The soon-to-be-finished and dedicated outdoor labyrinth at St. Helena’s Grace Episcopal Church is made up of 517 pieces of precision-cut granite, shipped from Iowa.
Creative Edge Master Shop, of Fairfield, Iowa, uses water-jet technology to cut granite within thousandths of an inch. “No one has ever done that before. This is a first-of-its-kind labyrinth,” said the Rev. William “Father Mac” McIlmoyl.
Father Mac and the Grace congregation will dedicate the labyrinth at 10 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 15, and the whole community is welcome. Besides McIlmoyl, speakers include Mayor Alan Galbraith, Ken Taylor, owner of St. Helena’s T&O Masonry, the Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress from San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral and Jim Belilove, owner, president and CEO of Creative Edge.
“We really consider it as a gift to the entire community, to the Napa Valley and to the world,” McIlmoyl said. “It is another contribution to the spiritual practices on part of Grace Church.” Those include Sunday worship, small groups, centering prayer groups, Zen meditation groups and now a labyrinth that is being finished on the Grace Church campus, just off Spring Street.
The labyrinth is based on the original labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France. “The labyrinth is a symbol for the womb of Mary,” McIlmoyl said. “In the cathedral of Our Lady in Chartres, the labyrinth was designed as the throne room for the Queen of Heaven, who is Mary. In fact, the entire cathedral is devoted to her,” he added.
“The labyrinth is the womb of Mary, you walk into the center of the labyrinth and are reborn in Christ,” McIlmoyl said. “You know where Paul says, ‘It is no longer I who lives but Christ lives in me,’ so the labyrinth is designed as a pilgrimage of rebirth in the womb of Mary.
“The whole experience consists of three parts, three R’s, which is what the Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress, the guru of labyrinths, teaches,” McIlmoyl said.
The first is “release.” As you go into the labyrinth, you let go and leave behind the activities of your daily life.
The second is “receive,” McIlmoyl said. “As you do this meditative walk and come into the center, the heart of the labyrinth, where there is a divine encounter, that’s where you receive, enabling God to fill your heart with whatever God has in store for you.”
The third “R” is return, which is the strategy “with which you’ll implement what you’ve received,” McIlmoyl said. “How to bring that out into your life.”
Father Mac said he’s been thinking about building a labyrinth for about 20 years – he’s been pastor at Grace Church for the past 24 years and will leave his post next May — and he brought it up at various times, but to no avail.
“You know we’ve done so much building here and have had to raise so much money that whenever I would bring it up, that we ought to think about a labyrinth, people would say, ‘We don’t have time to think about a labyrinth. It will be a miracle if we get built what we have to get built, let alone any peripheral landscaping,’” McIlmoyl said.
It wasn’t until all the buildings were up and all were paid for, after Father Mac famously burned the mortgage dressed in his kilt, that “even I began to entertain the possibility,” McIlmoyl said. That was about a year ago.
After that, Steve Heller started the conversation and spoke to Robert Ferre, a man who has written several books about building labyrinths. He has been to Chartres Cathedral some 53 times and has measured its labyrinth. Heller wanted to know what was the state of the art for a labyrinth, and Ferre replied that he had just sent his CAD drawings of the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth to Creative Edge Master Shop.
“It’s all computer-generated,” McIlmoyl said. “They just plunk the numbers into a computer and the water technology takes care of the precision of the stone cutting. The masons that put this together of T&O Masonry, which are pretty much considered the leading masons in this part of the country, said they’ve never seen the stones cut with such precision,” he added.
Ground was broken at the end of July. Kevin Horowitz, a church member and owner of St. Helena Construction, prepared the site during much of August. In September, they poured the concrete slab, which was painstaking, since it had to be absolutely flat. “If there had been any kind of undulation, the stones would not have laid flat,” McIlmoyl said.
The workers laid the stones in the center first and worked their way outward. They would put down one course of stones at a time and then a mason would come behind them and set that course. They did one round at a time.
At first, it was slow going, because everything had to be placed just exactly right and the workers took their time, but then, after they learned it and got rolling, the work just really picked up, McIlmoyl said.
Of the 517 granite pieces that make up the labyrinth, only two were broken in shipping and another two were broken during the installation. They will be easily replaced, since each piece is individually numbered and is stored in a computer at Creative Edge Mastershop.
The stones alone cost about $110,000 and the whole project cost $250,000, which includes a great deal of landscaping. Jonathan Plant, a local landscape architect, did the landscape design for the church pro bono. “We’re taking the opportunity to think about water conservation and we’re thinking about changing over from so much lawn to maybe not so much,” McIlmoyl said.
When the work is done, McIlmoyl said, it will be magnificent and “will be here a long time.”
During his 24-year tenure, the church campus has been significantly rebuilt and the 1875 stone church has been seismically retrofitted and enlarged.
“Things have been significantly spiffed up,” McIlmoyl said. “The campground is no doubt a little bit nicer than when we got here.”
McIlmoyl will serve as pastor until May 15, 2016, which is the day of the Great Feast of the Pentecost. Reflecting back on 24 years, he said, “It’s been a heck of a good run. I’m looking at the labyrinth as a swan song. It’s the last real effort of mine at Grace Church and I’m very proud of it, I’m very proud of the church. Every square inch of it has changed.”