The Cathedral Labyrinth at New Harmony, Indiana
A labyrinth is a patterned pathway, a unicursal maze with one way in and one way out, to be walked for meditation or as a place to renew and refresh after a day of work. It symbolizes the difficult path of life to reach true harmony and perfection. Labyrinth designs have been used by humankind for over 4000 years and were installed in the floors of early churches.
There are no deceptions on this path, no dead ends. The purpose of this single path labyrinth is to give you the opportunity to look within as you follow the path to the center and retrace your way to the beginning, completing the journey of the walking meditation. A barefoot walk is encouraged.
The Cathedral Labyrinth at New Harmony is the inspiration of Mrs. Jane Blaffer Owen and Kent Schuette, Professor, Purdue University, Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture in the School of Agriculture. Mrs. Owen is the wife of Kenneth Owen a descendant of the Robert Owen who purchased the Harmonist community in 1824.
New Harmony formerly “Harmony” was founded by George Rapp. Led by George Rapp, the Harmonists, a German community seeking religious freedom in the New World, moved to southern Indiana and built a community including a hedge labyrinth in 1814. In 1824 George Rapp and his Harmonist followers sold the 30,000 acres of land and it’s buildings and returned to Pennsylvania. The property was then purchased by Robert Owen, a Welsh utopian thinker and social reformer, and William Maclure. Residents for a model utopian community were recruited and a utopian societal experiment began in 1825 and dissolved in 1829. Although Owen's vision of New Harmony as an advance in social reform was not realized, the town did become a scientific center of national significance.
The first kindergarten, the first library and the National Geological Society all emerged from this experiment. Significant contributions to the study of entomology and geology emerged from this society.
Robert Owen became the first President of Purdue University. Kent Schuete was seeking funds to preserve the Entomology Building on the Purdue campus and called on Mrs. Jane Owen, a representative of the Owen family, to request financial support.
The result of the meeting between Kent Schuette, Purdue professor and Mrs. Jane Owen was not funding to preserve a building of architectural significance on the Purdue campus but rather a commitment to construct a full scale, granite replica of the Chartres labyrinth set in a park setting in New Harmony. It was to be designed specifically to reflect ancient geometry of the nave of the Chartres Cathedral in France. The history of this particular labyrinth pattern dates back to the 12th century when Christians used it as a symbolic pilgrimage walk.
Purdue Professors Kent Schuette, lead Architect, and Rob Sovinski traveled to Chartres, France in January 1997 to research the 12th century labyrinth which remains in the nave of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. They were accompanied on this trip by Robert Ferre with the St. Louis Labyrinth Project and Mike Blakley, Blakley Corporation, the stone contractor for the project. Down on hands and knees they proceeded to examine, measure and calculate the original labyrinth for duplication in Indiana.
The geometry of the New Harmony Cathedral Labyrinth is a very close replica of the Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth. Thermal finished and polished granite set in a 42’ circular design was specified to duplicate the design. Carnelian granite was selected. The granite was mined in South Dakota and fabricated by Cold Springs Granite Company, Minnesota. One hundred and nine stones two inches thick were cut to size, numbered and labeled to fit into the circular pattern. Each stone was then polished or thermal finished to create the design of the walking pattern on the surface. A computer generated full size blueprint was created by Blakley’s for each stone. Each stone weighed 500 pounds.
Mike Blakley made recommendations to the concrete contractor for reinforcement, waterproofing, vapor barrier and drainage to eliminate any water damage in the future and insure a quality, lasting installation. Top soil was removed, and footings poured per specifications to receive the thin set Carnelian granite. This was an intense effort of planning, calibration and fabrication before 38,980 lbs of granite could be hand set in place.
Jeff Koester Construction Company constructed the concrete pad and laid the stones to create the labyrinth. It was dedicated in October 1997 by Chanoine Francois Legaux, Rector of the Chartres Cathedral.
It is arguably the most beautiful labyrinth in the United States. The park setting includes a fountain by artist Simon Verity in which barefoot pedestrians may wash their feet after walking the granite path. Limestone benches compliment the garden site.