23 May 2022 • Service Labyrinth Funded, Construction Underway

A gift from Honorary Trustee Katherine D. Elliott ’66, L.H.D. ’08 enabled construction to begin this spring on a labyrinth that will offer the HWS community a new site for spiritual restoration on campus.

During the spring Day of Service, students started building the labyrinth on the grounds of the Colleges’ Richard S. Perkin Observatory, where the crushed stone path and local fieldstone boundaries complement the site’s natural setting.

As envisioned by Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ Office of Spiritual Engagement, the labyrinth will bring visitors into closer contact with nature and with their own spirituality, whatever form it takes.

Unlike a maze, a labyrinth is composed of a single, winding path, “symbolic of winding paths of our lives,” as the project’s organizers note.

Professor of Geoscience Nan Crystal Arens, who is also Junior Warden of St. John’s Chapel, explains that the project developed in conversation with students who are affiliated with the campus chapel, though the labyrinth is not tied to a particular faith.

“Although walking meditation, and the labyrinth in particular, is part of many traditions,” she says, “it is also a spiritual or meditative practice outside of any religious tradition.”

The design is based on medieval Christian labyrinths in France, featuring a single entry/exit point and a space in the center suitable for individual seating and as a focal point. The surrounding landscape will be planted with pollinator-friendly species.

As well as a peaceful location for individual meditative practice, the labyrinth is intended to be a site for memorial rituals reflecting a diversity of spiritual practices, public and private.

Through the HWS Days of Service and various campus clubs, student volunteers will be responsible for maintaining the labyrinth going forward.

A Geneva tradition for more than 25 years, Day of Service became Days of Service in 2008, when students and the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning added additional Days of Service throughout the year so more HWS and Geneva community members could get involved and create sustained relationships with community members.