The Labyrinth at All Saints’ Tudeley, Kent

Churchyards may not be traditional gardens but in the context of this website I believe they can count, not least because they are so often havens of wildlife and nature.

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However, they DO have to contain something man made (apart from bones, of course) and the Churchyard at Tudeley is special because of the turf labyrinth that’s open for visitors.

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As my friend and Labyrinth expert, Alison, has taught me, labyrinths were a feature of many medieval cathedrals, and the mother of them all is to be found in Chartres Cathedral, so there is something right about them being found in churchyards. The model for the Tudeley one has been taken from a design found in Damascas, with helpful numbering to take you through to the middle, where a simple wood carving symbolises being held in safety.

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It was the perfect day to visit Tudeley, and I was lucky to have the perfect companion in Victoria Field (and her dog, Poppy).

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This was Vicky’s first visit to the church so I could experience – through her – the wonder of entering such a simple building…

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… and being taken by surprise by the beauty of the windows designed by Marc Chagall inside…

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… and as always, I spotted something different. Because this happens every time, I wonder if it is because of who I visit the church with. A trip several years ago with my ever-patient friend, Alice, taught me to stand close enough and long enough to see the artist’s scratchings which now make the design almost unbearably poignant…

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This time, I couldn’t help but notice how the light seems to spill over on to everything. It is almost as if it wants to colour the world…

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Indeed, there is a mixture of personal and public tension with this gift of the commission of a world famous master such as Chagall to remember the death of one twenty-one-year old local girl, Sarah d’Avigdor-Goldsmid, who died by drowning. Her family donated the windows to commemorate the accident, and subsequent spiritual support from the heavens, which is shown in the main window…

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When Chagall agreed, after some persuasion, to take on the commission, he visited Tudeley and after seeing the church was reputed to have said, ‘It’s magnificent, I will do them all.’ It took over 15 years for all eleven windows to be completed. And the scale of the beauty is breathtaking.

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And generous too. Although perhaps because of this, I have to admit that I found this simple hymn number display (I’m sure there is a proper word for it!) given in memorium for another 21 year old who died at the same time just as personally heartbreaking.

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We are indeed all equal, as this little sign in front of a back plain window shows….

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A lovely way of showing this symbolically is in the altar covering, where each word was stitched individually by different volunteers and then pieced together…

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… and perhaps even our glasses for our ‘breakfast picnic’ by the labryinth which – although plastic and definitely not beautiful – insisted on making their own reflections!

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After Tudeley, Vicky and I drove on (with only a little accidental detour) to the nearby St Thomas a Becket Church at Capel where we stood under the yew tree where, according to legend, Becket preached…

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Oh but look how lush Kent was looking yesterday:

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It was a remarkable morning, and one I wanted to capture with this poem … I’m not sure I’m quite done yet, but I hope it gives some spirit of the visit.

And after two Churches,
a picnic breakfast
amongst the graves,
a missed turn
down country lanes,
there’s still too much to say.

Our words are stained glass
overspilling windows,
the extra circle
round the labyrinth,
a second language
stitched in satin.

I follow you to your car
waving as you drive away,
and like an ancient echo
from a cracked yew,
continue our conversation
all my way home.

13 thoughts on “The Labyrinth at All Saints’ Tudeley, Kent

  1. Sarah, your words and pictures and interpretation of such wonderful places always makes me want to go to visit them. I knew about Chagall’s windows, but didn’t know where they were. Now I do and I will make a special effort to see them for myself. