Treading lightly within a labyrinth—a simplified circular maze—one’s spirit, thoughts, and emotions can be explored, emerging from the body with each passing step, as the individual meditates on both the things that bring them pain and the things that bring them joy.
Dating back to the 13th century, labyrinths have long been used in a variety of cultures, by those across all faiths, as a form of holistic treatment to help people heal and reflect on their inner beings through meditation and prayer. From elaborate labyrinths pieced together by cobblestones to those patterned by weaving bushes and flowers, each labyrinth serves as a place for people to center and find peace.
A newly unveiled labyrinth located on the front lawn of Fresno’s Saint Agnes Medical Center is no exception. According to Sister Emily Demuth, the hospital’s chaplain, the 40-foot-diameter labyrinth offers a place for hospital staff, patients, their families, and members of the community to walk for peace, healing, and joy.
“It helps to heal the heart, mind, soul and body,” says Demuth. “Even our doctors use it to pray before they perform surgery or after a busy day.”
Modeled After French Cathedral Labyrinth
Frank Beazley, who retired last week after serving Saint Agnes as Vice President of Mission Integration for two and a half years, says the labyrinth was a project he pursued shortly after hearing of the idea from Demuth after his arrival.
Its location is just a few feet away from the Christ the Healer statue. In the future, Beazley says the plan is to add a fountain between the two and a true healing garden, complete with medicinal herbs and plants, on the lower half of the lawn. Plans for a simplistic yet soothing fountain have already been completed, and it is estimated a fountain would cost donors around $45,000.
The price tag for the labyrinth was a little heftier—around $140,000—but the result is a truly beautiful space modeled after the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France, the largest of its kind, which is only a mere two feet in diameter larger than the one that now sits outside the entrance to Saint Agnes. In fact, the labyrinth is so massive, Beazley says many assumed the hospital was constructing a second helicopter pad.
More than just a basic slab of concrete, the labyrinth features stamped white and black concrete designed by hand. It’s unlikely to crack, as its base is 10 feet deep. While the labyrinth itself is complete, benches will soon be added so people can sit and reflect further, and lighting will be added to illuminate the site at night and make it visible to patients from the windows of their hospital rooms.
Labyrinth Made Possible Through Donors’ Generosity
Also remarkable about the labyrinth, Beazley says, is that it was paid for entirely by three generous Fresno families.
“Fresno is a very generous town and these families not only donate to Saint Agnes but other hospitals and organizations. That is a remarkable reflection on Fresno.”
Beazley says he has enjoyed using the labyrinth in the mornings, while it is still shaded, and describes it as a great space where he can center himself and speak with God. For those using a labyrinth for the first time, he says he imagines the reflective process can be a bit daunting, but it’s essential to calm yourself, breath, and don’t focus on making it to the center—the path ahead is secure—but focus instead on the journey and meditating on your thoughts and feelings.
“You enter the labyrinth with your burdens, you meditate on what is troubling you and reach the center where you reflect and pray to whatever higher power you believe in, and then you exit the labyrinth opposite the way you came in and reflect on blessings, memories, and ultimately leave the labyrinth lighter and more grounded than you did when you entered it.”
Having access to a labyrinth as a source of healing is a great asset for a hospital to have, as so many who visit are in pain and worried about the health of loved ones.
“The labyrinth allows you to focus on the things that matter most to you and give up your worries to a higher power because these are things you can’t control,” Beazley says. “Especially when someone you know is in great pain or is dying, it’s extremely difficult. We suffer from the human condition. The circle of life is very difficult to understand and when you’re going through something and someone you love is in pain it’s important to find some peace. You enter the circle with these concerns and on the way out, hopefully you reflect on the positive memories.”