Ecclesiastica: Sacred Spaces
Throughout history, mankind has built structures to express its sense of divinity in concrete form. From circles of stone to Chartres cathedral, the intangible has been made real.

Note: all images can be clicked to enlarge them, some images are immersive panoramas and have a 360° field of view.

Knox Presbyterian Church (Toronto, Ontario)

In 1895, the original church was severely damaged by a fire that began at the Robert Simpson Building next door. This fire destroyed the steeple, which was never fully rebuilt. It was eventually decided to move the church in 1906, and in January 1909, the church officially moved into its present home at 630 Spadina Avenue just west of the University of Toronto, at Harbord Street; the memorial stones were also moved into the new building.

The mixed Romanesque Revival and Gothic Revival building was designed by congregation member James Wilson Gray.

Saint Hilda’s By The Sea (Sechelt, British Columbia)

St. Hilda’s By The Sea is a small Anglican church in Sechelt. Set among the verdant green trees of the temperate rainforest, it is an eclectic mix of old and new: retired British pensioners polish the altar crystal and set out flowers for Sunday services, presided over by a gay Chinese-Canadian priest. Tai chi mixes with Celtic mysticism in a melange that is somehow stronger than its parts. And isn’t that what community is all about?
Walking the labyrinth is an ancient spiritual act that is being rediscovered during our time.

Usually constructed from circular patterns, labyrinths are based on principles of sacred geometry. Sometimes called “divine imprints”, they are found around the world as sacred patterns that have been passed down through the ages for at least 4,000 years. When a pattern of a certain size is constructed or placed on the ground, it can be used for walking meditations and rituals.

Labyrinths and their geometric cousins (spirals and mandalas) can be found in almost every religious tradition. For example, the Kabbala, or Tree of Life, is found in the Jewish mystical tradition. The Hopi Medicine Wheel, and the Man in the Maze are two forms from the Native American labyrinth traditions. The Cretan labyrinth, the remains of which can be found on the island of Crete, has seven path rings and is the oldest known labyrinth (4,000 or 5.000 years old).

In Europe, the Celts and later the early Christian Celtic Church revered labyrinths and frequently built them in natural settings. Sacred dances would be performed in them to celebrate solar and religious festivals. During the Middle Ages, labyrinths were created in churches and cathedrals throughout France and Northern Italy. These characteristically flat church or pavement labyrinths were inlaid into the floor of the nave of the church.
The Chartres Labyrinth

The labyrinth constructed at St. Hilda’s is an 11-circuit labyrinth. It is a replica of the one embedded in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France. The design of this labyrinth, and many of the other church labyrinths in Europe, is a reworking of the ancient labyrinth design in which an equal-armed cross is emphasized and surrounded by a web of concentric circles. As with many Christian symbols, this was an adaptation of a symbol; that is known to have predated the Christian faith. This medieval variation is considered a breakthrough in design because it is less linear than the preceding, more formal, Roman design that developed from quadrant to quadrant. The medieval design made one path as long as possible, starting at the outer circumference and leading to the centre. Fraught with twists and turns, the path’s meanderings were considered symbolic representations of the Christian pilgrim’s journey to the Holy City of Jerusalem and of one’s own journey through life. This classical design is sometimes referred to as “the Chartres Labyrinth” due to the location of its best known example. The labyrinth was built at Chartres in the early 13th century (~ 1215 A.D.). No one knows the source of this classical 11-circuit labyrinth design, and much of its spiritual meaning and use has been lost.
Labyrinth or Maze?

The difference between a labyrinth used for meditation and mazes can be confusing. Mazes often have many entrances, dead-ends and cul-de-sacs that frequently confound the human mind. In contrast, meditation labyrinths offer only one path. By following the one path to the center, the seeker can use the labyrinth to quiet his or her mind and find peace and illumination at the center of his or her being. “As soon as one enters the labyrinth, one realizes that the path of the labyrinth serves as a metaphor for one’s spiritual journey. The walk, and all that happens on it, can be grasped through the intuitive, pattern-discerning faculty of the person walking it. The genius of this tool is that it reflects back to the seeker whatever he or she needs to discover from the perspective of a new level of conscious awareness.”

McDougall Memorial Church (Morleyville, Alberta)

McDougall Church at Morley, Alberta, was built in 1875 by Reverend George McDougall. It had long been the desire of George McDougall to open a mission among the Stoney-Nakoda and Blackfoot people of southern Alberta. Numerous factors had, up to that time, prevented a missionary effort, but by the early 1870s, McDougall felt the time was right. The Morley mission would not only serve the Aboriginal people, but also afford an opportunity to establish a more permanent relationship with the Blackfoot Nation.

Established during a period of discontent among the Aboriginal population, the Morley mission was received with mixed feelings. Many welcomed the arrival of the missionaries, Others among the tribe, however, were less receptive and kept their distance. Today, this historical mission church is a popular stop for photographers.

Erdene Zuu Monastery (Karakorum, Mongolia)

The Erdene Zuu Monastery is probably the most ancient surviving Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. It is in Övörkhangai Province, near the town of Kharkhorin and adjacent to the ancient city of Karakorum. It is part of the World Heritage Site entitled Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape.

The Erdene Zuu monastery was built in 1585 by Abtai Sain Khan, upon the (second) introduction of Tibetan Buddhism into Mongolia. Stones from the ruins of Karakorum were used in construction. It is surrounded by a wall featuring 100 stupas. The number 108, being a sacred number in Buddhism, and the number of beads in a Buddhist rosary, was probably envisioned, but never achieved. The monastery temples' wall were painted, and the Chinese-style roof was covered with green tiles. The monastery was damaged by warfare in the 1680s, but was rebuilt in the 18th century and by 1872 had a full 62 temples inside.
© 2012 Robert Prior