Cristina Evans ’18 looked up into the clear, blue sky, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. She listened to the singing birds and the soothing sound of an acoustic guitar playing in the distance. For a moment, the beautiful afternoon almost made her forget about her upcoming exams.
As she opened her eyes and continued walking the winding brick path of Randolph College’s new labyrinth, she was most intrigued by her shadow.
“Sometimes it was behind me, and sometimes it was in front of me or even beside me,” Evans said after walking to the center of the labyrinth and back. “It felt metaphorical. When it was in front of me, it was like it represented challenges ahead. But when it was behind me, I felt like it symbolized that tough times in my life were behind me.”
The new labyrinth was funded by Katharine Stark Caldwell ’74, a trustee emerita and long-time supporter of the College. This most recent gift was her way of recognizing the leadership of Alice Hilseweck Ball ’61, Jolley Bruce Christman ’69, Lucy Williams Hooper ’73, and Virginia Hill Worden ’69 during a tumultuous time as the College changed its name and transitioned into a coeducational institution.
Ball, Christman, and Hooper each chaired the Board of Trustees during Caldwell’s term from 2002- 12, and Worden served as interim president of the College from 2006- 2007.
“Randolph-Macon Woman’s College gave these women the keys to a life more abundant and they, in turn, gave the College a chance for a bright future; they gave the College Vita abundantior,” Caldwell said at the dedication ceremony.
Labyrinths date back to as early as 3000 BCE and are used throughout the world for prayer, mediation, and relaxation. They have become increasingly more common in modern churches and hospitals. Randolph’s labyrinth is a replica of a 13th century labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral in France and was designed for Randolph by David Tolzmann of the Labyrinth Company.
Worden, who often walks labyrinths and has created her own at her home, believes one of many benefits is the chance to center oneself.
“The labyrinth has been used in some sort of spiritual or medicinal way throughout human history,” Worden said. “For those of us in modern times, it’s a wonderful tool for meditation.
“Its power emerges from what you see in it—that’s where the labyrinth holds its magic,” she added. “A lot of it is intentionality and how you use it. Some people use it as a problem solver. They stand at the door and think about an issue or a problem, then let their mind relax and walk through until they get to the center. Then they stand there until they get that ‘Aha’ moment.”
Jennifer Moore, the College’s chaplain, met with students during the spring semester to discuss the historical significance of labyrinths and how the one at Randolph might be used. Moore has encouraged students of all religious faiths to walk the labyrinth for spiritual reasons, or simply as a means of personal meditation.
The labyrinth has already been used for several events, including Reunion and baccaulareate. Worden believes the space offers the Randolph community a unique gift. Students, she said, especially need different ways to deal with their stress.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the noise of your life,” Worden added. “A labyrinth is a good place to get away from that noise and to reflect and re-examine yourself.
“Someone once explained to me that it’s like Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4. It’s this place you go to remember the magic. The beautiful part about a labyrinth is that it is a safe place. You can walk, pass people, skip; there is nobody telling you the right thing to do. It’s spirituality without dogma, without orthodoxy. You find your own style.”
The placement of Randolph’s labyrinth was intentional, with the Chapel to its side and the Dell below.
“One of the greatest things is that it looks over the Dell,” Moore said. “For the first three or four years a student is here, they’re trying to weave their way through this experience called college, and they can see that graduation is just over the hill.
What is a Labyrinth?
A labyrinth is a single path or unicursal tool for personal, psychological, and spiritual transformation. Labyrinths can be made of stones, brick, pavement, grass, gravel, and more.
What is it used for?
Labyrinths are thought to enhance right-brain activity as well as facilitate creativity and self enlightenment. They are used for various reasons, including prayer, meditation, and relaxation.
How do you use a labyrinth?
There is no right or wrong way to use a labyrinth. Start at the beginning of the path. (Leave cell phones and other distractions outside of the labyrinth.) Try to quiet your mind and simply follow the path to the center and out again. Along the way, you may choose to pray, meditate, think, reflect, or just let your mind wander.
How old are labyrinths?
Labyrinths date back to at least 3000 BCE and were a central feature in many of the European Roman Catholic churches in the Middle Ages. The most famous of these remaining labyrinths is at Chartres Cathedral near Paris, France. The labyrinth at Chartres was built about 1200 BCE. It is walked as a pilgrimage and/or for repentance.
What are the types of labyrinths?
There are many different types of labyrinths, including those in the Classical Family, Concentric Labyrinths, Roman Labyrinths, Medieval Labyrinths, Mazes, and Contemporary Medieval, Meander, and Three Dimensional.