About the Memorial Labyrinth

On September 11, 2003, a memorial labyrinth was dedicated to the 22 Boston College alumni lost in the 9/11 tragedy.

This labyrinth is a copy of the 13th-century labyrinth laid in stone on the floor of the nave of Chartres Cathedral. Labyrinths were common in Europe in the Middle Ages, and walking them was part of popular and religious culture. Labyrinths in sacred spaces represented the intersection of the human and the divine. This is a unicursal labyrinth, with a single path to the center and out again.

The symbolism of the Chartres labyrinth is complex. The circle, a perfect form, can be seen as symbolizing eternity, the universe, the repetition of the seasons, the cosmos—the overall perfect plan of the divine. The cross that bisects the circle can be seen as a symbol for Christ in the world. The meandering path is the journey of life. It can also be seen as a path of truth through the maze of choices that the world presents.

The path through the labyrinth constitutes the longest possible way to arrive at the center. It is important not to hurry the experience, but to submit to its structure and discipline. This path is an opportunity for meditation. Walk its circuitous route mindfully. It is a symbol of the universe, God's masterpiece.


Map and Directions

The Boston College Memorial Labyrinth is located behind the Burns Library at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and College Road.


Walking the labyrinth

A Guide to Walking the Labyrinth

By Rebecca Valette

Walking the Meditation Labyrinth

  • Stand still for a moment at the opening of the labyrinth and take a deep breath. If you wish, say a brief prayer or invocation. Then, as you begin walking the labyrinth, focus on the path and stay centered in your body.
  • When you get to the center of the labyrinth, stay there for a while. Notice any sensations in your body, or if there are any changes in your awareness of self, time, or surroundings.
  • Take time to spend a few moments in each of the "petals" of the rosette. You may find this "flower" offers the perfect space for prayer.
  • The center marks the halfway point of your walk. To return follow the same path out to the entry point. Pause a moment at the end to bring closure to your meditation.
  • The labyrinth is a single path (or unicursal) labyrinth — there is only one path in, and the same path out. This means that you may meet people coming in the other direction.
  • It is perfectly all right to pass someone, if you wish to go at a different pace. Step into the next path as you pass, and then return to the path you were on.
  • If it is not too cold, you can walk the labyrinth barefoot. You can even run or dance along the path. Enjoy the contact with the ground.
  • Sing or hum to yourself as you travel the labyrinth. Or repeat a prayer. Or simply smile and enjoy the fresh air.
  • If you are with a group, you may want to hold hands and move together in a great spiraling dance. Or you can all walk meditatively in a single file.
  • At a quiet time, you may wish to do a Zen meditation walk. Place each foot directly in front of the other, move slowly, take one step with each breath and focus on your feet.


Five Paths through the Labyrinth

There are many approaches to the walk. Begin by quieting the mind and then follow the path that is right for you.

  • The Path of Silence
    Empty your mind of the hubbub and commotion of the outer world. Open your heart to the silence of the walk.
  • The Path of Image
    Follow the images or dreams that arise in your imagination.
  • The Path of Memory
    Walk the sacred path in the memory of a friend or family member who has passed away.
  • The Path of Prayer
    Recite a prayer, a Bible verse, or a line of poetry.
  • The Path of Questioning
    Concentrate on a question. Don't expect an answer. Simply be content to explore the possibilities.

The Labyrinth of the Cathedral of Chartres

By Rebecca Valette

Around the year 1200, as the Cathedral of Chartres was being built, a large labyrinth about forty feet across was set with dark blue and white stones into the floor of the nave of the church. Similar labyrinths were placed in other French Gothic cathedrals, such as Amiens, Saint-Quentin, Rheims, Sens, Arras and Auxerre. Around the 18th century, all of these labyrinths, except the ones at Chartres and Saint-Quentin, were suppressed. The labyrinth at Amiens was later restored in 1894.

These cathedral labyrinths were laid out according to the same basic pattern: 11 concentric circles that contain a single meandering path which slowly leads one to the center rosette. The path makes 28 loops, seven on the left side toward the center, then seven on the right side toward the center, followed by seven on the left side toward the outside, and finally seven on the right side toward the outside, terminating in a short straight path to the rosette.

The Middle Ages was a time of pilgrimages. Since most people could not make the grand pilgrimage to Jerusalem, considered by Christians to be the center of the world, and symbolizing the Kingdom of Heaven, they would make pilgrimages to important cathedrals such as Canterbury, Santiago de Compostella and, of course, Chartres. Once at Chartres, they would end their pilgrimage by walking the labyrinth to the center, and then slowly retracing their steps to regain the "outside world."

Historically, the labyrinth of Chartres has been referred to by four different names:

  • le dédale (or maze, named after Daedalus, the legendary architect who built a labyrinth for King Minos of Crete).
    Just as Theseus struggled against the Minotaur, so man struggles against evil, and is guided back out through the maze by Ariadne or divine grace. The labyrinth of Chartres, however, is not a complex maze but a single path with no hidden corners or dead-ends.
  • la lieue (or league: which is a distance of about three miles).
    Although the length of the path is only 260 meters, in the Middle Ages some pilgrims would walk the labyrinth on their knees. This exercise would take about an hour, or the time needed to walk three miles.
  • le chemin de Jérusalem (or road to Jerusalem).
    By walking the labyrinth, the faithful could make a substitute pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and be united in spirit with the Crusaders.
  • le chemin du paradis (or road to paradise, the heavenly Jerusalem).
    By walking the labyrinth, the faithful trace the path of our long and laborious life on earth, beginning with birth, at the entrance, and ending with death, at the center. The way out symbolizes purgatory and resurrection.

Across these interpretations of the labyrinth of Chartres, we see how medieval theologians and artisans adopted pagan myths and symbols to express Christian concepts.