Hyde Park, N.Y. is on the east side of the Hudson River. It is where many rich folks built their mansions. Hyde Park is home to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Springwood,” as well as his Presidential Library and Museum. The Vanderbilt Mansion is in Hyde Park, too. But we were there to walk the labyrinth at St. James’ Episcopal Church.
The church was closed due to COVID, but the labyrinth was easily found in the walled yard beside the church.
It shares the space with a cemetery, a crypt, and several venerable, majestic trees.
The labyrinth is a simple brick-lined path in the grass. It is thirty feet in diameter in the classical style. There was nothing particularly special about the construction of this labyrinth, but the location was the most peaceful, pleasant spot I’ve been in so far. Maybe it was the presence of the cemetery that influenced the atmosphere.
After we walked the labyrinth, we sat on the bench beneath the arbor and absorbed the calm.
This was a place where time was altered. Perhaps it was the age of the church and graveyard that spoke of the continuity of nature and the cycles of seasons. We felt welcome.
The 15th of May was warm and sunny. We set off to find the labyrinth at the Grail Center in Cornwall-on-Hudson. Listed as a retreat or conference center, the Grail Center “welcomes to the public to use the labyrinth during daylight hours, and to respect any retreat participant activities that are going on at the time of your visit.” (Worldwide Labyrinth Locator).
The Grail Center proved to be a large, tall house with two circular drives, one in front and one in back. We drove past the front door looking for a sign of some sort, but there was none. We drove around the back circle where four cars were parked. Still no notice indicating the location of a labyrinth. We drove around to the main entrance again, and I got out to investigate.
The top portion of the Dutch door was open. I peered into a spacious foyer where a wooden statue of a peaceful seated woman caught light from the windows. “Hello! Hello!” my voiced echoed.
I heard women talking and laughing, but no one appeared. Not yet willing to give up, I went out to the car and parked it in the back with the others. Then, finally, a young woman came out, asking, “Can I help you?”
She graciously directed us toward the labyrinth, and also answered my questions about the Grail Center. It was in use today or possibly rented for longer by the Rural and Migrant Ministry. (http://ruralmigrantministry.org) I was torn—I wanted to learn more about her organization, but I also wanted to see the labyrinth. That, after all, was the reason we had come.
Off we went, down the hill, following a somewhat indistinct path past two cabins that I supposed housed retreat participants. On our left was an empty stone niche that had once, I guessed, held a religious statue.
The path came to a T and we went to the right, because I could see part of the stone wall that was in the photograph in the WWLL.
We skirted along the higher part of the stone wall which had a low archway built into it.
This doorway was blocked, but further down there was an arch where we entered. It felt to me like discovering an ancient ruin.
My printout stated that “The Grail Labyrinth is a five-circuit labyrinth adapted from the Tarry Town Labyrinth at Temple Cowley, Oxford, England.” It measures thirty-eight feet across.
At the entrance was a tile that read, “Enjoy the journey.”
On a podium was this quote from Rev. Dr. Lauren Artes’s book Walking the Sacred Path:
The atmosphere of this labyrinth and the place itself felt welcoming and warm. Even though the actual labyrinth and the stone walls were worn and in disrepair, the energy of the walkers felt young, especially because of the items many had left on the stones lining the path.
The poem in the following post captures my experience, so I won’t elaborate on that part.
This was my favorite labyrinth so far. I appreciated the setting: the crumbling stone walls, the surrounding woods, the mysterious path leading there.
As we often do, we donated to the labyrinth’s sponsoring organization.
The weekend following our first labyrinth hunt, we scooped up my good friend in North Salem and set out for the labyrinth at the Garden of Ideas in Ridgefield, Connecticut, not far from her house. Three fancy cars were parked in the driveway. The Worldwide Labyrinth Locator (WWLL) said the property was always open, so we left the car and followed a path around a storage shed that led into a beautiful garden.
