Coming upon the Six Senses labyrinth as one walks in the gardens was literally a breathtaking event. It seems to hang in space. Originally there was water that surrounded it, but currently it rests about two feet above a rock bed whose colors blend perfectly with the pattern above. This mosaic labyrinth resonates with the history of the many mosaic labyrinths that were installed across the Roman Empire during the first to fourth centuries AD. Many are still available for viewing, including four in Portugal in Conímbriga.
When I contacted the Six Senses Spa at the Penha Longa Resort to inquire about their labyrinth built in 2006 and listed on the World Wide Labyrinth Locator, they warmly invited me to come and visit. Laura Esculcas, who uses the labyrinth as one of her coaching tools when doing programming through the spa, also answered, offering to host me for a labyrinth visit.
Visiting different labyrinths allows one to experience the ways in which changes to a base pattern can affect a labyrinth experience. This 11 circuit labyrinth mirrors the pattern of the medieval labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral in France, but with its own modifications. Instead of the Chartres labyrinth ratio of 1:4 for the center to the overall design, this center was extremely small; it only had room for one person. In walking around the perimeter of the labyrinth I noticed many other special features of this labyrinth. There were variations in the sizes of the chalices at the turns, as well as a thickening of the line between the six and seventh circles. The entrance path had three rows of terrazzo tiles as did the two outer circles, while the pathways near the center had four. Circling the labyrinth were 123 extensions made of two tiles each (at Chartres there are 113).
The experience of praying this labyrinth was full of the warmth of the Portugese sun, a sense of the center (Laura had suggested trying to keep it in view for the entire walk) and the beauty of the mountainous landscape that surrounded us. When I arrived at the center I found many circles—three concentric circles in the center of the center, and a flower of six circles around them. Walking out allowed me the time to consider metaphors related to the mosaic nature of this labyrinth and my life, as well as and the small plants that were seeking a home between the stones of the pattern and all that they symbolized for me.
I did not measure the diameter of the Six Senses Spa labyrinth, but it is significantly smaller than its inspiration in the Chartres Cathedral. While the center was an intensely personal space, the labyrinth itself had room for all three of us. The experience of turning in this labyrinth is accentuated by its small size (in comparison to Chartres); one feels the turns quite strongly, especially because the innermost pathways are very short.
Different labyrinths offer different opportunities. The size, ratios, and pattern of a labyrinth have a direct impact on the experiences of those who use it. I am grateful for those whose creativity influences the materials, shapes and placement of labyrinths all over the globe. Before I left Chartres, someone asked me, “What is a labyrinth doing in a spa?” The unspoken subtext was, “Does such a labyrinth have anything to do with walking in faith if it isn’t in a religious setting?” I can imagine many uses for this spa labyrinth, including a place for reflection and prayer on personal well-being and honoring one’s body as the temple of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). For me and for my son it offered a time of deep prayer, connecting us to our own centers and the Center of All.
I am grateful to the Six Senses Spa for their generous hospitality and to Laura for making time to share this labyrinth. I offer special thanks to my son Dan who joined me on this labyrinth adventure and helped with analysis and photography.