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Labyrinths offered for walking

By Sally Harris

Spectrum Volume 21 Issue 07 - October 8, 1998

Walking the labyrinth has been a meditation tool since the middle ages, and Darleen Pryds is bringing the tradition to Virginia Tech in the form of two model labyrinths. They will be available for people to walk and there will be programs to acquaint people with the labyrinth from medieval times through today.
"Found in many of the famous cathedrals of western Europe, labyrinths attracted pilgrims who wanted to replicate their longer, more-arduous journeys in an enclosed space," Pryds said. "Since the 1980s, walking the labyrinth has grown in popularity in the United States as a means of focusing and clarifying one's journey and meaning in life."
Pryds, who teaches in Virginia Tech's humanities program in the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, has created a model of the labyrinth found at Reims Cathedral in France so that visitors can explore the medieval form of meditation. A speaker from North Carolina will bring a second labyrinth, the more commonly known circular labyrinth of Chartres Cathedral, which also will be made available for walking. Pryds believes this is perhaps the first time a comparative labyrinth walk has been offered. The event is open to the public.
The labyrinths will be open Sunday, Nov. 1, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. in Squires Commonwealth Ballroom. Participants should wear heavy socks to walk the labyrinths, as shoes and bare feet are not allowed.
In conjunction with the labyrinth walks, Pryds, who is assistant professor of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, will give a talk on "Why are 20th Century American Women Attracted to Modes of Medieval Spirituality?" The talk will be Monday, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m. in 321 McBryde.
In the Middle Ages, Pryds said, women were lucky if they had two "career options": to marry and risk the perils of childbirth or to join a convent if they were wealthy enough. "So, why," she asks, "are so many women today drawn to medieval female mystics and their piety? Why was the compact disc Chant so commercially successful? And why are conferences and workshops on mystics such as Hildegard of Bingen sellouts?"
Pryds's lecture will explore the various forms of religious and political leadership and modes of medieval contemplation exercised by women from the twelfth through fifteenth centuries. From Catherine of Siena, who chastised popes and kings, to Rose of Viterbo, who preached publicly at a time when women were not allowed to preach, Pryd's lecture will include "the side of medieval piety not taught in Sunday School."
On Sunday, Nov. 1, from noon until 3 p.m., Jeanne Mullen, a lay spiritual teacher from Chicago, will hold an informal discussion on "Sharing the Labyrinth Experience." The discussion will be held in 345 Squires, and participants in the walks will be able to share their own experiences.
In addition, Jeanette Stokes, founder and present executive director of the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South, will present a lecture Sunday, Nov. 1, at 3 p.m. in 345 Squires. Her talk on "Walking a Sacred Path: The Labyrinth as Metaphor and Map" will explore the history, construction, and uses of labyrinths in the medieval and modern context.
"The labyrinth is both a metaphor for spiritual life and a tool in spiritual practice," Pryds said. "The audience will be asked to examine their own lives for images of the road or path. They will also be invited to walk the 40-foot-by-40-foot canvas labyrinth."
Pryds has created a link on labyrinths for people to see what they look like before the walk. It can be seen at http://www.cis.vt.edu/fac/pryds/default.html.
The labyrinth project is part of a week of events called The Commonwealth Humanities Week sponsored in part by the Commonwealth Humanities Endowment. It is also sponsored at Virginia Tech by the Programs in the Humanities in the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, the Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the Presbyterian Student Fellowship, and Tech Campus Ministers.