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October 10, 2006

Life's a maze ....

In the North Cotswolds and close to the Gloucestershire - Oxfordshire border is the little village of Wyck Rissington. There is not much, beyond its position on the Ickneald Way and its rather sleepy charm to attract visitors, but the little church here is a gem and houses two (and probably many other) rather interesting items. First is the organ, which is still as it was when Gustav Holst was the resident organist for this Parish while working as a composer of a wide range of music.

The organ at Wyck Rissington, still very much as Gustav Hollst would remember it.

The second is the legacy of the last Rector of this Parish until 1984, the Reverend Canon Harry Cheales. It is a liturgical maze, which he built in the garden of the Rectory, and which no longer exists except in the mozaic plan preserved inside the church itself. The maze was dismantled when the Rectory was sold on Canon Cheales death as it had been consecrated and formed a part of a liturgical "pilgrimage" and which could not therefore be left in secular use.

A mosiac plan of the Mystic Maze at Wyck Rissington.

Canon Cheales was an interesting man in many ways, the Diocesan Exorcist until his death and a man much interested by all matters spiritual and particularly the "mystic" religions. He built the Maze following a particularly vivid dream in the 1950's and led his congregation through it once a year as part of the regular service for that day. You will notice if you study it carefully, that there are Roman Numerals at intervals. These were the Pilgrim Stations and at each was a fine wood carving (all except three now decorating the Chancel of the church. Three have been "lost", probably stolen) and each represented an aspect of the Christian journey to faith.

Numbers I to V represent the five Joyful Mysteries:

I. Annunciation
II. Visitation
III. Nativity
IV. Presentation
V. The Boy-Christ in the Temple

Numbers VI to X represent the five "Sorrowful" Mysteries:

VI. Agony
VII. Scourging
VIII. Crowning with thorns
IX. Carrying the Cross and
X. Crucifixion

Finally the last part of the journey is through the five "Glorious" Mysteries -

XI. Resurrection
XII. Ascension
XIII. Descent of the Spirit
XIV. Falling asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary
XV. Coronation

The route is intricate, but the true follower is able to make their way from one station to another without ever crossing their track or returning along the same path. The final transition between Station XIV and XV requires the follower to cross the water, representing the full transition from follower to disciple and the full acceptance of the faith. At XIV a sign proclaimed "Life after death; If you don't believe it - turn back!" At this point the path entered a tunnel representing death, then crossed the water on stepping stones, the transition to a new life in Christ and finally reached XV after passing through a gate labelled "Gate of Judgement".

The final destination was a Sequoia Tree situated at the heart of the maze and representing eternal life. Every part of the maze had a symbolic meaning linked to some aspect of the Gospel.

Every year, on St Lawrence Day, August 10th, the Rector led his flock through the maze in the proper order pausing at each Station for Prayer and contemplation. It is a pity that the actual maze is now lost to us, but the memory of what it represented is still there.

Posted by The Gray Monk at October 10, 2006 02:12 PM

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