Digging the Labyrinth

Sun 01 March 2015

We created our beautiful Chartres labyrinth back in 2011 on some ground which was built up and levelled with excavated material from the new Long Barn. Being built-up ground we thought the biggest risk was making a structure that was too rigid and would crack as the ground settled. So it's made with a tamped roadstone (803) base - that's the grey base. The design was laid out in 10cm square black basalt setts in a soft mortar. The path was then filled in with CED golden path gravel (6mm to dust) so the surface hardens as it gets watered and walked.

The labyrinth has naturally become something of a prayer magnet, a tool for prayer. We don't shout about it, but guests frequently find their way to it and quietly walk the 1/3 mile 11 circuit route. The focus and narrowness of the path can be very settling for a restless body, mind or spirit. There is only one path - that's the difference between a labyrinth and a maze. But although it is simple and there are no choices, the complexity of the design means you can't jump ahead in your mind. The twists and turns of the path, the constantly changing outlook across to the hills or facing the trees, the boundaried space provide endless metaphors for the conscious or unconscious mind to work with. It can be especially helpful at times of transition or turmoil. Sometimes people simply approach the labyrinth with an "intention" - a person, an issue, a relationship, a choice, a question - and allow the walking of the labyrinth to unfold the intention in their heart.

The original of the design in the floor of Chartres cathedral in France is believed to have been built around 1190. It is beautifully cut in black and brown marble. Having built our own with such easy materials, one can only marvel at the skill of the early medieval architects and craftsmen working with such an unforgiving material. Labyrinths of many different designs were very popular in churches across Europe in this period, especially after the disastrous fourth crusade prevented pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem. Here was a pint-sized pilgrimage in your own back yard! They eventually fell out of favour and most were paved over. In the past 20 years or so labyrinths have been experiencing a renaissance in sacred and secular settings all over the world.

Here at Sheldon we hadn't reckoned with our rather healthy rabbit population finding the labyrinth a hole-digging magnet. Every week or so the not-too-hard-in-case-it-cracks surface needs to be lovingly tended with a trowel and brush where the rabbits have set to and scraped a few dozen holes. They never get deeper than a couple of inches before giving up - it really isn't burrow-digging territory - but it doesn't stop them trying! Perhaps we should persuade our resident cats to spend a little more time at the labyrinth?

Laying out the setts
Filling the path
The finished labyrinth in use

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Have you walked the Sheldon Labyrinth?

Eliza Getman - Feb 01, 2019

I was delighted and grateful to discover your labyrinth when visiting Sheldon recently on a clergywomen's retreat day. The experience of walking the path always centres my spirit - it is a lovely body prayer form. I hope to try to build one in the St Thomas Parish Church yard. I would be really grateful for some advice with this project.

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