The Promise of Pilgrimage

The Promise of Pilgrimage December 3, 2013

Chartres Cathedral has been a destination for spiritual seekers, pilgrims, and journeyers for centuries. My first pilgrimage to Chartres catapulted my sacred imagination into a numinous place of wonderment. The smell of incense filled my nostrils. I remember the cool touch of the massive stone pillars as I leaned against them to catch sight of the soaring, blackened, vaulted ceiling that appeared to reach to the heavens. Later, I circumnavigated the great Cathedral, catching snippets of whispered prayers that led me to deep reverie.

Chartres Cathedral awakens the senses and calls the human spirit to acknowledge the presence of the Divine Mystery. It is no wonder that the lives of countless mystics and pilgrims have been transformed throughout the years by the majesty and sacredness that live within stones of the great cathedral.

The labyrinth, once walked so long ago by blistered feet, and crawled upon by the knees of the penitent who came seeking the New Jerusalem within the earthly shrine, is devoted to Our Lady…the Mother of God.  This is Chartres Cathedrale Notre Dame.  The massive reliquary houses its infamous relic, the Sancta Camisia.  Many believe this piece of gauzy fabric to be the veil worn by Mary at the time of Christ’s birth. Fact or myth? Does it really matter?  I think not, for those who come seeking miracles, transformation, or to simply immerse in the history and herstory of the ancient church go away somehow changed…in subtle and profound ways.

My passion for the sacred place, this wonder of the world, that is Chartres Cathedral has called me there many times over the years. My first experience of walking its great rose-centered labyrinth inspired my writing years later as I wrote my novel, Ink and Honey. Such is the power of sacred spaces.

In 2006, my friend and director of Seeking the Sacred Tours, Tricia Kibbe, and I led a women’s pilgrimage to Chartres. During our week-long stay we immersed in prayer, reflection, and exploration within the living, breathing body of the great cathedral.  She (the cathedral) revealed herself to us as we walked the labyrinth, attended Mass in the crypt, studied her sculptures and read the colorful, pictorial stories captured in the stained glass windows.

In May, 2014, Tricia and I will once again offer a pilgrimage for women at Chartres.  Like the medieval sisterhood of Belle Coeur in the story of Ink and Honeywe will enter the cathedral to receive her teachings and to drink from her holy wisdom.  We will reflect and renew our spirits as we dive deeply into the archetypal forms of women’s ancient wisdom, sacred community and sisterhood, and the themes of pilgrimage, and the labyrinth. We will immerse ourselves in French culture; food, music, and the language itself.

I look forward to entering the cathedral through the west portal beneath the carved figure of Mary on her throne.  I long to once again step into the Mystery, to listen, taste, behold, and marvel within the womb of the cathedral with my sister journeyers…to witness the birth of whatever the Spirit will reveal. This is what it means to be a pilgrim.  This is what it means to reach beyond the veil of time and space and enter into the heart of the numinous. Transformation awaits.


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