We passed a couple of outbuildings, nicely maintained. On the left was a patch of graceful fiddlehead ferns. On the right a pond glittered in the afternoon light. We wandered further, finding no labyrinth, but a profusion of flowers and shrubs.
A voiced calling out stopped us. “Can I help you?”
“Yes!” we called back. “We’re looking for the labyrinth!”
“That was closed a year ago,” he said. “This is private property now.”
“Sorry,” we apologized, only slightly embarrassed about traipsing around on someone’s land. It was such a pretty place that I didn’t feel too badly for trespassing.
Our next effort was more rewarding. At least we found the labyrinth at the King Street United Church of Christ in Danbury. It took a while to locate the labyrinth on the opposite side of the parking lot.
Much of it was overgrown. As labyrinths go (in my limited experience) this one was disappointing, mostly because the stone-lined paths were obscured by grass.
I tried to follow the circuits but couldn’t see some of the turns.
It was again a half-successful hunt, but the tracking offered its own excitement.
Labyrinths are a walking meditation and are often seen as metaphors of our life. The walking meditation can be used for reflection and problem solving with the daily issues. When walking a labyrinth, we discuss the three R’s. Releasing, Receiving and Returning/or Reflection.
Before you walk, pause and take a few moments to quiet your mind and become aware of your breath. Allow yourself to find the walking pace your body wants to go. Do what feels natural.
Releasing- As you enter the labyrinth, you follow the path to the center and try to develop a relaxed, calm state that releases concerns and quiets the mind. This is the time to open the heart and quiet the mind.
Receiving- Upon reaching the center of the labyrinth, on this labyrinth it is called the center rose. The rose symbolizes beauty, love and enlightenment. Each petal symbolizes the aspects of creation; mineral, vegetable, animal, human, the spirit world and the mystery of the unknown. The center of the rose is place of rest. This is a place for meditation and or prayer. This is a time of openness and peacefulness; you experience or receive what the moment offers you. Stay here as long as you feel the need.
Returning/Reflection- You choose when to leave the center, following the same path. This is a time to review and consider the healing forces at work and how they may apply to your life.
My exploration of labyrinths in our area began early this May. I printed out twenty-five of the Worldwide Labyrinth Locator (WWLL) pages listing labyrinths within fifty miles. It was a rainy day, so we chose to drive to nearby Goshen and visit the First Presbyterian Church.
I used to live in Goshen years ago, but I never paid much attention to the massive church right in the center of town. The Labyrinth Locator offers a lot of useful information about each labyrinth listed. This one in Goshen is public, outdoors, and permanent. The WWLL tells where to find the labyrinth (33 Park Place) and when it is open (always), whom to contact, the style (medieval), the materials (brick/paver) and the size (20 feet in diameter).
We parked on the street and easily found the labyrinth in a gated, well-cared-for garden. In front of the labyrinth was a memorial wall and a bench honoring (past?) members of the congregation. At the entrance stood a pole with a plaque suggesting guidelines for walking the labyrinth.
This was my first labyrinth walk, and I must admit, I spent more time speculating on the cost and labor involved in the making of it than in finding my inner peace. It was meticulously made, with stones cut to size so the paths would be even. On a sunny day, we might have stayed longer, but it was drizzly and cold, so we moved on.
Another labyrinth listed was not far away in Middletown, so we headed to the labyrinth at the Abundant Life Farm. The directions were accurate except for the part that said, “The property is clearly marked with signs.” There were no signs for Abundant Life Farm, only several No Trespassing notices, and another about the presence of a guard dog.
I’m sorry I didn’t take pictures of this strange place. It had three ramshackle, empty buildings, and a large farmyard with a herd of friendly goats. One white goose watched us warily. No dog appeared. We communed with the goats for a while. Nobody came around to complain about our possible trespassing, although we were careful to stay close to the road. I peered around but couldn’t see anything that resembled a labyrinth. I renamed the site “The Abandoned Life Farm” and worried a bit about who was taking care of the goats.
