stepping stones of truth

A journey along the path of life - the stones can be rough, smooth or even wobbly!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

These feet were made for walking

This week they took me to the top of hill outside Winchester.......

Chapels or churches dedicated to St Catherine are usually on top of hills. But as far as I can tell no-one has satisfactorily explained why. I really didn’t go all the way to Sinai recently just to go to St Catherine’s monastery, but I have got a sneaking interest in such things. We do have a fine example or two in Dorset, especially the church above Abbotsbury. Of course, among other interesting facts about her is that she is the patron saint of spinsters, and the local rhyme goes

A husband, St Catherine
A handsome one, St Catherine

A rich one, St Catherine
A nice one, St Catherine
And soon, St Catherine

But it was to another St Catherine’s hill, outside of Winchester, that I went one day last week. The attraction was that it also has a turf labyrinth on it, and I also have a sneaking interest in those too! They were a part of old England, and in Shakespeare’s time nearly every village green had one. I suspect they were a legacy from our pagan past, but the church got hold of the idea, and in medieval times they began to appear in churches as a sort of poor man’s pilgrimage. The most spectacular example is in the floor of Chartres cathedral, if you happen to be passing by!

Now lets get it clear – a labyrinth and a maze are not the same. A maze has many paths and is puzzle, a labyrinth has just one path to the centre. Any more historical details, or any conclusions as to whether or not they have mystical significance will have to be up to you. I've walked a few and Ive never had a "Damascus" experience - apart from a "wow" once as I stepped out of one on Iona.

Ive done a bit of research here and there, and I enjoy searching them out, which was why I drove to Winchester and parked up near the river. My feet were going to walk a labyrinth. I sent a text to a friend as I looked at this view (clickie to biggie it as they say) It said “I have a lovely view of the cathedral. Up the hill I go.." The climb was worth it. Only the young and fit truants and dog walkers make it easily though. I turned round and looked at the cathedral, only it wasn’t. It wasnt Winchester cathedral at all. The cathedral was in the other direction! But whatever it was, it was huge and it was indisputably Norman.

I was very glad I was dressed for the weather – there was a high wind chill factor unless you were in the lee of the lovely beech wood crowning the top. The labyrinth was an interesting design. I am used to walking ones with an evenly spaced path in fairly parallel circuits. But this one, having an almost square outline, had changes of widths between the path and interesting bumps and loops. It was also very big. It took me twenty minutes to walk in, and another twenty to walk out – and I wasn’t creeping along, just a moderate, mindful pacing. It was in very good nick, considering that it dates from the 17th century and would very quickly grow over and get lost. The path is quite narrow, and you have to place one foot carefully in front of the other. You have to pay attention to your feet. It was so big that it was difficult to photograph. This is a better impression of it. Thanks for the link, Sig.

A few dog walkers passed by, giving cheery nods if I looked up; and a trio of local “yoof” passed the time of day - “nice up ere innit?” and looked a bit triumphant at getting up the hill. I suppose it was the most exercise they had had in years. It was quiet enough for me to do a bit of t’ai chi in the centre, and take the ubiquitous photo of my feet which graces the top of the post.

It was very tranquil reflecting on my inbound labyrinth experience, but it was turning a bit chilly and I had twenty minutes outward bound walking ahead of me. I was intrigued to discover about the “other cathedral" which I could see, and for that I would need to go down the hill back to the car, civilisation and the modern world.

To be continued.........


At 6:32 am, Blogger Gary Bawden said...

Sounds like a nice walk, I may give it a try, thanks for the great description. Feel free to check out my walking blog at "" thanks

At 10:38 am, Blogger Val said...

How intriguing, Val! Thanks for pointing out the difference between a maze and a labyrinth. You can really see how ancient it is, and how wonderful that it has been maintained.

I love the theme of a photo looking out over the top of your boots. I am looking forward to the continuation of the story!

At 7:41 pm, Blogger Kerri said...

It certainly does sound nice up there, albiet a little chilly. What a great place to visit. Sounds wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing this lovely place. Those ancient cathedrals must be fascinating. Love the St. Catherine's rhyme :)


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