Volume 43, Issue 3 :: Text and photographs by Cindy A. Pavlinac
Eure River Walkway
To celebrate the millennial appointment of Bishop Fulbert of Chartres and the octocentennial founding of the School of Chartres, a grand celebration was organized in 2006. Brilliantly colored light designs were projected onto the cathedral and monuments around the medieval city for Chartres en Lumieres. Candles lined the Eure River walkway, inviting people to stroll through Old Town to read the inspirational poetry illuminating the bridges. Built on ancient sacred ground, the cathedral is a stunning visual focal point and repository for the sacred in the local landscape. Traditionally, the great cathedral doors were opened on special days to allow the church’s blessing to flow out to all the consecrated sites in the surrounding countryside.
The Greeks colonized Anatolia in the eastern Mediterranean, founding large sacred precinct cities like Ephesus and Aphrodisias, Aegean, Turkey. The processional ways, such as the Tetrapylon Gateway and temple ruins draw the eye through an ancient landscape held in relationship to the surrounding mountains and nearby sea.
The ancient Kilmartin Valley in western Scotland is dotted with perplexing remnants of slender standing stones. Isolated groups once connected a network of processional avenues. The Ballymeanoch standing stones form two rows of parallel lines, aligned to the summer solstice sunrise. At more than four meters high, they are the tallest erect stones in the area. Henges, cairns, standing stones, and other prehistoric monuments raised over 5,000 years ago are visible in every direction, creating alignments with distant landscapes.
St. Columba’s Bay
The Sacred Space Foundation in England hosts retreats that use local landscape as an integral component of the experience. On the remote Scottish Isle of Iona, visitors partake of a long circumambulation of the island. One stop is St. Columba’s Bay, where the exiled monk arrived from Ireland in 563 CE. By the bay, a rock labyrinth nestles into the landscape.
Anasazi Cliff Dwellings
Entrance to the otherworlds, a cave in the sky holds the reconciliation of opposites. Built by the Anasazi, cliff dwellings, such as the Puyé houses in New Mexico.
Kivas, as seen at the Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, and astronomical alignments are all that is left of a culture that thrived across the North American southwest from 200 BCE to 1500 CE. The Anasazi reverence for the spirit connection between people, dwellings, and settlements produced straight lines across the landscape, flying across valleys and piercing mountains to bind the people in a single web of creation, oriented to balance at each equinox.
Roman Christians settled in Göreme, carving hermits’ cells, monasteries, and more than 400 Byzantine era churches into the soft tufa rock, such as the Göreme Monastery.
Three Rivers Petroglyphs
The full moon rises along the same line as the sun sets, over the Three Rivers in New Mexico, the site of 20,000 petroglyphs.
Sacred landscapes mirror the order of the earthly cosmos, providing context and defining regional culture. Terrain and climate inform society, civilization, spirituality, and attitude. The local spirit of place is greeted and given a precinct from which to interact with people ceremonially.
Prehistoric peoples built astronomical calendars with raised stones and petroglyphs. Classical Greek and Roman sanctuaries enhanced mountains and hot springs, aligning avenues and buildings for seasonal festivals. Medieval cathedrals rose on older sacred groves and wells, translating nature’s geometry into mathematical principles to depict spiritual order in soaring stone and glass.
Set apart from the secular, sacred landscapes have clear boundaries, gateways, foci, and protocol. A destination for pilgrimage, retreat, and rites of passages, they hold humanness in a larger context. They remind people of their place in the cosmos and evoke big questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Where do I belong? What is God? Where is home?
Sacred landscapes offer a philosophy where everything is holy, everything has layers of meaning, and everything experienced is symbolic. A mountain is a temple, a journey, a struggle, a triumph. The expansive scale of sacred landscapes humbles us, and our personal dramas are reduced to a fleeting blink in the presence of sites millennia old. Sacred landscapes teach us to recognize the cosmic patterns in ordinary things, and fosters a deeper way of seeing the world. Sacred landscapes align us to cosmic harmonics, so we may walk our path in the world awake and aware, balancing cultivated with wild, at home in the center of peace.