History of the Labyrinth
The Prayer Labyrinth was adopted by the Church across Europe during the medieval times, being often used as a means to meditate, pray and connect with God in a higher spiritual way. Numerous cathedrals in Europe have prayer labyrinths embedded into their floors, with the Cathedral of Chartres (Notre-Dame de Chartres Cathedral), located about 80 km from Paris having one of the most famous prayer labyrinths in the world. Prayer Labyrinths were often viewed and modeled as a journey to Jerusalem and were even called Chemin de Jerusalem (Road of Jerusalem) serving as a spiritual pilgrimage for those who could not afford to travel to Jerusalem, the center of the world.
The widest accepted Prayer Labyrinth in the Church was the eleven-circuit labyrinth, which is more symbolic of Christ's cross with its four quadrants, and grace being symbolized by the never-ending path to the center and back, allowing the pilgrim to walk the path at his own pace, stop for prayer and meditation as needed.
By the 17th and 18th centuries however, Prayer Labyrinths have lost much of their spiritual meaning. With the practice of walking the Prayer Labyrinth becoming popular again in contemporary Christianity, many Christian denominations from across the theological spectrum are again adopting the practice of walking the Prayer Labyrinth, with some churches opening their labyrinths to any pilgrim in need of contemplation and prayer, pointing out that the Prayer Labyrinth is not a maze and rather has one path on which one cannot get lost, serving a powerful symbol of individual life journeys and pilgrimage in faith.
A Catholic writer describes their spiritual significance in this way: "The labyrinth is a universal symbol for the world, with its complications and difficulties, which we experience on our journey through life. The entry to the labyrinth is birth; the center is death and eternal life. In Christian terms, the thread that leads us through life is divine grace. Like any pilgrimage, the labyrinth represents the inner pilgrimage we are called to make to take us to the center of our being. It is but one example of how early Christians adapted pre-Christian allegories to Christian doctrine. The center of the labyrinth at Chartres actually once contained an engraved copper plate depicting the battle between Theseus and the Minotaur." In some Christian circles today the labyrinth continues to be used as an instrument to facilitate meditation, prayer, personal reflection, etc.
How to Walk the Labyrinth
There is no "right" or "wrong" way to walk a labyrinth.
The entrance to the labyrinth can be a place to stop, to breathe deeply, and to set an intention for the walk you are about to take. The intention can be to seek the answer to a question or merely to just open yourself to whatever inner wisdom comes your way. The walk around the design toward the center can be a "letting go" -- a quieting of thoughts, worries, lists of things to do -- into the stillness. As you begin to walk, you will find your own pace. If you meet another person on the path, you can merely take a step to the side, allowing the other person to pass. You may also pass a person in front of you by silently walking around them in a non-disturbing way.
Arrival at the center signifies reaching the sacred center of our own selves…the place where God resides. Stay in the center as long as you desire. Here you can allow yourself the gift of listening to your heart. You can honor whatever you are feeling as your own personal experience.
When ready, the walk out can provide a grounded, empowered feeling of confidence and energy as you return -- to integrate the new insights and understanding that you have gained during this experience into your life.
Our Parish Labyrinth
We occasionally offer opportunities for you to walk our parish labyrinth. Our labyrinth is made of canvas and we therefore request that you only walk in bare feet, socks, or very clean shoes.
We hope that you will find walking the labyrinth to be a helpful and reflective form of prayer which enriches your own pilgrimage to the heart of God.