Cross spooks area residents |

Cross spooks area residents

Move over Blair Witch Project. Here comes the Light Hill Crucifixion Project.

A 12-foot by 6-foot cross set up for a crucifixion appeared mysteriously last week at the top of Light Hill in Old Snowmass, and it sent chills down the spines of residents who live nearby.

“I thought it was eerie when I saw the ropes at either end of the cross-beam. I walked up to make sure there wasn’t any blood, then I saw the loop for holding feet to the post, and I realized it wasn’t symbolic – it’s functional,” said the woman who discovered the cross on Monday. She asked not to be named, because her 13-year-old daughter is “freaked out” over the situation.

The cross is accessible via a primitive dirt road – a 45-minute walk or a 10-minute drive – beginning at the top of the Gateway subdivision. It was driven into the ground near the top of the hill, on a grassy, flat section just before it drops steeply toward East Sopris Creek.

After ruling out the possibility it was built by hunters to skin elk or deer, the woman reported it to the Bureau of Land Management, which owns the land.

BLM ranger Deidre Lehman attached a short note and her card asking the people responsible for the cross to call her before Nov. 4. But, when several residents of Light Hill Road at the top of the subdivision asked that it be taken down before Halloween, Lehman removed the cross yesterday afternoon.

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw it,” she said. “This is the first time I’ve seen something of this magnitude. Usually we just find small crosses put up in memory of a dog, or sometimes people bury their dogs on BLM land.”

The cross was made with six-by-six timbers fastened with a mortise and tenon joint, which involves cutting sections from each piece of wood so one locks into the other. Steel bolts further secured the joint.

Rope coils around each end of the crossbar, about 11 feet off the ground, and a thick nylon cord snaked through two holes drilled in the upright, about four feet off the ground. Each rope was in position to fasten the penitent’s arms and legs.

Anyone crucified there would have perished with a splendid view, looking out across the narrow valleys of East Sopris Creek and Capitol Creek at Mount Sopris and the rugged, wild terrain leading to Capitol Peak.

A priest from St. Benedict’s Monastery, which can be seen easily from the cross, said he had not heard about it. Nor had Reverend Tom Bradtke of St. Vincent’s Church in Basalt. Bradtke said he was surprised with the timing of its erection, noting that the Penitentes, a splinter group of the Catholic Church with adherents in Mexico, will often go through crucifixion rituals in the spring, during Lent and Easter.

Bradtke did note that two feast days are just a few days away – All Saints Day on Nov. 1 and All Souls Day on Nov. 2 – which could be the occasion for erecting a cross like the one on Light Hill. But, he added, both are relatively minor celebrations.

The Penitente movement has its roots in the 5th Century, and can be found in most regions where Catholicism is the predominant faith. In Brazil and the Phillipines, Penitentes drag their crosses through the streets and, in some cases, nail themselves to the cross each spring, according to a Web site that catalogs religious groups and their practices. They’re also known to submit to whipping and perform self-flagellation as a way of expressing their faith.

In the United States, Penitente groups are found in Colorado and New Mexico, and they tend to be very secretive, according to the Web site.

“To me they’ve got the faith backwards,” Father Bradtke said of the Penitentes. “They emphasize the suffering as faith. We should be celebrating the joy of faith.”

At least one resident on Light Hill Road hopes that the cross was about faith, instead of something more malevolent. “It’s sort of creepy, but I would like to think someone is just practicing a form of Christianity,” he said, asking not to be identified.

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