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Entries in Chartres (3)


Chartres (once more)

We've been to Chartres before.

But in that winter month five years ago the labyrinth wasn't open.

And this time it was.

At first, I was a little irritated. Some people were breezing across the labyrinth inattentively—in a hurry to get somewhere else and seemingly oblivious to the fact that they were jostling right through others' prayer.

But it was as if each mindful step was clarifying itself nonetheless.

And soon those of us who were walking

...were walking the labyrinth together.

In a labyrinth sometimes you seem to be moving in the opposite direction from another—and then the next moment you're face-to-face. When you seem furthest from the center, at the next turn you might find yourself entering it.

Nor in that winter five years ago did the cathedral put on a cosmic light-show.






It feels like we're back on our long pilgrimage again.

With places and friends so beautiful and dear that it always feels too unbearably soon to leave them.

"Keep your pilgrim-self alive," we reminded ourselves five years ago when we were heading homeward.

And we're reminding ourselves of that wisdom once again.


Beginning to create the labyrinth

We've been creating the labyrinth for our next Red Egg gathering: Opening the Circle.

And there have been many hands and eyes on the work. There are so many ways to approach a labyrinth. So many ways to vision it.

They appear all over the world, often in strikingly similar forms. There is the classical, or Cretan, form—so named because of an association with the famous labyrinth that Daedalus designed and in which Theseus slew the Mintotaur.

But that form also has reappeared in Iceland, Scandinavia, and India

...and in the American southwest and elsewhere.

And then there is the more mathematically precise—and in some ways more esoteric—medieval and Christianized form at Chartres, which itself has begotten progeny,

...including at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, a hub of the labyrinth revival in our own age.

And there are myriad variations upon the themes as well.

And just as there are different forms and different ways of interpreting them, so too are there different ways to imagine, walk, meditate, and practice how these forms relate to the paths and journeys in our own lives.


La Vierge Noir

She is the Queen of the Heavens. Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles back home in California,

…as blue and celestial

…as the sky itself.

No wonder that the spires of cathedrals dedicated to her, like Notre-Dame de Chartres, seem to reach upward almost without any gravity at all.

She is dark and watery and seems to emanate from the very ground

…like the springs in a hidden cavern, where she is often found.

In fact, she is most often found just where pre-Christian mother or earth goddesses have been as well -- like Isis, or Artemis in Ephesus, or Tonantzin on the hilltop of Tepeyac, which was re-named Guadalupe after la Virgen appeared there and spoke to Cuauhtlatoahtzin in Nahuatl with as much courtesy as if he were a prince.

She is as mysterious and powerful and necessary as our own shadow.

“There are actually two churches at Chartres,” guide Malcolm Miller says, “the one you see above ground…”

“…and the other church is the crypt.”

That is, there is the Queen of Heaven

And Notre-Dame Sous Terre. Our Lady of the Underworld…or Underground.

And there is also a second vierge noir at Chartres.

Notre-Dame de Pilar.

Debi: “I have spent a lot of time with Our Lady of Częstochowa.

“In fact, there is an image of her back home on our living room wall.

“To me, she represents the fullness of the Black Madonna. Iconographers have tried to paint over the sword slash that an invading soldier made, but the scar always reappears...because she won’t remove herself from our own suffering.

"She comes from the depths to meet us with unconditional love.”

Chris: “I’ve been to Częstochowa twice before, but in the summer when the church was packed, and I was pressed far back at the doorway.

“But now we were here in the spare dead-cold of winter -- and you could feel the devotion of the people who have come to pray here all around you .
“And you can see the signs of those who have been healed.”

D: “Usually she's dressed so ornately. But imagine her without the brocaded garments and jeweled crown. You can understand her humility better then."

“I see why both men and women place flowers, kiss the pedestal she stands on, and reach up to touch her feet. Children sometimes come to sing to her.”

C: “Say more about why you don’t like it when she’s robed.”

(This is Notre-Dame du Puy en Velay above.)

D: “If you look at Notre-Dame de Rocamadour, there is the sense of her emerging from the underworld—from a mysterious incubation state. For me, the dressings interfere with her essential nature.

“If only I could be as natural as her!”

“In the chapel at Rocamadour, they have refrained from dressing her in a robe. A woman told us that townspeople saw how the added garments didn't fit her, and they insisted they be removed.

“Isn’t this simplicity a reason why she’s so particularly beloved?”

(Sculptures of the Black Madonna are often very old, and even then, often they are re-fashioned from images even older. For example, Notre-Dame de Rocamadour dates from the 12c, but she’s been venerated from at least the 5c – and who knows how long before that? A cave just a kilometer or two away has cave-paintings that have been dated to 25,000 to 30,000 years ago.)

C: “I always dislike all the human accretions. Once Notre-Dame de Rocamadour stood on a plinth on the bare rock of a cave. Then the vault of the cave collapsed, and the current shrine was built.

“But in winter you can still find enough time alone here -- in this grotto with a spring far up a sheer cliff-wall."

"And centuries of pilgrimage and tourism haven't changed her.”

D: “Isn’t this a similar attraction we feel for romanesque churches like Sant-Antimo?

...where the natural world

...coexists with the spirit world art?"

C: “She is like our shadow – all the dark, earthy places in ourselves we fear and which our high ethereal spiritualities even try to destroy.”

D: “...while she keeps her own austerity, which invites us to meet her heart-to-heart—if we dare.

“Listen. There's still water dripping in a corner of the chapel. Can you hear it?

"I’m sure Our Lady still feels a quite at home.”