I’d like to have a bumper sticker that says “I Brake for Cathedrals”. It doesn’t matter that there are no cathedrals within 500 miles of my home, I just want to be prepared. Seven weeks in Spain with a daily cathedral fix wasn’t enough to satiate me. I can’t get enough of stain glass, vaulted arches and high alters. So of course when I took Caroline to Paris when she was 17 I had to go Chartres Cathedral that rises majestically above a small town on the outskirts of Paris.
In 2007 Caroline and I spent 10 days in Paris going to every museum in the guide book, she a budding art student and me wanting to relive the month I spent in Paris as a college student. We did take a side trip to Bruges, Belgium and on the way back I struck up a conversation with some fellow Southerners. I mentioned I was going to Chartres on Friday. They said they would be there too and that was the only day the labyrinth was open.
A driver picked us up in a mini-bus along with another family for a morning in Chartres and afternoon at Versailles. I asked if there would be time to walk the labyrinth. He replied the unforgettable words “there is no time in Chartres”. Those prophetic words rang in my ears the entire day as I stepped out of human time into Divine time.
Caroline laid on a bench, a bit sick with a virus I had the day before, and I took the tour. We wandered around admiring the blue stained glass windows that are unique to Chartres. The blue is said to filter the light to make the space harmonious for initiation. No one knows how it was made but the formula was thought to have been brought from Jerusalem by the Templars. I marveled at the enormous pillars that had held the soaring ceiling for 800 years and toured the choir and alter. Chartres had been the home of a mystery school a thousand years ago and was built on holy underground streams.
The tour guide and other family wandered off to find some breakfast and I headed to the labyrinth. I had dreamed a long time of that special labyrinth. The circular walkway weaves in and out, back and forth, teasing you with the center so close just to take you back out to the edge and then magically you have arrived. I had never walked a labyrinth before, I wanted to save that first experience for the holy mother of all labyrinths at Chartres.
The labyrinth is in the nave and normally covered with chairs but on that Friday the chairs were moved to surround the magic space and several dozen people were seated watching the walkers. I’m normally a very self-conscious person and that would be unnerving to have people watching me, but I didn’t care, I had a task to do that I had waited a lifetime for. Just as I was about to step on to the path I saw my friends from earlier in the week just a bit ahead. We were the only ones walking, we smiled knowing that we had come back together for this sacred moment. In the center we met and hugged, never said a word, because to speak would have broken the spell of that infinite moment.
I slowly walked back out so happy to have that small break in my life to walk this internal pilgrimage to the heart, to come back out with the gift of a moment of eternity. There was only one thing I could do and that was to go sit in the chapel of Our Lady of the Pillar, a beautiful statue of Mary and baby Jesus dressed in golden robes and crowns. She is the black Madonna, the earth goddess, a reminder of the druid shine that was on that land two millenia before. I sat there and gave thanks for my morning of perfect sacred timelessness.