Searching for a Labyrinth: France

This is the first in a two-part series of my experiences in Europe searching for labyrinths.
Labyrinth at Chartres - I didn't see this one.

Labyrinth at Chartres – I didn’t see this one.

God remembered us in our low estate

                                                His love endures forever.

and freed us from our enemies.

                                                His love endures forever.

He gives food to every creature.

                                                His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of heaven.

                                                His love endures forever. – Psalm 136:23-26 (NIV)

In preparation for our recent trip to Europe, I did some research to see if there would be any labyrinths in the cities and towns we would visit. Surprisingly, there weren’t any listed in Paris. I didn’t have much better luck when I checked the area in Brittany and Normandy we would be biking on. There was, of course, the famous labyrinth at Chartres, but we wouldn’t be close to there.

I did have some luck when it came to Bayeux, however.

Bayeux Cathedral, France

Bayeux Cathedral, France

The Bayeux Cathedral has a labyrinth dating from the 1300/1400’s. The labyrinth is an unusual 10-circuit design. The problem was going to be getting there while the cathedral was open.

We spent two nights in Bayeux on our bike trip. The first night we biked in from Pont du Hoc in early evening. We only biked about 22 miles that day, but by the time we arrived and found our rooms, the cathedral was closed. The next day we biked 35 miles to Omaha Beach. Tired, we chose to take the shuttle back to the hotel and hopefully stop at the cathedral before it closed at 6:00. We arrived at 5:45.

Youngest was with me, and we walked quickly around the cathedral to find the labyrinth before they closed. I couldn’t locate it on the map nor could we find it. I remember reading that it was in the chapter room and this room wasn’t open to the public. I remembered seeing a little gift shop as we were walking around, and we hurried back.

Luckily the priest was there. I asked if we could see the labyrinth. They just looked at me. The priest said something in French to the man next to him. The only word I understood was “exception.” The priest explained that the labyrinth was not open to the public.

But they would make an exception.

I thanked him, and another man led us to the chapter room. He didn’t speak English but that didn’t keep him from talking to us. He let us in the chapter room, and I felt like we were on a behind-the-scenes tour.

The chapter room is still set up for use. Somehow – despite the language barrier – I was able to understand that people sat in the chairs based on rank, with the lowest near the door. I felt bad as the man was trying to tell me about a picture that hung in the back of the room, but while I could make out “Adam” and knew he was talking about the fall, it was mostly lost on me.

Chapter Room, Bayeux Cathedral

Chapter Room, Bayeux Cathedral

The labyrinth was visible by the placement of the bricks in the floor. Unfortunately, we could not walk the labyrinth. The man showed us the tiles near the wall, and we could see how beautiful it must have been. There wasn’t really much to do, except look at it. I wonder how many monks, priests, bishops, noblemen and others have walked that labyrinth. I wonder how many long meetings were made tolerable by being able to trace its path in your mind.

Chapter Room floor

Chapter Room floor

Labyrinth at Bayeux Cathedral

Labyrinth at Bayeux Cathedral

Youngest said it was smaller than he thought it would be. He’s right since most of the labyrinths I’ve experienced are big enough for at least one person, if not more, to walk in. But this labyrinth wasn’t built for the public. It was built for private, contemplative use by monks and priests. And this labyrinth was built in a time when space was a luxury rather than something we take for granted.

It was well after 6:00 as we were leaving. The organist was practicing for mass. Youngest went outside while I sat down for a while to just listen and ponder.

 

 

Eldest doesn’t like the food on his plate to touch. We give him a lot of grief about keeping it all separate or eating all of one thing before he will eat another. A meal is meant to be enjoyed in its wholeness and not by its parts. The flavors mix together bringing new experiences. They belong together when they complement one another and when they are dissident.

Out of necessity, we often compartmentalize our lives the same way. But I don’t think this is how God wants us to experience our lives. God likes casseroles.

That day we had been to the German military cemetery, Omaha Beach, and the American military cemetery. The weather was lovely that day and many families were enjoying the beach. We had biked the route that Allied forces followed to get from the beaches to liberate Bayeux. The ride and scenery were gorgeous. We closed the day with an opportunity to see this magnificent cathedral and the privilege of viewing this private labyrinth. Somehow the French I didn’t understand and the horrible and beautiful things we experienced that day, the physical weariness of our bike ride were captured in that moment, in an empty cathedral, while the organist played.  God is good, his love endures forever.

Bayeux Cathedral (interior)

Bayeux Cathedral (interior)

 

 

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