story and photos by Kayte Deioma
For a quick “time out” from the hustle and bustle of the city, head up Nob Hill to Grace Cathedral for a peaceful half hour of self-exploration on either of the two labyrinths on site. Labyrinths have been used as a tool for walking meditation in many cultures and religions for thousands of years. The deliberate path of spirals confined within a circle represents the journey of life. Grace Cathedral, the Bishop’s seat of the Episcopal Church of California, began construction in 1906 after the earthquake and fire and was finally completed in 1966. The Cathedral’s two labyrinths, added in the mid-1990s, replicate the design built into the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France around the year 1220.
On a rainy day, remove your galoshes to tread the wool tapestry trail laid on the floor of the church, behind the rows of pews. A labyrinth is not a maze, so there are no dead ends. It is a single circuitous path leading from the outer edge of the circle to its center. Inside the Cathedral you can pick up a flyer with suggestions for how to walk the path, or follow your own inclinations.
There are generally considered to be three phases to the walking meditation. The way from the outside of the circle to its center is the Purgation or releasing, where you let go of the distracting details of your life to quiet your mind and open yourself.
This prepares you for Illumination, the second phase, when you reach the core of the labyrinth. You can spend as little or as much time as you like at the center in “receiving” mode. Some people choose to experience “illumination” in a seated or kneeling position; others remain standing.
The final step is Union. As you retrace your steps back to the outer edge of the circle, you reconnect with the divine and the mundane, coming to a better understanding of how to apply the information you received during “illumination” to your everyday life.
The indoor labyrinth is available only when the Cathedral is open to the public and is not having regular services, a wedding or other special events. There is also an outdoor terrazzo stone labyrinth at the front right corner of the church that is always open.
Inside the Cathedral you can also pick up a self-guided tour brochure which will walk you from outside the front doors – replicas of Ghiberti’s Doors of Paradise from the Baptistry at the Florence Cathedral in Italy – through the murals, stained glass and tapestries that adorn the Gothic interior. A gift shop and Peet’s Coffee kiosk are located on the lower level, accessed by an elevator to the left of the main doors or from California Street.
1100 California Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 749-6310 (recorded info)
Check the web site for regular service hour and call the numbers above to find out when events are scheduled.