14 May 2011

World Labyrinth Day

Design of the Labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France

This week for Pink Saturday I included a couple of photos I made on our recent trip at the Chartres Cathedral in France. Chartres is the home of the most famous labyrinth in the world. It was built during the second decade of the 13th century, but labyrinths were around long before that. They come in many shapes and numbers of circuits.

The very first labyrinth was from Ancient Greek mythology. Daedalus built it for the King of Crete to hold The Minotaur so that it couldn't escape. While that labyrinth was a confusing maze, by 430 BC labyrinths and mazes were becoming two different things. A maze is multicursal with many dead ends and it is easy to get lost. A labyrinth is unicursal. There is only one way in and one way out. Labyrinths are used for spiritual renewal. By walking the path to the centre and back while reflecting and meditating, a person can begin to find enlightenment.

The Chartres Labyrinth is an 11-circuit route. It is 42.3 feet in diameter and fills the nave of the cathedral. There is very little in the way of original documentation about the purpose of this particular labyrinth. Just in general though, back in medieval French cathedrals the priests were known to do Easter dances in celebration of the Resurrection. In addition, Catholics were expected to do pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Many were not able to do that, but they were able to get to cathedrals with labyrinths. With dispensation from a priest, walking the labyrinth could be an alternative to the Jerusalem pilgrimage.

During our travels the Guy and I have visited a number of different labyrinths, many of which are replicas of the one at Chartres: the A.R.E. in Virginia Beach, VA, the Cathedral of Santa Fe in New Mexico, TMI in Faber, VA, the Senior Centre in Huntsville, AL and others. Several years ago we decided to build a garden labyrinth out at the farm. Just building the labyrinth was enlightening, as construction honours the tradition of sacred geometry. The idea of sacred geometry was first put out by Plato and then adopted by many mathematicians and scientists. While modern science abandoned sacred geometry for many decades, some are now finding there is truth in these ancient ideas.

Labyrinths are considered sacred places with inherent power. Our labyrinth, a replica of the Chartres Labyrinth, is a grass path divided by bricks and is 60 feet in diameter. It is oriented so that when you step into the centre you are facing East and the rising sun. The labyrinth was completed on Midsummer 2007. At the time of the solstice we buried some artifacts at the centre in a dedication ceremony.

Here are some photos of the construction of our labyrinth:

Walking the labyrinth is very personal. It means different things to different people and everyone has a different experience. When we knew we were going to France this spring, I started googling the Chartres Cathedral to find out when it was open, etc. I was dismayed to read that the Labyrinth is virtually always covered with chairs now. But at least I was prepared. We were still going to the Cathedral.

Imagine my surprise and delight when we walked in the door and the Labyrinth was uncovered and open. I turned to the Guy and said, "Look Guy! They cleared off the Labyrinth for me!" He gave me a hug and gracefully agreed. Then I fulfilled one of my bucket list items: I walked the Chartres Labyrinth. Tori was holding my camera and made a photo. That's me in the red coat.

And by the way, there is something known as Labyrinth Etiquette, something it appears that many tourists do not know. I am thinking in particular of a group of British teenagers who were quite rambunctious and loud. I'm sure their parents would have been mortified to see them acting with such disrespect inside a cathedral. Fortunately for the rest of us, they did not stay very long. These are some general guidelines for an optimal experience:

Enhancing the Labyrinth Experience

1. Please do not walk across a labyrinth if someone is in it. Walk around it in order to be respectful and honour their experience.
2. If there is someone in front of you, let that person make one left turn and one right turn before you start, if possible. This will allow for breathing space.
3. Before starting set an intention, but be ready to accept whatever comes without being judgemental. Your intention may be as simple as to relax or a prayer to allow the highest good to come forth or it can be much more complex.
4. If you meet someone going in the opposite direction, you can step to the side or pause in order to let the person pass. Some people do not make eye contact, but friends and loved ones may smile or touch hands as they pass each other.
5. You can walk or dance through the labyrinth in whatever manner feels right to you. You may even pause or stop to kneel.
6. It is perfectly acceptable to walk around someone who is walking more slowly or who has paused for awhile.
7. As you walk the path you are circling the centre. This circular movement energizes the centre and you may feel a physical change in temperature or in energy when you reach the centre.
8. Once you reach the centre you may remain as long as you like. The Centre is a place for inner experience, reflection, meditation, prayer, or listening and receiving. When you are ready, follow the path back out to the beginning to reconnect with the community of the greater world.

Thanks so much for stopping by today! I wish peace and love to all of you.

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Jenny said...

Wonderful! Thanks for sharing!

Alyss said...

Very, very awesome post. I have written about my experiences with labyrinths on my blog here: http://thewheelandthedisk.blogspot.com/2010/05/glory-days.html