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A Labyrinth

The labyrinth dates back to prehistoric time, and is perceived as sacred space. It seems to have been an integral part of many cultures, such as Celtic, Mayan, Greek, Cretan, and Native American.

Today, labyrinths are still being used throughout the world as meditative and healing tools. When considering the labyrinth, there are only two choices: walk it, or don't walk it! If walked, it can change one's life.

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There are as many different ways to walk the labyrinth as there are individuals. As Dr. Lauren Artress points out, the seeking of answers to our questions is the act of walking a sacred path. When we walk the labyrinth, we discover our sacred inner space. We are attracted to healing tools such as labyrinth because they deepen our self-knowledge and empower our creativity. Walking the labyrinth clears the mind and gives insight into the life journey.

It calms those in the throes of transition, and helps us to see life in the context of a path. We realize we
A Labyrinth are not humans on a spiritual path, but rather spiritual beings on a human path. It urges actions and stirs creative fires. To those who are in sorrow, it gives solace and peace. The journey is different for everyone , as is life, for we each bring different raw material to the labyrinth. We bring our uniqueness, and often depart with a greater sense of oneness and unity. So, walk as you are , with the understanding that you can access the truth in your soul.


Native American LabyrinthThe maze or labyrinth is, so to speak, the counter-image of the primal yearning for the cave. It is the image of that other primal yearning for greater awareness, and it is always an expression of the possibility of advancing rather than returning into unconsciousness and timelessness. For if the cave is dark, then the labyrinth is dimly lit. If the cave is an expression of remoteness from consciousness, a symbol of unconsciousness, then the labyrinth is a way, if still a confused way, into awareness.

-- from "Cave and Labyrinth" by Jean Gebser, Parabola, Vol. XVII, Number 2, "Labyrinths," (May 1992).

To walk the labyrinth is to make a pilgrimage, to discover something about ourselves and God. The destination is not important; the journey is! Labyrinths are not magic, though they are full of mystery, and they offer an avenue for participation in and the experience of many different levels of the mystery of life.

History of the Labyrinth
Labyrinths have been known to the human race for over 3,500 years, conjuring up such
A Labyrinthimages as the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur. They have been used in many different religious ways by many peoples, and as solar and lunar calendars. In Arizona and the American Southwest the Hopi use a form of the labyrinth in their religious symbolism, and the Tohono O'odham "Man in the Maze" is actually a "seven-circuit" labyrinth and is part of an elaborate creation myth.

The oldest existing Christian labyrinth is probably the one in the fourth-century basilica of Reparatus, Orleansville, Algeria. And while Christians used labyrinths on pre-Christian sites and modeled their own after ones used by earlier cultures, the development of the high medieval Christian seven circuit labyrinth was a breakthrough in design. Its path of seven circles was cruciform (shaped like the Cross) and thus incorporated the central Christian symbol. Use of these labyrinths flourished in Europe throughout the eleventh and twelfth centuries and beyond, especially in the French cathedrals of Chartres, Sens, Poitiers, Bayeaux, Amiens and Rheims and in the Italian cathedrals at Lucca and San Maria-di-Trastavera in Rome.

Medieval pilgrims, unable to fulfill their desire to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, went instead to many pilgrimage sites in Europe or Britain. In many cases the end of their journey was a labyrinth formed of stone and laid in the floor of the nave of one of these great Gothic cathedrals. The center of the labyrinths probably represented for many pilgrims the Holy City itself and thus became the substitute goal of the journey.

The Chartres Labyrinth

Chartres LabyrinthThe Chartres cathedral labyrinth, upon which Grace Cathedral's labyrinth in San Francisco is modeled,  has a particular, though probably typical, history. The majestic twelfth-century Gothic church a few miles west of Paris was built on an earlier, pre-Christian religious site, and became an important pilgrimage goal for medieval pilgrims. The astrological and pre-Christian origins were never entirely lost at Chartres, but became incorporated into the symbolism of the cathedral -- and of the labyrinth.

Chartres, like most medieval churches, is a cruciform design. The labyrinth is located in the nave approximately where the thighs of the crucified Christ might have been in this symbolic representation.

