Labyrinthed Design Service
I’ve designed and installed temporary and permanent labyrinths indoors and outside, in churches, schools, conference settings, and festivals. My labyrinth installations are based on traditional patterns and adhere to the principles of sacred geometry in their layout. Working with volunteer groups is a specialty! If you or your group are interested in introducing the labyrinth to your church, school, healthcare institution, retreat centre or wherever, get in touch with me for facilitation and assistance in bringing your project into being.
Below are some things to think about.
Drawing labyrinths comes naturally to humans—there is labyrinth graffiti found in the ruins of Pompeii! The basic “seed pattern” of the seven circuit labyrinth [PDF] is the basis of many other meanders and knots [PDF]. That’s just how humans think. Tracing the pattern with a finger leads to scratching the pattern in the dirt with a stick, and then there’s a pile of stones, and before you know it, a cathedral [PDF].
Labyrinth patterns are traditionally based on the principles of sacred geometry, a system of ratio and proportion found in the growth patterns of nature and brought to a highly developed state in the design and architecture of the Middle Ages. The cathedral labyrinths of Northern France, such as the one at Chartres, function as effectively as they do in part because they, like the cathedrals themselves, are designed using the same ratios as the physical body, and resonate harmoniously with human perception. They naturally calm us. Medieval scholars considered this branch of mathematics to be a form of contemplation.
Labyrinths as public art
Labyrinths have an effect on the space they occupy. They can be considered a form of public art and they help to create a certain atmosphere. Building a labyrinth together can a great community project. That’s how the medieval cathedrals were built, as well as the turf labyrinths on the village squares in Britain and northern Europe. It is a rare opportunity to work on something big together! Thinking of the labyrinth as “public art” gives a sense of how traditionally art was one of the collective practices that helped communities stick together. Dedicating space to a place designed for inward reflection makes a statement about what is valued.
If you or your organization has the space to accommodate a labyrinth, you will find there are many options open to you, and some important questions to consider. Size, site, material, usage, and maintenance are fundamental concerns. Who will be using it raises questions of accessibility and ease of navigation. If it is for a church or other public institution, should the labyrinth be portable, temporary, or permanent? Discernment is a valuable and necessary step.
Labyrinthed design services
Designs for churches and other organisations have varied according to the space available and the needs of the community. Services offered include needs assessment, facilitating the decision-making process, introducing the labyrinth concept to the community or organisation, and leading volunteer groups in layout and construction.
One church’s experience
UPDATE: After 5 years of sharing the labyrinth with the weekday soup kitchen in the basement parish hall, St Luke’s undertook the major step of installing a permanent marmoleum inlay labyrinth as part of a complete refurbishing of the nave, which also included replacing the pews with moveable chairs. Regular monthly walks continue at St Luke’s.
St Luke’s, a small downtown church, known especially for its high quality musical facilities and program, has a very active parish life. The parish hall, located in the basement, houses a daily soup kitchen and social support service, serving over 10,000 meals a year. A municipal grant to replace the concrete floor provided the opportunity to include a painted labyrinth. The hall, 33′ x 44′ with no pillars to obstruct the space, could accommodate a design up to 28′ across. A seven circuit labyrinth seemed the best choice.
After much debate, the congregation’s labyrinth committee selected the Petite Chartres, a variation of the seven circuit labyrinth, designed by the American labyrinth builder Robert Ferré. It includes elements characteristic of the original 12th century eleven circuit Chartres cathedral pattern. The path moves back and forth among the four quadrants of the circle, turning at the hour glass shaped dividers, called labryses, which give the labyrinth the Christian cross shape superimposed on the circuits. The Chartres-type design has the central six petal rosette, with each petal associated with a different realm or “kingdom”. Around the outside is a ring of “lunations” (which in the original design may have served as a form of calendar) adds visually to the sense of sacred space.
High usage of the space required polymer epoxy paint. This was selected using the church colour scheme of a marine blue and cream to create an atmosphere of calm refuge for the many daily visitors.
Planning was accelerated due to municipal funding schedules, and volunteer contributions of time and effort were of necessity intense and well coordinated. As the labyrinth design emerged through the long process of drawing, taping, and painting, all the working group felt exhilarated to see their efforts producing such a beautiful addition to a much loved institution.
Making use of the labyrinth
For St. Luke’s, the labyrinth is an architectural element that:
- makes a statement about the congregation and parish in a non-verbal way
- adds to the atmosphere of sacred space as a visual metaphor of harmony and reconciliation of opposites
- can be incorporated into the various forms of worship service
- provides a focus for processions through the church building
- adds to the recognition factor of St Luke’s as one of the few permanent indoor labyrinths in the Ottawa region
- can be made available for self-guided walks
- is reasonably accessible to the public
- is a high profile outreach tool
- invites links with community partners in health, arts, primary, secondary and adult education fields
- can be a site for worship and a focus for liturgical processions
- can be a meeting ground with other faith communities.