Winter Solstice Devotion
Candlelit Labyrinth Walk
6.30pm Friday 22 December: St Mary & St John
‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Both the year’s, and the day’s deep midnight is.
Walking the labyrinth is a medieval prayer technique which emphasizes stillness and centered-ness even in the midst of journey. The labyrinth is not a maze or puzzle to be solved, but a path, not discernible all at once from the outset, which takes the walker around the still centre a number of times before reaching it, and again a number of times before exiting the labyrinth.
Pictured above is the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France. This labyrinth, dating from about 1200 AD, was by no means unique to this medieval cathedral, but an expression of an established devotional practice widespread across Christian Europe.
The Winter Solstice (21/22 December) has been marked by Christians at various times and places in different ways. It is arguable that the placing of Christ’s conception on 25 March, and his birth on 25 December, is due to a desire to baptize the celebrations associated with the equinox and the solstice (though those dates are slightly inaccurate).
Candles are often used in Christian devotion at the time of the solstice. In northern Europe crowns of candles are worn by girls on St Lucy’s Night, whose feast day (13 December), due to slippage in the Julian calendar, approximated to the solstice until the calendar reforms of the 18th century. This is why, in the 17th century, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, John Donne, considered St Lucy to mark the shortest day in his poem A Nocturnal Upon St Lucy’s Day