Fri 16 Jul 2010
The rose has another life, a different life, one that interpenetrates our culture in many ways we scarcely give second thoughts too. The other life of the rose has many dimensions.
The Cathedral of Chartres- the Notre-Dame de Chartres Cathedral- not far from Paris has, embedded in its floor, one of the most famous prayer labyrinths in the world. Prayer labyrinths have been used, in the past, for hundreds of years as a matter of fact, for prayer, initiation, and spiritual growth. They had slowly fallen out of favor with the Church during the 17th and 18th centuries, and now some associate them with the New Age movement, but really walking the prayer labyrinth is a practice becoming popular again even in contemporary Christianity.
During the time of the crusades, the 12th century, when making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land at least once in your lifetime was something to which most Christians aspired, a commitment, but travel increasingly perilous because of the crusades, the Church decreed seven Cathedrals to be places where this commitment could be fulfilled by walking their labyrinths; the trip, and walking the labyrinth, became spiritual journeys in themselves. They became known as ‘Roads to Jerusalem’ from this practice. There is evidence pilgrims would traverse the labyrinth sometimes on their knees, in penance. In the case of Chartres a rather long way… Nowadays the labyrinth at Chartres is frequently lined with chairs for services, and only uncovered for walking on Midsummer Day, June 21st.
“In Greek mythology, the Labyrinth (Greek labyrinthos) was an elaborate structure designed and built by the legendary artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos. Its function was to hold the Minotaur, a creature that was half man and half bull and was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus. Daedalus had made the Labyrinth so cunningly that he himself could barely escape it after he built it.Theseus was aided by Ariadne, who provided him with a skein of thread, literally the “clew”, or “clue”, so he could find his way out again.” (Wikipedia)
The classical labyrinth, the one in Crete included, is the so-called 7-circuit labyrinth, meaning in traversing you make 7 circuits about the center, and can be traced back several thousand years. The one in Chartres is an 11-circuit design often found in Gothic cathedrals. Chartres is definitely one of its earlier representations.
The center of the labyrinth, instead of a place to escape from, as was the center in the original labyrinth constructed by Daedalus for King Minos, a prison for the Minotaur, instead the center was the end of a search, the New Jerusalem, the City of God. At the center of the Chartres labyrinth is a six-petalled rose.
From an article in the ‘American Rose Annual’ of 1977, by Jack Harkness, on Rosa persica:
“Twice we have had flowers of 6 petals, and of greater diameter than normal. In accounts of rose history, I have seen illustrations of the rose on the palace of Knossos in Crete. My six-petalled H. persica resembles that illustration more closely than any rose I know.”
The association of the rose with prayer and spiritual growth is an aspect of this other life of the rose within human culture that seems to have, like the rose itself, more than one fold, more than one meaning.
It is interesting the origin of the Labyrinth is in Crete at Knossos and the fresco with the six-petalled rose has its origin there as well. A six-petalled rose is a bit unusual. Until 1792 when it was melted down, for cannons supposedly to supply the army of the newly founded French Republic, there was a copper or brass plaque at the center of the Chartres labyrinth, showing the struggle between Theseus and the Minotaur.
The six-petalled rose has long been associated with Mary, mother of Jesus. The cathedral at Chartres is dedicated to her. And the six rose petals are sometimes taken as the six realms Mineral, Plant, Animal, Human, Angelic, Divine.