Labyrinths and the Natural Beauty of Iona

Since my wife’s and my pilgrimage to Iona was organized by Veriditas — “Home of the Labyrinth Movement”, interacting with Labyrinths was certainly part of the experience. For those of you unfamiliar with labyrinths, here is a brief description, borrowed from the Veriditas website:

The labyrinth is an ancient pattern found in many cultures around the world. Labyrinth designs were found on pottery, tablets and tiles that date as far back as 5000 years. Many patterns are based on spirals and circles mirrored in nature. It has only one path that leads from the outer edge in a circuitous way to the center. There are no tricks to it and no dead ends. Unlike a maze where you lose your way, the labyrinth is a spiritual tool that can help you find your way.

Today the most famous labyrinth is arguably the the eleven-circuit Medieval Labyrinth from Chartres Cathedral in France. This pattern, made of Beauce quarry stone and an unnamed black stone to delineate the path, was inlaid into the stone floor in 1201.

The Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral, France. Courtesy of By Marcimarc (Self-photographed) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Chartres labyrinth has been reproduced in many locations, and most permanent installations follow this pattern. However, it is quite complicated as seen in the schematic below.


This is very difficult to reproduce! However, there is another, older design that is quite easy to make on your own: the Cretan Labyrinth.

Cretan or Classical, labyrinth at Meis, Galicia, possibly from the Atlantic Bronze Age Courtesy of Froaringus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The internet contains many tutorials on creating your own labyrinth, here is one of the simplest.

There is one semi-permanent labyrinth on Iona. It was created in modern times (2001?) by anonymous individuals placing stones found on the beach in the pattern of a seven-circuit Cretan labyrinth. The stones slowly sink into the ground, or are moved by natural or human forces, so others occasionally renew the structure.

The labyrinth is located at Saint Columba’s Bay at the extreme south end of the island. It is about a 2.5 mile hike (one way) from the town center if you follow the best marked route, with a total elevation change of 206 feet.

The path to the labyrinth passes through beautiful heather and moorland. Along the way you pass through a golf course with unique hazards.

Looking back toward the village from a highpoint along the path
Part of the path to St. Columba’s Bay
“Bay at the Back of the Ocean”, a good place to picnic on the way to St. Columba’s Bay
Overlooking St. Columba’s Bay

Descending to the beach, you discover the labyrinth (with yours truly in the center).

No labyrinth pilgrimage would be complete without building your own labyrinth. Here the pilgrims build one out of seaweed on the beach , an ephemeral one, to be walked in meditation, and to disappear with the incoming tide.



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