The Making of a Labyrinth
After completing the third and most complex temporary tape labyrinth for Christ Church Cathedral at Easter 2009, I suggested to the Dean that it was time to put some paint on the floor and make it permanent. Several months of negotiating, calculating and scheduling and we finally had an agreement and a paint colour was chosen.
Having worked with the labyrinth since 2004, I have created over a dozen labyrinth, some as big as 60’ in diameter but this was the first permanent one. This changed the game somewhat and certainly increased the work. I have only ever done a day of labyrinth making at a time, now we were faced with two weeks of 12 hour days and during that time I had to maintain my other work schedule. Thankfully I had formed a partnership with Vanessa Compton, a well experienced labyrinth maker and facilitator. There were many moments during this project when two heads were much better than one. Vanessa has done several of these painted labyrinth before but this was the first one I had done. Funny thing though, as I asked myself why I was called to do this work, I remembered that my graduate work had been focused on large scale artwork for architectural setting and my first job had been as a pattern maker for the fashion industry.
We began by painting out the lines of the badminton courts as they distract greatly from the appearance of the room and interfered with the many circles we were about to paint. It seems Anglicans no longer play badminton.
We measured to find the centre of the room and then drew the cardinal lines of north, south, east and west to orient the labyrinth and ourselves to the space. Next we marked in the entrance paths. Then, with a special beam compass from Lee Valley Tools we began carefully drawing the circles, 23 in total. The compass was basically a fancy version of a stick and a string and as we worked, we remembered the original stone masons who would have created the Chartres Labyrinth 800 years ago, without even a pencil and paper. It boggles the mind to consider making this pattern in 4” thick stone, cut by hand.
Once the circles were drawn in pencil we laid special painter’s tape along the lines, and this proved to be a bit of a trick. It’s one thing to lay tape in a straight line but circles are another matter. Vanessa took on the fussy job of laying the inside edge of tape without wrinkles that would allow paint seepage. The labyrus ends where done in electrical tape because it makes a nice tight circular line.
Friends and labyrinth enthusiasts came to help, although we could not have chosen a worse time to be looking for help at the provincial holiday weekend in August. It seems most people are very good holiday planners and take advantage of the civic holiday weekend.
The view from the balcony confirmed that we were on our way to creating something very special. We spent several days considering how to make this labyrinth particular to the Cathedral. The Dean had asked if we could customize it in some way. Originally the labyrinth in Chartres had a plaque in the centre. There is much speculation and debate about what the plaque looked like but no one is quiet sure. We considered making the crosses at the ends of the petal tips an open tri-form shape, similar to one of the crosses on the church’s spire but we simply ran out of time for that level of detail.
Photo: John Duimovich
We worked into the evening and the lighting became an issue. Even supplementing with large halogen lights did not always help. The scalloped edge around the labyrinth is a particularly difficult element to make. The lunations, as they are called, form a lunar calendar used for calculating the date of Easter. The trick was to measure and mark the pattern 55 times without making so much as a pencil width error. Needless to say, I ended up doing the lunations 3 times.
Once all the tape was in place, we checked our work and we could begin to paint. Now we felt like we were getting somewhere. I think we had been working for a week at this point. It’s hard to remember as it has all become a blur.
An overview of the taped labyrinth. It even looks beautiful in this state, but in truth it was nowhere close to where we were going. They say the half way point of any project looks like chaos! While this was not chaos, we did have some way to go.
Holiday Monday and more friends came to help. Here is Cynthia applying the first bit a blood red paint. We used rollers and small paint trays and kept the paint tray in a box to prevent spills.
A bit more paint and the labyrinth was starting to take shape.
The first coat of paint was finished and all the badminton lines in the room were painted out. We still did not know for sure what it was going to look like. Once we started to apply the paint we had to keep painting, applying the next coat of paint within 24 hours. In the end we had to buy extra paint for a third coat, as it was a very dark colour and needed the coverage.
We may have been able to paint the labyrinth but floor finishing is another matter all together. I joke with Vanessa as these photos make it look like she did all the work and I just took the pictures. This is the first of 3 coats of polyurethane applied to the whole room. We really want this baby to last as long as the building stands.
photo: Mike Fletcher
We tiptoed onto the labyrinth for this photo before heading to the lake for a rest. I have never done more than one day of labyrinth making at a time, as all of the labyrinths I have made to date have been temporary.
We have created a place to work, a home base to learn and explore and to offer workshops to support others in becoming the best they can be. Vanessa calls the labyrinth a technology for transformation. Lauren Artress, founder of Veriditas, our teacher and mentor says, facilitating the labyrinth is a spiritual path. Now that our rulers and the paint bushes are put away, we are busy making plan for illustrated talks and workshops, liturgies on the labyrinth and special evenings of live music to accompany a meditative walk on the labyrinth.
It has been a whirl wind of activity but, we have been working towards this moment for the past three years and I do believe we are ready. It feels like a great privilege to undertake this work and the only way I can convince myself that I can do this work is to be comforted by the thought that my job is simply to hold the door open for others. We have created the place -the labyrinth- and soon we will announce the time -the program- and the rest is left to providence.
Vanessa and I look forward to greeting you on the new labyrinth at Christ Church Cathedral this Fall. The Dedication will be held on Oct. 3rd during a labyrinth liturgy on the Feast of St. Francis.