I’m spending the night in a monastery converted into a hotel just beside Chartres cathedral. Joseph Campbell loved this place and wrote:
“The cathedral, in the form of a great cross, is oriented to the four quarters, with its altar facing east and with every detail, whether of proportion or of ornamentation, controlled and inspired by a Platonic-Pythagorean concept of the laws of numbers governing the universe. By these laws, made audible in music and visible in architecture, the soul is brought to accord with both its own spiritual nature and the universal ground: for, in the words of John of Salisbury, Bishop of Chartres from 1176 to 1178. “The soul is said to be composed of musical consonances.”
Joseph Campbell, The Mythic Image
Like much in Christianity, its Pagan past is not too far away. I wrote in more detail on the cathedral in Sacred Places, which is being re-published in a new edition in July, but here is an excerpt talking about its famous labyrinth:
‘Just as the holy well and the figure of the Madonna in the crypt bind Pagan and Christian practice together, so the use of the labyrinth bridges these two great eras of the collective European experience. Like every religion, however much it may be based upon ‘new revelation’, the past provides a fertile matrix for its development. The pattern used for the labyrinth is known as ‘Cretan’ – after the Greek story of Theseus who arrived in Crete to slay the half-man, half-beast Minotaur who lived in the centre of a labyrinth built to contain him. The story travelled far – and coins from Crete dated between 430 and 67BC show the design, which is now known as ‘Cretan’. This same pattern, though, has been found on rock carvings in Sardinia dated back 4,000 years and in India 3,000 years. In Italy the same design has been found dated to c.750-550BC and in Egypt to 30BC.
As a contemplative device for pilgrims, the resonances of the labyrinth run deep. As you walk the path that leads inexorably to the centre, you get tantalisingly close to your goal, only to be drawn back out to the periphery, until perhaps when you least expect it, suddenly there you are at the heart of the labyrinth facing the mystery of the Divine, and of your own Self too.’