A labyrinth? Here in Calgary?
I had always assumed (incorrectly, as it turns out) that labyrinth was just another word for a maze – a maze offers you choices, while a labyrinth has only one track leading in and out – and was intrigued to discover there are several to be found here in Calgary.
Labyrinths have been around for thousands of years, featuring in ancient tales and legends as well as being a spiritual tool used in many religions.
When it comes to stories, perhaps the most famous labyrinth was that in Crete where Theseus killed the Minotaur. Briefly, every nine years, King Minos of Crete demanded that the city of Athens send seven young boys and seven young maidens to Crete to be devoured by the Minotaur – a half man, half bull creature – in recompense for a previous war. The third time this happened, Theseus volunteered to take the place of one of the youths and vowed to kill the Minotaur. (If something about this tale sounds familiar, I found an interview with Suzanne Collins, the author of the highly successful Hunger Games trilogy, where she acknowledges the Minotaur myth as one of the inspirations for her book.)
Perhaps the most famous religious labyrinth is to be found in Chartres Cathedral in France. Apparently, about one thousand years ago, when it became to unsafe for Christians to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, pilgrims began visiting the big cathedrals in Europe; Chartres, Canterbury and Santiago de Compostello. Somewhere between 1200-1240 a labyrinth was laid in the floor of Chartres which became known as The Road to Jerusalem. Not a maze, but a single track, it provided an opportunity for the faithful to replicate a pilgrimage to the Holy Land by following the path on their knees while praying.
But what has this to do with Calgary?
The labyrinth in Knox United Church, in the heart of Calgary’s downtown, is open to all – Christian or not – from Monday-Friday, 9am-7pm, and is based on the Chartres labyrinth.
When I visited the labyrinth yesterday, I walked it twice. The first time was from sheer curiosity: Was there really only one way in and out? Did I cover every section of the intricate design?
The second time I decided to take it a little more seriously. According to the pamphlet provided by the church, the labyrinth is a unique spiritual tool that can be used to:
relieve stress and clear the mind
calm people in life transitions
awaken the spirit within
bring forth spiritual healing
open a path to action
I’m not religious, but I turned on the CD that is provided and tried to quiet my mind. There is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth, but I found that by just taking my time and concentrating, at the end of 20 minutes I returned once more to the entrance of the labyrinth feeling calm and relaxed.
The labyrinth in Knox United Church is not the only one in Calgary; there are several more, including an outdoor one in Sarcee Park. If you’re interested in finding one near you, please check out this worldwide labyrinth locator.