Innisfail United Church

Christian -- Committed -- Caring -- Community

We acknowledge the responsbilities we have as heirs
to the legacy of Treaty Seven.

Labyrinth

The labyrinth is located outside on the east side of the church behind the sanctuary.

Cultural meanings

Prehistoric labyrinths are believed to have served as traps for malevolent spirits or as defined paths for ritual dances. In medieval times, the labyrinth symbolized a hard path to God with a clearly defined center (God) and one entrance (birth). In their cross-cultural study of signs and symbols, Patterns that Connect, Carl Schuster and Edmund Carpenter present various forms of the labyrinth and suggest various possible meanings, including not only a sacred path to the home of a sacred ancestor, but also, perhaps, a representation of the ancestor him/herself: "...many [New World] Indians who make the labyrinth regard it as a sacred symbol, a beneficial ancestor, a deity. In this they may be preserving its original meaning: the ultimate ancestor, here evoked by two continuous lines joining its twelve primary joints."

Labyrinths can be thought of as symbolic forms of pilgrimage; people can walk the path, ascending toward salvation or enlightenment. Many people could not afford to travel to holy sites and lands, so labyrinths and prayer substituted for such travel. Later, the religious significance of labyrinths faded, and they served primarily for entertainment, though recently their spiritual aspect has seen a resurgence.

Many newly made labyrinths exist today, in churches and parks. Labyrinths are used by modern mystics to help achieve a contemplative state. Walking among the turnings, one loses track of direction and of the outside world, and thus quiets the mind. The Labyrinth Society provides a locator for modern labyrinths all over the world.

 Christian use

Labyrinths, often of the Chartres design, began to appear on church walls and floors around 1000 C.E., and there are even examples from churches in the Roman Empire. The purpose of the labyrinths is not clear, though there are surviving descriptions of French clerics performing a ritual Easter dance along the path on Easter Sunday.Some books (guidebooks in particular) suggest that mazes on cathedral floors originated in the medieval period as alternatives to pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but the earliest attested use of the phrase "chemin de Jerusalem" (path to Jerusalem) dates to the late 18th century when it was used to describe mazes at Reims and Saint-Omer. The accompanying ritual, depicted in Romantic illustrations as involving pilgrims following the maze on their knees while praying, may have been practiced at Chartres during the 17th century.