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Susquehanna Life

Day Trips - Walking Pennsylvania Labyrinths

Aug 29, 2015 01:33PM ● By Erica Shames

A labyrinth, a circular aggregation of rocks, is what Connie Fenty encountered one day while exploring Bucks County's Tohickon Creek.  Connie is a board member of the International Labyrinth Society, so she immediately recognized the labyrinth pattern, though its creator chose to fade anonymously into the forest.  It was a classic Seven Circuit Labyrinth.  She explains that this pattern is defined visually:  standing in the center looking toward the top of the structure, seven paths are visible.

From where we started

Whoever created this meditative arrangement of stones in the quiet forest was reproducing an ancient and respected art form. The most famous labyrinth, dating from the 13th century, is in Chartres Cathedral in France.  It is so widely known that similar structures are identified as Chartres Style Labyrinths.

A labyrinth is a circular array of stones that leads the walker on a wending path around and around toward the center.  The structure permits a long, meditative stroll within a limited space.

The labyrinth took form in the human mind thousands of years ago, as evidenced by labyrinths in ancient Greece and Egypt and among Native American peoples.  Christianity has formalized the modern design; but, since diverse cultures employ it, churches today regard it as more a spiritual than prescriptive structure.

How and where it works

Church-affiliated labyrinths sometimes boast an educational component.  Monaghan Presbyterian Church in Dillsburg features a symbol of the Presbyterian Church built into the Chartres-style design, and a Celtic cross as well.  For information on this publicly accessible labyrinth and brochures explaining more about labyrinths in general, contact them at (717) 432-4234.

Some labyrinths in Pennsylvania are purely recreational.  Penn's Cave in Centre Hall provides an example.  Seven feet tall and 4800 square feet in extent, the Miner’s Maze features timed checkpoints that encourage competitive walking.  Athletic teams, children and even business associates delight in the structure, which was built in 2012 of wood and metal-resin.  Terri Schleiden, marketing director of Penn's Cave, marvels at its popularity.  For further information, call (814) 364-1664.

According to www.labyrinthlocator.com, Pennsylvania features 47 labyrinths, but certain of them stand out for their cultural currency.

Connie Fenty is the originator of a creative labyrinth design, the Common Ground Labyrinth, now installed in Playwicki Park, in Lower Southampton Township, Bucks County.  Common Ground is a formal name for the design, but the site where it is situated is notable common ground where Lenni Lenape people lived in harmony with colonialists for several years.  Connie refers to the labyrinth as a “good representation of the overlay of cultures on the site.”

The unfiltered meeting of religion and spirituality that the two cultures enjoyed here is the essence of universal symbols like the labyrinth.  The Common Ground design is popular with both Christians and New Age adherents.

Evolving idea

Connie first encountered her inspiration at Chalice Well Gardens in Glastonbury, England, when she was struck by a pattern known as the Vesica piscis.  She noted the perfect balance of the form and later learned that students of the art refer to it as sacred geometry, wherein the circumference of each circle rests on the center point of the other.  The central space within the overlap of circles represents a common ground of peace.

The pattern was at first an answer to her reflections on the imbalance of female and male energy that causes such universal conflict in the world; later, it became a political symbol when she entered it as a walkable design in the World Trade Center Memorial Competition.

Schools employ the pattern as a Venn diagram in order to teach the theme of human commonality, while Christians display it on bumper stickers as a fish motif.

A second notable labyrinth is located at the Michener Art Museum (wwwmichenermuseum.org), in Doylestown.  Author and arts supporter James A. Michener, Doylestown's most famous resident, conceived the idea of a regional arts museum in the early 1960s, and the museum finally opened in 1988.  It houses a famous exhibition of Pennsylvania Impressionist paintings.

A major labyrinth is currently under construction at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Artemas, in southcentral Pennsylvania, at their retreat center, Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary.  According to Caroline Krystek, contact person for the labyrinth project, this labyrinth uses a modified classic design, featuring eight, rather than seven circles. It measures 264 feet in circumference, 84 feet in diameter and 5,540 square feet in area.  Set on a high hill, the labyrinth marks seasonal solstices and offers fine sunset views of the picturesque mountain terrain.

This labor of love currently comprises 280 stones, with over 500 more to go until expected completion in three to four years.  The four inner circles and part of the fifth are complete as of now.  Through a Donor Stone Program, supporters sponsor individual stones for $20.  Carrie Krystek, at (814) 784-3075, is the contact person for the project.

If you go

The labyrinth, the Community Labyrinth, hosts a number of walks each year that honor events of social significance.  Autumn 2015 begins with a Full Moon Walk on September 27th, followed by a Veteran's Day Walk to inspire reflection on the sacrifices of our soldiers.  Illuminated strolls on December 2 and 3 offer a peaceful counterpoint to the synthetic stresses of the upcoming holiday season—and illustrate an important reason for the new popularity of this activity.

Other labyrinths open to the public include Kearns Spirituality Center and can be reached by walking past the front of the building, then walking toward the right. Anyone is welcome to walk the labyrinth at any time. Brochures about the labyrinth are located at the beginning of the walk.

For more information, call 412-366-1124 or e-mail kearns@cdpsisters.org (link sends e-mail).

In an age of internet circuits linking points A and B, it is reassuring to know that the most significant thoughts do not arrive by way of straight lines.

Written by Bill Rozday, who frequently writes on the spiritual values of nature.

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