Chartres cathedral was built in the 12th and 13th centuries and has had only minor architectural changes since then. Even most of its stained glass windows remain intact. The cathedral is perhaps best-known for its ancient labyrinth, which was carved directly into the floor. Traditionally, labyrinths were built to represent a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Today, they can be used as a spiritual tool, for prayer, meditation or simply peace.
Although our church doesn’t have a permanent labyrinth, every year we borrow a portable one for a week and invite all to walk it. Whenever I do, I will myself to keep my eyes on the part of the path I’m walking, rather than looking ahead to see where the next bend is or how close I am to the centre. I think there’s a good metaphor for life in that exercise. Walking this labyrinth has always been a meditative experience for me.
Last summer when we traveled to France, we had the privilege of visiting Chartres cathedral. The labyrinth area is often covered with chairs, so I was thrilled to see that the area was clear the day we went. On our arrival, I reminded my family that I’d like to walk the labyrinth and invited them to join me. To my delight, both of the girls said they’d accompany me. (Although Andrew didn’t join us, he took the opportunity to meditate on the stunning stained glass windows that fill the sanctuary.)
What an amazing experience to walk the labyrinth with the girls! It was probably the most spiritual family experience I’ve had. In one way it differed from my walks at our church, which I usually do either by myself or with one other walker. Chartres was full of pilgrims, and we often had to step aside to let others by. It also wasn’t a silent experience! But the spiritual movement of taking one step after another, heading toward an inner circle, was exactly the same, and walking the path with my girls made it truly special.
|The labyrinth at Chartres. Photo used courtesy of labyrinthos.net.|