Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tread the Stones of History

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?


EmandaJ said...

Hello Lynn,

I know! I know! Labyrinths are one continuous line in and out while a maze has dead-ends and swithchbacks to confuse.

I like labyrinths better. I have walked the labyrinths at Ameins cathedral and at Ely. There's one in a terrazzo pavement inside the Episcopal Church of the Trasfiguration in Dallas, which is in the style of the Chartres labyrinth. When I was at Chartres, the chairs were covering the path, so I couldn't walk it. Luck you to be able to walk THE labyrinth!

Speaking of treading the stones of history, I visited Canterbury Cathedral for the first time on Palm Sunday (1984) and was very much taken to another time in history. I looked down at the stones on the floor, the cracks and uneven places and deeply sensed all those who had gone before me. A decade later, I had the opportunity to visit a friend there who was on staff. She arranged for me to have a "core sample" of those same floors. It's one of my prized possessions.


LLYYNN - Lynn Davis said...

Emanda, you made me chuckle! Yes, a labyrinth has one way in and just one way back out, it's meditative and left-brain. But a maze is decisive, with turns and choices and is right-brain.

I haven't walked the Chartres labyrinth yet, it's on my wish list.

Have you noticed that some of the floors in English churches look like quilt patterns? I find it facinating. How lucky you are to have a memento of Canterbury, you must treasure it. Put it in a glass vial with a lovely filigree cap on top and wear it as a reliquary or something.

EmandaJ said...

Hi Lynn,

Oh, I couldn't use the core sample in a necklace, it's the size of a large prescription bottle! I use it as a very special paperweight.

Quite a few very talented quilt artists have made prize-winning quilts from the Victorian Gothic Revival tile patterns in cathedrals and some of the italian marble inlays called cosmati floors. Check out this link to Nora McMeeking's student works.


EmandaJ said...

Hello Lynn,

Here's a link to an article about left-brain vs right-brain.,21985,22556281-661,00.html

What's really interesting is that the "dancer" that turns switched back and forth for me. The article states that if she turns clockwise, you are right-brained and vice versa.

What do you see?