We left for home, figuring one out of two labyrinths was pretty good for that day.
A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze (multicursal) wants you to get lost. A labyrinth invites you to find–something (the center? peace? yourself?). A maze has many branches and dead ends and is intended to be confusing. A labyrinth (unicursal) is a single path that winds to its center.
I’m learning about labyrinths. My interest was first engaged by the labyrinth in Chartres cathedral as it appeared in Kathleen McGowan’s book, The Book of Love. What she describes is apparently true: the ancient labyrinth (12th century) is obscured by chairs six days a week. It is open for walking every Friday from 10 am to 5 pm. At least this was the schedule before COVID interrupted normal life.
McGowan posits that the chairs and restrictions are the Church’s attempt to discourage people from discovering the spiritual power of this ancient practice. She traces the roots of the labyrinth to King Solomon’s and the Queen of Sheba’s design, but I haven’t found that idea substantiated anywhere yet.
However, the labyrinth design goes back a long time. More than 3000 years ago, labyrinths appeared in a variety of forms in many different cultures. These ancient archetypes have been found in the cultures of ancient Crete, Hopi Native Americans, the British Isles, France, Norway, and India.
Over time, labyrinths may have served a multitude of purposes: as sites for choreographed dances, ceremonies, or rituals, and places dedicated to walking meditation. They are categorized by style and number of circuits. The Chartres cathedral labyrinth has eleven circuits. Medieval Christians walked the Chartres labyrinth instead of making a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands, or to connect with a family member who was participating in a Crusade.
A fascinating collection of thirty-five labyrinths exists on the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea of Russia. One island, Bolshoi Zayatsky, contains fourteen stone labyrinths that date back to 3000 B.C.
In my Internet wanderings, I found two interesting websites. The Labyrinth Society offers a lot of useful information about labyrinths at www.labyrinthsociety.org. Their World Wide Labyrinth Locator will provide you with a list of labyrinths in your area. Warning: some of the listings are out-of-date, but the quest is still fun and rewarding.
Save the Dates! 2021 HV Flamenco Festival August 14th & 15th.
I am so pleased to announce the venues for the 2021 HV Flamenco Festival. This year we are co-producing with the Vanaver Caravan. Through this collaboration we are able to bring you THREE performances this year. Each one is specially curated to support the mission of the HV Flamenco Festival; to explore how flamenco can act as a healing and unifying force in our communities.
Andreas Arnold, guitarist extraordinaire will be joining us from Cadiz, Spain.Here is a video of Andreas playing a piece from his latest album. On Saturday, August 14th at 6pm, Andreas will be performing for us at the outdoor stage at Unison Arts. Mario Rincon will be singing with him. Bring your masks, blankets and chairs and a picnic and spend the evening being immersed in the magic of live music.
Saturday morning, August 14th at 11:30am will find us in Newburgh at the Green at Safe Harbors. The Awesome Foundation gave us a grant to offer a free performance in Newburgh. This will be a shorter, vibrant opening for the HV Flamenco Festival with dance and music.
On Sunday evening at 6pm at the gorgeous Whitecliff Vineyards in Gardiner, NY our full company will make the Ridge echo with the strains of flamenco song and the driving rhythms of dance. Bring chairs or blankets and a picnic meal. You can sip local wines and allow us to transport you to a sun-baked, jasmine scented plaza in Andalusia.
Tickets will be sold on the Hudson Valley Flamenco Festival website starting June 20th.As always, your support is what keeps the HVFF going and I want to express my gratitude for remembering the HV Flamenco Festival.
This month, Mario Rincon, our cantaor (singer) of many talents is building a portable stage. Because we are bringing you a Covid-safe outdoor festival, a portable stage is a necessary addition to our company. Please consider donating a small amount to offset the costs of building our stage. DONATE
Please read the latest blog post that talks about how flamenco works as a system and can be a metaphor for how we exist in our communities. ANNA LIBRADA