One of the most famous aspects of Chartres cathedral is the spectacular rose window over the great west doors. It has the same dimensions as the labyrinth and is exactly the same distance up the west wall as the labyrinth is laterally from the cathedral's main entrance below the window. An imaginary cosmic hinge located where the doors and floor intersect would, if closed, place the rose window directly on top of the labyrinth, thus the sparkling, colored light of the window and the darkness of the labyrinthine pilgrimage are combined.

The sacred geometry of the labyrinth involves the numbers four, seven and twelve, emerging out of the "paths" and "walls" themselves. The labyrinth is divided neatly into four quarters around a cross, standing in the medieval mind for the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and also for the four stages of the Mass (Evangelium, Offertory, Consecration, and Communion). Labyrinth meditation might be based on one of these or some other set of four, assigning each quarter section to one, and so forth.

Seven is the number of 180 turns there are in each quarter of the labyrinth. This relates to the seven Liberal Arts of medieval education, the chacras of the human body, or perhaps the seven paths of the classic medieval cruciform labyrinths.

Twelve is the total number of the labyrinth's paths and center, thus relating it to the twelve-month calendar. The "lunations" around the outside of the labyrinth are a lunar calendar and can be used to determine, among other things, the date of Easter, which falls on the Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox.

The six "petals" of the center of the labyrinth provide individual opportunities for symbolic representation and meditation. Moving clockwise from the entrance, they represent mineral, plant, animal, human, angelic and unnameable properties. In the very center of the Grace St. Paul's labyrinth, three consecrated hosts, representing the three persons of the Trinity, are embedded in the concrete inside a metal pix.

Walking the labyrinth models the classical three-fold spiritual path. Walking in: Purgation, emptying or letting go. Time in the center: Illumination, clarity, insight. Walking out: Union, initiative, integration, and action in the world.

Suggestions for Walking

The labyrinth is a path for prayer and meditation. Collect yourself before you start. Sit and rest along the low wall for a while. Walk around the outside once. Think of different people, events, situations, places or things in your life to develop a specific intention if you wish to use one in your meditation. Get centered.

There are two common ways of walking. The way of silence and the way of image. In choosing the way of silence it might be helpful to focus on your breathing. The way of image might be done by reciting a prayer or a name for God over and over to yourself. Ask yourself: How am I loved? How do I love? In either case or in some other manner best suited to you, be open to your heart and mind. Pay attention to your thoughts as they rise and then let them go.

The labyrinth is a place of presence; allow yourself to be present to yourself and to God. The labyrinth is a teacher; let it teach you through the mysterious power of God. As you walk the path, thoughts and ideas may rise up for you and in you -- often in refreshing and startling ways.

One way to feel more connected to the experience is to walk barefoot and slowly. There is no need to rush. Some people feel a sense of confusion as they first start, remember there is only one path in and one path out. You will not get lost. For some people running as quickly as possible to the center, resting there, and then running quickly out is a powerful experience.

Experiencing the Labyrinth
People have different experiences walking the labyrinth. As with all practices of prayer or meditation, your experience will grow and deepen the more you do it. There is no "right" experience. Some people feel a sense of A Labyrinthpeace. Others find old memories rising up as they walk. Others find themselves thinking about an immediate situation or person. Others walk at varying speeds as different thoughts and emotions come and go. Some people experience physical sensations, perhaps become light-headed, or have a feeling of floating above, a feeling of weight, or of great warmth. Some people have profound insights. Others have very small experiences or none at all. The experience of walking the labyrinth is different for each person, each time. Whatever you experience, it is your experience. Relax and see what happens.

Sources: Lauren Artress, Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth; Pamphlet, Church of the Redeemer, Shelbyville, TN; Sig Lonegren, Labyrinths: Ancient Myths and Modern Uses.

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Interested in being part of a team that is constructing labyrinth?  Based on the Chartres model, and the Veriditas labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, a labyrinth project will begin in Phoenix. Please call or e mail for more information.

Watch for times and dates of a "Labyrinth Experience" in the Phoenix area!


4450 North 12th Street, Suite 210
Phoenix, Arizona 85014
602 234-0541