There is a scene in the classic 1981 Indian Jones film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Dr. Jones captures a beam of light in order to locate the Well of Souls, a suspected burial place for the lost Ark of the Covenant. Using a crystal fixed atop a long walking stick called the Staff of Ra, Jones refracts a beam of sunlight to pinpoint the well’s location on a subterranean map which eventually leads him to the Ark.
I always enjoyed the map room scene, and often wondered what it might be like to capture a beam of light and discover my own buried treasure. Now it looks as though I might get my chance.
Stage 1 of our new Via Alpina passes through a tiny hamlet called Elm. Most people know Elm as a tiny Swiss outpost in the center of a remote and mountainous region called Glarus. Elm boasts numerous awards for its historical and architectural authenticity, and it’s been in the news recently because it provides a convenient gateway to one of UNESCO’s newest world heritage sites, the Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona. Heritage sites aside, it’s the special geological and astrological phenomenon of Elm that interests me, and would probably interest Dr. Jones as well.
Twice a year, around the 12th of March and the 1st of October, rays of sunlight penetrate Martin’s hole, a 6 by 16 meter hole in the rock of the Tschingelhorn, and fall directly on the church tower in downtown Elm. The weather has to be just right and, according to a Swiss correspondent for the London Globe back in 1881, “The light makes a sort of weird illumination never forgotten by those who have seen it.”By a strange coincidence, and according to the same reporter, a disastrous landslide devastated the village of Elm during the same year and “at the exact moment when this semestrial illumination was going on.
Did the villagers get too close to something that they weren’t supposed to see? Was the landslide actually divine retribution for the intense slate quarrying that scarred the landscape and, as some believe, triggered the slide? Nobody knows. Today, the land is healed, all is at peace and the little church continues to glow beneath the warm light of St. Martin’s Hole. Is there still something out there, patiently waiting to be discovered beneath the little church in downtown Elm? A hiker passing through this mysterious village might have an opportunity to find out.
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