals. I, for one, would like to think of a pilgrimage to a sacred spot or hilltop grove, as a visceral experience, an imprint deeper than mere touch. The trickster brought me to this hill without my foreknowledge and I was greatly comforted by the opportunity to bath in such sacred ever-flowing resonance.
Austrians throughout history were also drawn to this natural ‘goodness’ long before the advent of Christianity. And perhaps it was my own Celtic roots that allowed me to feel the depth of my own heritage. It is not something that I can prove, and yet… it cannot be undone in my heart. The heart remembers across time and space, across dimensions. But I am not the alone in this!
The young maiden in the mural carried a strength inside her as brave as any knight, and more enduring than any religion. Maybe she wanted to share this short story with you to say it is possible to follow one’s faith through the mist in order to experience something greater than religions or tourism or museums. Perhaps nature reflects something beyond mere mundane life, but a tether to our deeper selves within the greater wholeness. Surprises await everyone of us. So let us each find our bravery once again to explore the unknown and give thanks, when our turn arrives!