An arts-informed inquiry
A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
The unicursal labyrinth was first inlayed in the pavement of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Chartres in France in 1200 CE, coincident with the flowering of the School of Chartres, where the Ars Liberales curriculum formalised dialectic inquiry, technologies of the imagination, and recursive spiritual development.
Reclaimed in recent years for walking meditation, the labyrinth functions, in the context of post-structural, holistic and aesthetic education, as a site of experiential learning and a technology for guiding the imagination into transformative patterns of thought.
Its image symbolizes the order-versus-confusion binary characteristic of the integrative processes of personal development.
This research project focuses on understandings drawn from existing literature on the historical, mythological, and mathematical labyrinth, the accounts of individual seekers and practitioners, and the author’s personal experience from five years as labyrinth “keeper” in an urban parish church in Canada.
Three personal essays document this involvement with the labyrinth from the dramatic first encounter, through intellectual quest and personal pilgrimage, to responsibility for installation and maintenance as public sacred art in a host community.
The inquiry includes an extensive literature review of the historical site and the many avenues of approach to understanding the interaction between place, identity, and learning that occurs in the labyrinth.
Grounded in hermeneutic aesthetics and the methods of auto-ethnography, phenomenology and arts-based research, the inquiry investigates the connection between this ancient, mathematically significant site, the experience of reflective engagement with it, and contemporary interpretations of pilgrimage conceptualised as intentional seeking in the developmental process of self.
Implications for education lie both in the labyrinth’s symbolic function as a public art form demarcating and validating ritual space for care of the self, and in its capacity to activate the incubation of individual and collective imagination, bring about shifts in perception, restore personal equilibrium and perspective, and access tacit knowledge and inner wisdom.
The medieval designers intended that users experience the characteristic sense of integrated consciousness and heightened imaginative function, a heritage that is to be welcomed at this historical juncture.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Table of Contents iv
1. Introduction 1
2. Objectives of the study 5
3. Method 7
4. Theoretical orientation 13
5. Literature review 19
6. Understanding the Labyrinth 33
7. The Labyrinth as Laboratory 53
Thread: An essay about origins + labyrinthine learning 63
Cathedral: A reflection on pilgrimage and hermeneutics 90
Parish: An essay about coming Home 145
8. Implications for education 174
Acknowledgments and Photo Credits 230
Department of Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the
University of Toronto