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The Labyrinth of Chartres: A Spiritual Pilgrimage

The Labyrinth of Chartres, a Cathedral in France, is part of the pilgrim’s quest on their journey to the holy land. The Chartres Cathedral labyrinth is the most famous of these, but labyrinths began to appear all over Europe in the 12th century. The Chartres Labyrinth was almost certainly built in the early 13th century and became a symbol for pilgrims, who walk the labyrinth as part of their pilgrimage. (This site holds particular significance as the Chartres Cathedral is the home of the tunic worn by the Virgin Mary at Christ’s birth). The Chartres Cathedral is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.


The Labyrinth of Chartres is nowhere near as ornate as some that have built since. It is relatively simple in design and somewhat plain compared to others. It is rumoured that at some point in history it was embellished with a bronze plaque in its centre depicting a scene from Greek mythology which was later melted down to build cannons, but there is no proof of this. The centre of this simple but beautiful labyrinth is a six lobed rosette, depicting the nature of God. As you can see from the photo below, the labyrinth is usually covered in chairs as it’s part of the cathedral floor, but once a week the chairs are moved and the labyrinth is open for all to walk it.


A little closer to home, on the Camino de Mozarabe from Malaga to Cordoba, we created a medieval labyrinth of our own. On our recent Mozarabe Pilgrimage we wanted to create a copy of the Labyrinth of Chartres to share with our pilgrims and to make their experience even more special. This type of labyrinth is made up of eleven concentric circles and is known as a Chartres-type labyrinth. It manifested some amazing moments for them all when they walked the labyrinth and Manni said “It was a life affirming experience and one that we’ll be repeating again and again with our pilgrims and team building groups”.

It’s a curious exercise. There is only one way in and then a sweeping route takes you through the 4 quadrants of the circle until you reach the very centre. It takes a surprisingly long time to manoeuvre yourself though the twists and turns that force you to concentrate on your balance and breathing. It’s a proven fact that when you walk the labyrinth, it calms your nerves. It centres you, literally. Many programmes have used it as an exercise in regaining control in your life and as a habitual exercise in recovery from illness both mental and physical. Once you reach the centre, you ponder the journey and then step out.

One curious incident happened when a young man with Down Syndrome was doing the exercise with us. When he reached the middle, he didn’t want to “step out” and break the mould. He considered carefully and then decided to re-trace his steps, leaving the labyrinth by the very same way he entered. It made us all stand back and take stock. Sometimes, it’s best not to take short cuts. Maybe we are meant to take the long route, otherwise we simply miss the lessons life has for us.

If you, or anyone you know, would like to walk the labyrinth as part of a day trip or a Team Building activity, get in contact with us. It’s a superb practise and should be used as much as possible.

labyrinth chartres


Camino Mozarabe Pilgrimage


Camino Mozarabe Pilgrimage

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