Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Karoo Labyrinth at St John’s

- Ailsa Tudhope -

The congregation of St John the Baptist Church in Bank Street has taken a new step in faith – one in which we hope many people will join us. We have constructed a labyrinth in the church grounds. This ancient pathway, which predates Christianity by at least two thousand years, was adopted by the Church during the Middle Ages when it became dangerous for pilgrims to travel to the Holy Land. Instead they journeyed to Christian shrines, such as Canterbury. The cities of Chartres, Rheims and Amiens offered them the opportunity to complete their spiritual pilgrimages in their cathedral labyrinths. The most famous labyrinth is probably that of Chartres, a beautiful circular pattern in the cathedral floor, which has recently been re-opened for use after being covered by chairs for 250 years.

Our labyrinth is unique – instead of a full circle it is just a quarter circle, in order to facilitate its position in a small square plot of land with a tree offering essential shade in one corner. We have used Karoo images and materials. In our minds the tree has become a stone thrown into the great inland sea which used to cover the Karoo. The ripples which spread from its impact form the seven lengths of path moving from the centre towards the church, symbolising the seven Sacraments and Creation. The ripples roll ever onwards, carrying God's love out, across the village and into the Karoo and over the koppie and the mountains which form a backdrop to Prince Albert.

The paths are defined with Karoo stones and will be laid with sand, to facilitate quiet walks. Under the tree we will have benches, providing a cool place for contemplation. The gardens between the 'ripples' are being created by a number of people from throughout the Prince Albert community and the focus will be on waterwise gardening using local plants, including vygies, vetplante and aloes. A fragrance garden will be established in one corner of the square, enfolding one of the 'ripples'.

Celtic Christian imagery also has its role to play: the stones, trees and gardens represent Earth; a bench against the Church wall, from which one can watch the sunset, and tree trunks with level surfaces for candles, will bring Fire into our labyrinth. Water is part of the design and there will be water to drink at the centre whenever we hold a facilitated walk. The evening breeze and wind chimes will fulfil the Air image, with the fragrance garden bringing scents into the sacred space.

A labyrinth has only one path, as it winds towards the centre it becomes a mirror for where we are in our lives. It touches our sorrows and releases our joys. By walking a labyrinth we continue a centuries old spiritual tradition, releasing our cares as we travel inwards, receiving illumination at the centre and carrying God with us as we travel outwards, back into our daily lives. We hope that the St John’s labyrinth will bring the gift of peace and calm to people of all denominations and faiths who visit it.

Ailsa Tudhope (023) 5411 211

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