The Origins of The Labyrinth At Annunciation Monastery

No doubt visitors driving to and from Annunciation Monastery and seeing stones placed in a circular arrangement called a labyrinth in the midst of the grassy plot southeast of the monastery wonder regarding its origin and purpose. How did the labyrinth originate? My first three associations with the word and concept came from metaphors and images in literature.

My first, rather superficial acquaintance, came during my novitiate year (1947) when I memorized Francis Thompson's lengthy poem, The Hound of Heaven." It begins:

"I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him down the arches of the years; I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind; and in the midst of tears, I hid from Him....From those strong Feet that followed, followed after."

Dante's Divine Comedy provided the second image of a labyrinth for me. He begins the account of his journey with "In the middle of the road of life, I came to myself in a dark wood where the straight way was lost. It is the beginning of a labyrinthine journey through Hell, the Mount of Purgatory and into Heaven." Dante uses this metaphor, not only for the entire journey, but especially uses this image to illustrate the winding labyrinthine path through the Mount of Purgatory. When Dante is greeted at the last circle of paradise by Beatrice, she hands him a rose. A six-petal rose is the symbol frequently inserted at the center of the labyrinth, based on the famous labyrinth in the Cathedral of Chartres.

My third association with the image of labyrinth came from Dag Hammarsjold's Markings published in 1964. Hammarskjold describes his significant mystical encounter with "Someone--or Something" on Whitsunday, 1961. He describes his subsequent "Yes" response in self-surrender as a being "led by the Ariadne's thread of my answer through the Labyrinth of Life, I came to a time and place where I realized that the Way leads to a triumph which is a catastrophe, and to a catastrophe which is a triumph."

The first labyrinth I actually saw, was at Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco where it was incorporated into the sidewalk outside the Cathedral. Later on, a labyrinth was also formed inside the Cathedral. When the time came to celebrate my journey of fifty years as a Benedictine sister, my classmates asked me to give the homily. I chose as the topic: "Monastic Labyrinth: A Way to God with the Gospel for Guide." Within the week following the jubilee celebration, I received a call from the Benedictine Sisters in Nanaimo, British Columbia to present a workshop on the labyrinth for them. This was the first of many workshops in sharing my study and insights on the labyrinth as a spiritual tool.


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