St Paul's Cathedral in London has several features which many of the older Gothic cathedrals don't have: Christopher Wren's dome, for instance. The famous whispering gallery. And the £5 admission charge. But one thing it hasn't had is a labyrinth marked out on the floor. Until now.
Between March 6th and 10th, St Paul's is hosting an experiment in Christian worship called Labyrinth. Run by several of London's alternative worship groups, this is an "interactive installation for spiritual journeys", according to Steve Collins, one of the project organizers.
Labyrinths were a feature of many medieval cathedrals one of the best remaining examples is found in Chartres Cathedral in northern France. The St Paul's labyrinth adds a new twist to the old formula: as pilgrims wind their way into the centre, they will have a CD Discman and headphones for company. Music, prayers, art and activities will guide their thoughts during the one-hour journey.
Medieval labyrinths were marked out on the floor, and unlike a maze they have only one path, with no dead ends. People walked the labyrinth as an aid to contemplative prayer and reflection, or crawled on their hands and knees to the centre as an act of penance.
Walking the labyrinth was also seen as a form of pilgrimage at a time when the Crusades made it impossible to journey to the Holy Land. The centre of many medieval labyrinths, such as the one in Chartres, is actually called "Jerusalem".
The St Paul's Labyrinth has the same aim of prayer and pilgrimage. Says Steve Collins: "This is for anyone Christian or otherwise who wants to take a break for an hour from surfing the surface of culture to contemplate the deeper things of life."
Participants follow the complex path into the labyrinth, through questions and rituals that help them set aside the barriers between themselves and God. When they reach the centre they can spend time in stillness with God, and then bring their encounter outward, exploring how it might change their relationships with other people and the world around them.
"It takes about an hour to walk the labyrinth," says Steve Collins. "It can be done more quickly, but our aim is to give people the space and time for spiritual and personal reflection in a world which crowds it out with busyness."
The groups hosting Labyrinth are Live On Planet Earth, Grace and Epicentre. They explore the Christian faith through contemporary culture, arts and media, on a regular basis in their own churches and at Christian festivals and other events.
More information about the St Paul's Labyrinth can be found on the Labyrinth website. A good site for labyrinths in the United States can be found at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. If you would like to contact any of the alternative worship groups, attend one of their regular services, or find more information on labyrinths and other forms of creative Christian worship, please follow these links to Grace and Epicentre.
Labyrinth, St Paul's Cathedral, London, March 6th-10th, 10.00am-12.30pm and 1.30pm-4.00pm daily. There is a charge to enter the cathedral, but if you mention you are visiting the Labyrinth you will be allowed to enter free of charge.
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