Peña de Bernal is a natural phenomenon created from the remains of an ancient volcano, in an otherwise relatively flat landscape. It has been 100 million years ago since this was an active volcano. At that time, it would have been three times bigger than it is now. It blew itself up in the Jurassic period, when the only creatures likely to have been concerned about this were the passing dinosaurs. Unfortunately, no stegosaurus left an eye-witness account, much less photographs, so we will have to use our imagination to picture how this:
once looked like this:
These days the monolith has a much more benign reputation.
The picturesque town of San Sebastián de Bernal (commonly called Bernal) nestles at the base of the monolith. Amongst the tourists and rock-climbers, flooding into the town each year, there are the New Agers. Bernal is Mexico's Glastonbury or Sedona.
Its label, as a 'Magical Town', has a dual meaning here. The official title of 'Pueblo Mágico' was awarded by the Mexican Tourism Department. It's one of 37 so designated, since the program began in 2001. It is awarded to those towns and villages with a special significance, in terms of historical events, outstanding natural beauty or a rich cultural heritage on display. It's a marker for tourists to know where are the best places to visit. Bernal is on the list because of La Peña de Bernal.
For many though, the magic is more than just a stunning view. Energy is said to radiate out from the core of the monolith. Obsidian, amethyst and quartz are the main crystals within it. Even walking the streets of Bernal will render you soaked in this energizing, powerful and theraputic essense. It has not been lost on anyone that the average life expectancy of Bernal residents is 94 years old. The properties of the rock are believed to force relaxation and peace onto troubled minds. A sublime silence awaits those who make the pilgrimage up its very slopes. A keen perception and clarity of thought are the gifts to take away.
This thinking appears to pre-date the coming of Christianity to Mexico. Nevertheless, local missionaries were quick to capitalize on the sheer number of people wishing to climb the rock; and, perhaps, wishing a bit of shade along the way.
A capilla (chapel) was built halfway up, to ensure that any worship and meditation going on involved God. It is a tiny capilla, only big enough for one person to enter at a time. Each does so on their knees, before a small altar festooned in the candles and flowers of the faithful.
The energy of the monolith is viewed as particularly strong during Spring Equinox (usually around March 21st). This is the time of year when Bernal heaves with New Agers and spiritual questers. Thousands aim to surround the base of the rock, shoulder to shoulder, soaking up its mystical properties with the dawn. At this event, white dress, with red kerchiefs, is often de rigor amongst those gathering.
For the Christians, the whole town is transformed in a five day festival, in May. The Santa Cruz (Saintly Cross) is celebrated with a lot of fine food, dancing and music, all with a religious theme. Pilgrims pause in their festivities to shuffle forward, on their knees and under the full glare of the sun, into the Santa Cruz church. The celebrations reach their climax on the final day. This is when especially selected residents of the town pass a heavy cross from hand to hand, then anchor it on the summit of the rock.
Legends about La Peña de Bernal are plentiful. Despite geological evidence to the contrary, stories are told about how the monolith is a giant meteor, which fell from the skies and was planted in the ground.
A perennial story is that, in the right light, the shadows on the monolith form a giant arrow pointing towards a cave. Inside the cave is said to be a vast array of treasure, which is, unfortunately, guarded by a giant snake. The treasure isn't worldly. It's the knowledge of the origin and destiny of the human race; but to get to it, you first must slay the snake. It is a tale enjoyed by children, while the adults see past the literal sense to meditate upon the metaphors.
Then there is the mystical origins of a church in the town. Ghosts have often been wandering an area between Bernal and La Peña. Sometimes they are merely candle-like lights seen floating over the landscape. One day a merchant was being pursued by robbers, intent on taking his earnings. He arrived in this space and saw some bushes. He hid in the bushes, hoping that the lost souls would distract the robbers away from him. They did. In gratitude, the merchant founded a chapel on the site. Capilla de las Animas (Chapel of the Lost Souls of Purgatory) sits now right at the base of the rock.
It should also be noted that Peña de Bernal is a hotbed of UFO sightings.
For the less mystically minded, there is still a host of things to see and do in Bernal. Rappaleurs and rock-climbers disdain the hiking path to traverse the sheer sides of the monolith. Those interested in culture might enjoy the town's museum of traditional masks, while shoppers enjoy the quiet charms of Bernal's wares. Though a distinctly tourist town, its customers are more likely to be Mexican than international visitors (give or take a few extra-terrestials). Therefore the items on sale are usually more practical and 'real', than similar offerings in the resorts.
Entertainment does occur in the restaurants, bars and hotels, but an unmissable free display occurs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday (plus holidays) in the town. At 8pm, a dancing fountain is lit up, with music playing. Its colors illuminate the monolith beyond. It only lasts for half an hour, but it is charming and well worth sticking around to see.
A couple more blogs on this town and monolith:
Regions, states and towns are known for their food specialties. Bernal happens to be known for its nopales en penca and gorditas... After we were "gorditos" from eating gorditas we headed out happy and content to have spent the day in one of Mexico's treasure towns. Bernal is definitely a must see for anyone traveling this area of Mexico.
La Peña De Bernal by Abrhil Arvizu
As the evening light dwindled I looked up at the massive rock and gave a start; a glow seemed to emanate from within, outlining the jagged edges in gold... An hour later I departed, filled with the most incredible sense of well-being. I don’t know about extraterrestrials or giant Amethyst crystals, but I can say with certainty that something special is going on in Bernal.
Magical, Mystical Bernal de la Peña, Mexico by Barbara Weibel