Why is this ornate, gorgeous "spiritual machine" so threatening that the Vatican wanted to blow it up? Rapture-seeker Erik Davis recently visited the mystical Damanhur temple beneath the Italian Alps to find out.

Davis writes:

Over thirty years ago, a handful of initiates into a vibrant and esoteric Italian mystery school took up hand drills and picks and started to dig a hole into the side of a mountain in the foothills of the Alps. The property, an hour north of Turin in the Valchiusella valley, was called the Federation of Damanhur, and it is now one of the most complex, dynamic, and creative intentional communities on the planet. With over six hundred permanent residents, and hundreds of more "citizens" of various grades scattered around Italy and the world, Damanhur possesses an enviable range of quality businesses, workshops, schools, healing centers, and quasi-independent collective homes, all organized according to an innovative governance system notable for its pragmatism and productivity. Damanhur organizes conferences, restores medieval buildings, sells high-end cloth and foodstuffs, and trades goods and services among themselves using their own currency.
 But the community's on-the-ground success story pales in comparison to what that hole in a mountain became.

Over the weeks and years, without much formal training, working at night and with music blaring to cover up the drills, a select crew of Damanhurians hollowed out a series of mighty chambers and passageways, all without other members of the community-to say nothing of the greater world-clueing-in to their secret work. With tenacious devotion and a startling degree of art, they transformed these underground spaces into the Temples of Humankind: a remarkable otherworldly honeycomb of sacred murals, onyx mosaics, stained glass, sculpture, inlaid marble, hidden passageways, precious metals, mirrored stone, alchemical elixirs, and-who knows?-maybe even the cosmic energy circuits, intergalactic portals, and temporal wormholes that the people of Damanhur suggest are the ultimate functions of their sacred architecture.

Calling it one of the most amazing pieces of outsider art that he's ever witnessed, Davis takes you into its glowing chambers - and the minds of the people who made it. Read his whole essay at HiLobrow.

A modern-day esoteric shrine, deep beneath the Alps

A modern-day esoteric shrine, deep beneath the Alps

A modern-day esoteric shrine, deep beneath the Alps

By Alex Jarvis

A modern-day esoteric shrine, deep beneath the Alps

By Alex Jarvis

A modern-day esoteric shrine, deep beneath the Alps

By Alex Jarvis

A modern-day esoteric shrine, deep beneath the Alps

Outdoor temple by Mikki