SOUTHWESTERN VIRGINIA: Blacksburg parish offers labyrinth as a place of healing for Virginia Tech community

Gift made possible with Episcopal Relief and Development grant
April 21, 2009

Parishioners at Christ Church, Blacksburg have installed and blessed a labyrinth as a gift to the community in response to the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting tragedy. The purchase of the labyrinth was made possible by a grant from Episcopal Relief and Development.

The idea for the labyrinth came from a diverse group of parishioners who hoped to use the grant money to make a more permanent and physical expression of their journey toward recovery from the tragic events. The group, led by parishioner Lisa Hammett, agreed on the concept of a labyrinth that would be accessible to the entire community.

"As opposed to another memorial, we wanted to offer a place of renewal for the community," said Virginia Tech landscape architecture professor and parishioner Ben Johnson. Although the area is rich with hiking trails, there are no other labyrinths or guided meditation paths in the Blacksburg area.

The 21-foot-wide labyrinth is constructed with concrete pavers in the same famous design found at Chartres Cathedral in France. Johnson, who designed the space for the parish, coordinated a team of parishioners and 10 landscape architecture students who, in order to keep costs down, gave several hundred hours of labor to install the labyrinth. They are continuing to raise money to add plants and benches, as well as low voltage lighting to enable the space to be used for reflection any time, day or night.

As the labyrinth was installed over a period of five weeks, a parallel Lenten program allowed parishioners to explore other methods of spiritual journey. "We talked about spiritual paths in the broadest sense, such as religious orders and the sacred path of death," said Christ Church's rector, the Rev. Scott West.

In their final Lenten program, parishioners prayed over stones then placed them among the 32 tons of gravel in the labyrinth foundation. The center stone, cut by the Virginia Tech stone-cutting crew, is a piece of dolomitic limestone from a nearby quarry. The limestone, called Hokie Stone, is also the primary finishing material used on campus buildings.

More than 75 people attended the blessing of the labyrinth installment on April 19, the Sunday closest to the two-year anniversary of the shootings.

"We offer this place as a sacred space for healing," said the Rev. Scott Russell, campus minister and associate rector. "We offer this as a place for this community to find its own path of peace."