A Walking Tour into The Past
In France, in the cathedrale de Notre-Dame, Chartres, there's a labyrinth in the floor in black and white stone, in the middle of the nave centered between the fourth and fifth bays from the west end.
It's a circular labyrinth, oriented toward the westerly direction, with an overall diameter of 41 feet, and a 5 foot 6 inch circular pattern in the center of the design. It's one of the last surviving original labyrinths of its kind, with a six petal rosette in the center representing formation and transformation.
And symbolising the six aspects or elements of creation - mineral, vegetable, animal, human, angelic, unconscious or mysterious.
When I was very young I lived near Paris, and visited Chartres. I'm sure I didn't walk the labyrinth then, and I wish I could walk it now as an adult - it is the most-walked labyrinth in the world.
It's believed that in the early 13th century those who couldn't make a pilgrimage to Jersualem during the Crusades created the 11-circuit labyrinth to provide a pilgrimage inside the cathedral itself, with an odd number of pathways to follow.
Labyrinths have been an ancient symbol in many different cultures for thousands of years. It can be a metaphor for life, walking a single path into the center and following the same path out to the beginning, in silence and meditation. The romans and those living in Crete also had this design in their cultures. Romans buildings have pavement labyrinths in the floors of bathhouses, villas and tombs, although they are too small for walking.
Labyrinths and mazes date back as far as 3,200 years on pottery, cast in stones and woven into baskets. In the southwestern United States there is a design called 'the man in the maze' that you find on pottery designs, especially blackware pottery. These designs are seen often with the Hopi and the Navajo, in jewelry and baskets.
Each line in the maze symbolizes a time in life - birth, childhood, puberty, marriage and death in a continuous line as the journey of life unfolds. As the journey continues, the traveler gains knowledge, strength and understanding.
The Celts described the labyrinth as the 'Never Ending Circle' similar to the stone and bronze age cup-and-rings Pictish carvings in the Highland rocks of Scotland. I visited some of them myself on a trip near Lochgilphead.
In Edinburgh there is a labyrinth in one corner of George Square Gardens that's based on the one in Chartres Cathedral. I missed seeing and walking that one, when I visited Edinburgh years ago.
You may have a labyrinth near you now, in a church or park. They are, somewhat surprisingly, found in many places in America and Canada. Some are indoors, painted on floors, others are outdoors in gardens.
And the difference between a labyrinth and a maze is very important. Do you know the difference?