Labyrinth IX

The labyrinth at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, N.Y. is not listed on the Worldwide Labyrinth Locator site.  I found out about it because one of my writer friends is a monk who lives there.  “Oh,” he said after I mentioned my labyrinth quest in our writing workshop, “Holy Cross has a labyrinth.” So on a hot and humid afternoon, my husband and I hopped into the air-conditioned car and went exploring.

My GPS sent us on a picturesque but indirect route to the wrong part of Route 9W.  We backtracked a little on 9W and eventually found Holy Cross’s curving drive that led to a large parking lot.  When I slowed down to reconnoiter, I recognized the familiar pattern of stones set in the lawn on the far side of the parking lot.

The Holy Cross labyrinth is an eight-circuit medieval style labyrinth. 

This is a seven circuit medieval labyrinth design. (It’s possible I miscounted at Holy Cross.)

There’s a small cairn marking the entrance and another in the center. 

The stones that  form the circles are larger than those of any other labyrinth we’ve seen.  Most of the rocks were the size of a football (American) or larger.  There appeared to be weed-blocking cloth under the whole labyrinth, but the grasses and weeds had grown through.  They formed a pleasant, cushy walking path. 

I picked out an attractive stone of gray and white to mark my passage, and started off on the path, repeating the comforting mantra, “All is God.  All is well.”  In the center, I placed my stone on the top of the cairn, adding it to several already there.

We saw nobody during our visit.  A small, barn-red house beyond the labyrinth appeared to be occupied, maybe by a groundskeeper.  Opposite the labyrinth was a stone path leading to the imposing monastery itself. 

We paused to appreciate the trees and the quiet, and then we left.  I believe no one knew we had come.

Labyrinths I

goddess labyrinth

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.

garden labyrinth

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.

finger labyrinth

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.

Chartres labyrinth

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.

stone labyrinth on Bolshoi Zayatsky

In my Internet wanderings, I found two interesting websites.  The Labyrinth Society offers a lot of useful information about labyrinths at  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.

More about my labyrinth quest and discoveries in upcoming posts.

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