One hike that keeps coming back to the Young family is the 10 mile trek to the top of Hermit’s Peak. Our first trip involved a backpacking trip where we experienced snow and a torrential rainstorm as we crossed the Gallinas River 27 times. That is a story we continue to tell.
As usual our hike up the mountain involved a beautiful New Mexico fall day. Our experience with the peak goes back close to 30 years now but it’s a trek we continue to do given the magnificent views.
This time, we dug a little bit deeper into the history behind Hermit’s Peak. The story of Juan Maria de Agostini is intertwined with the peak. Agostini lived in a cave some 250 feet below the top of the peak for a little over 5 years. He was an Italian who was born around 1800 to a noble family and was educated and multilingual. Legend has it that he may have studied for the priesthood, but chose to wander the world instead. After living in a cave in Kansas, he joined a wagon trail headed for New Mexico in around 1862. Agostini walked the entire 550 miles from Kansas to New Mexico.
After arriving in New Mexico, Agostini chose to live in a cave on the Peak. At the time the peak was known as Cerro del Tecolote or Peak of the Owl. Amazingly, the hermit lived in the cave beneath the peak for over five years, even in the winter! Visitors to the peak would bring him food and he got water from Hermit Spring. While we were at the peak on this day, we stopped at the spring to reflect on Agostini and the fact that he got water from this spring that still exists today. Even after 130 years!
As Patti and I made our way across the flat top of the peak, our trail was marked by various handmade crosses along the way. At the end of the 19th century, a local organization created in his honor, the Sociedad del Ermitano, or the Society of the Hermit consisted of 62 members. Their primary purpose was to make the long trek to the peak to pray and erect crosses. Today only a handful of members keep the tradition alive. As they make the pilgrimage to the peak, they perform various rites including the Stations of the Cross which commemorate the death of Christ. Although Agostini was never part of an established parish, he chose to model himself after St. Anthony of Qozhaya, a third century Maronite Christian who spent 20 years in solitude and then founded the first Christian monastery.
Every Sunday, Agostini would walk to Las Vegas, New Mexico from the cave for mass. So impressed with his religious faithfulness, people from the area began making pilgrimages to the hermit’s cave. They returned with stories about how the hermit cured them of various ailments or once made a spring appear by striking the earth with his staff.
As we sat at the edge of the peak, we gazed out across the vast, wide open landscape of eastern New Mexico. The same path that Agostini had taken from Kansas along the Santa Fe Trail was there below us. It was incredible to think that the hermit lived on this peak, gazing out at these same views over 130 years ago. And that he had made such a lasting impression on locals in the area, that they continue to make the pilgrimage that their families had for generations.
To understand the incredible faithfulness of this man was somewhat humbling. Agostini had dedicated his entire life to praying and studying God’s word. Total submission to his creator.
Recently, I listened to a message by Pastor Tim Keller on the Love of Jesus. He described how Judas Iscariot had the best training, the best bible study group, and the best pastor and mentor anyone could ever have. At the same time, being a disciple of Christ, Judas had likely saved many people by passing along the message of Christ. However, in the end, it was clear he did not know Christ nor did he have the Holy Spirit dwelling in him.
Although, we cannot say for sure whether Agostini knew Christ and was embraced by the Holy Spirit, his dedication to the Lord was nothing short of miraculous. And a tremendous example of giving yourself entirely to the Lord in meditation and prayer. Here on this magnificent, lonely peak in the southwestern corner of the Pecos Wilderness, Patti and I were able to once again trace the steps of this eccentric and lonely hermit. And in doing so, were able to be inspired by his dedication.
Without the Holy Spirit working in our lives, can we really call ourselves Christians? Christianity has rules and traditions that are unmistakably unique to the Christian faith. However, without the power of the Holy Spirit working through us to minister and share the gospel, our faith is meaningless and only an empty shell of what we could be doing in the name of Christ.
Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. – 2 Corinthians 5:5