Rags of Light

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Labyrinths.

Shirley du Boulay’s The Road to Canterbury has a section on medieval mazes/labyrinths as metaphors for spiritual pilgrimage, which led me to read about the famous labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral (12th c. – see image).
These days, a religious interest in mazes feels a bit new-agey, the kind of thing you’d find at a “spiritual retreat” for post-Christian Episcopalians. But labyrinths* were part of Gothic church architecture for centuries, so they’re worth a look.

As I studied the Chartres labyrinth, two features struck me:

  • When you enter the maze, a short path quickly takes you almost to your destination – then veers off on a long and winding path. Those of us who have experienced the “high” that often comes early in the life of conversion will understand the metaphor all too well.

  • The maze is unicursal (new word for me!): it doesn’t branch. To reach your goal, all you have to do is get on the path, stay on the path, and keep moving, even if you seem to be moving away from the goal. Encouraging. The Way is the Way.

* Apparently some people use “labyrinth” to refer to a unicursal maze, “maze” to refer one that branches. There isn’t much justification for that, as far as I can see, so I’m using the terms interchangeably.