New Labyrinth for a New Era
The sweeping Unity Labyrinth is a manifestation of both vision and labor, imagination and sweat. One man saw the possibilities, another caught his dream and brought it to fruition.
Ninety feet across, the Labyrinth dominates a courtyard at Unity Village, Missouri, adjacent to a century-old building that first housed the Unity Prayer Ministry and later the Unity seminary.
It replaced a similar-size labyrinth that was painted on a parking lot at Unity Village in 1997 and was trodden by spiritual seekers until the asphalt was worn and crumbling.
Two events, years apart, brought about the new stone Labyrinth.
Holding a Vision
In about 2008, the Unity World Headquarters executive team was approached by Drayton Riley, a member of the church on campus, Unity Village Chapel, who suggested replacing the parking lot labyrinth with one made of pavers and hedges. Riley even had a graphic engineer create a rendering to show how it might look.
Nothing happened at the time, but the idea stuck in executive Rev. Jim Blake’s mind. “I was struck by the possibility of a more sacred and natural setting and the potential beauty of a labyrinth constructed in that way. It just felt like it belonged here to me.”
After Blake became CEO in 2016, he still had a vision of a new labyrinth and knew it was a project he wanted to undertake at some point. Then talk turned to restoring the 1970s-era Activities Center building to create a new Event Center, where the old labyrinth parking lot would be needed for actual parking.
“I began to sit with where a new labyrinth might go and what sort of labyrinth we might design,” Blake said. “Upon finishing a meditation one morning in my office, I walked over to my office window, which overlooks the fountain, and the perfect location for the labyrinth came to me. We had a large, open area just outside Fillmore Chapel and across from the Rose Garden. It seemed the perfect place near the heart of campus for such a sacred structure.”
Finding the Right Partner
For the next 18 months, Blake researched labyrinth makers. “I finally found an artisan who specializes in labyrinths, and they had the perfect design methodology for creating beautiful, paver-based labyrinths that are low maintenance and yet last for generations.”
That artisan was Marty Kermeen of Labyrinths in Stone, based outside Chicago. He had personally constructed 75 labyrinths in North America, creating the designs and laying the stones by hand.
The Unity Labyrinth would be the largest for Kermeen by far, and it presented an opportunity to fulfill a dream of his own. For 18 years, Kermeen had wanted to create a labyrinth with benches at the center for contemplation and meditation, with soft lighting underneath the benches at night. “The idea needed a larger labyrinth, so it seemed to be a perfect fit,” Kermeen said.
Unity donors jumped at the chance to support a new labyrinth. “Raising funds for the Labyrinth came at a time when there was a resurgence of interest in labyrinths,” said Terrill Petri, vice president of philanthropy. “In fact, it was one of the easiest projects to raise money for that I have experienced in my 16 years at Unity.”
Within three months, seven contributors had provided more than $400,000 to cover the cost.
Beginning the Work
Kermeen designed the Labyrinth using the old parking lot labyrinth as a starting point. “It took a lot of thought and a lot of process and a lot of calculating and looking at the segments of bricks that are available throughout the world.” He wanted the bricks to reflect the buildings and barrel tile roofs of the Unity campus, with their sand and terra-cotta colors, and for the Labyrinth’s curves to simulate the many archways in the Mediterranean architecture.
The pattern he designed was loosely inspired by Chartres Cathedral in France, he said, but it is distinctive enough simply to be called the Unity Labyrinth.
The Unity Facilities team prepared the site in October 2021 by constructing a ring 90 feet across and filling it with 200 tons of crushed, washed limestone. The pavers that Kermeen had sourced and cut by hand were delivered on seven semitrucks pulling flatbed trailers.
Then Kermeen moved to Unity Village for the installation. He and his wife Debi stayed at The Arches, a home originally built for Unity founders Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, while they worked from February to August 2022 to lay out the Labyrinth. “I was out there working when it was 23 degrees, and I was out there working when it was 103 degrees,” he said.
Kermeen finished on August 19, 2022, having created the largest paver labyrinth in America.
A Massive Undertaking
How many stones does it take to create such a monumental labyrinth? “That’s a very difficult question because I don’t know which bricks you’re supposed to count,” Kermeen said. “There’s some pieces out there I’ve cut that are a quarter of an inch by three-eighths of an inch, and I don’t know if you consider that an entire brick. Do we count that one, or do we not count that one?
“I generally tell people there’s approximately five bricks per foot, which is a really random sort of vague number to apply to it, but let’s say it’s five bricks a foot. This [labyrinth] has 7,100 square feet inside of it,” including the concrete outer ring. The actual labyrinth works out to about 32,000 pavers.
“And he laid every single one of those bricks,” Debi Kermeen said.
At the end of the project, Marty and Debi picked up brooms to sweep 30 tons of sand into the crevasses between the limestone pavers. The Labyrinth was not sealed so it will be permeable to allow rainwater to soak into the ground.
What’s on the Path
The path through the Labyrinth begins with what the Kermeens call a “pausing stone”—and there’s a story behind it. Years ago, they sketched a labyrinth into the desert floor at Santa Fe, New Mexico, where children were invited to choose stones and place them in the pattern. When the children asked how they would know which stone to pick or where to put it, one of the adults told them, “Ask the rocks. They’ll tell you.”
Later a young boy approached them with a flat stone and said he wanted to put it at the entrance. Kermeen said, “One of the gentlemen that was with us says, ‘Why in the world would you want to block the entrance to the labyrinth? That doesn’t make a lot of sense.’ And the little boy, who’s probably 8, looked at him and said, ‘Because the stone told me it’s the pausing stone.’”
Ever since, the Kermeens have laid a pausing stone at the entrance to each labyrinth as a reminder to pause and prepare for the journey to the center.
At Unity, Kermeen also inlaid a winged globe near the entrance, one of the earliest symbols Unity used to represent spirit, soul, and body. He found the design in the Unity Archives, where he was invited to seek inspiration. “I even brought a blue stone to put there, which is very reminiscent of our blue planet. And I just thought it was a perfect thing.”
On the back of the blue stone at the center of the wings is inscribed a quote from Unity cofounder Myrtle Fillmore: “Pray for light and for courage to walk in the light.”
Located on the Art Line
Marty and Debi Kermeen were among the founders of the Labyrinth Society in 1998, which maintains a Labyrinth Locator listing 6,000 labyrinths in 86 countries, Debi said. It also supports the Art Line project, a ley line strung with walkable, interactive, outdoor artworks that stretch across the heart of America on the 39th latitude, which roughly follows U.S. Highway 40. The Unity Labyrinth lies almost at the center of the line.
Marty Kermeen: Right now is the biggest revival in labyrinth history. And it seems to be sparked by the enthusiasm in America. It’s an absolute blessing to be a part of something profound in human history.
Debi Kermeen: And there is no accident that the Unity Labyrinth is being made right now at this time in the world. It feels so needed.
Marty: In the heart of America.
Debi: In the heart of America, on the Art Line.
Marty: On the Art Line. And it’s big and bold and beautiful and inviting and I just think people are going to love it. I hope they do. We had a comment the other day from a gentleman that walked up that was one of my proudest moments. He said, “It’s brand-new, yet it looks like it’s always been here.”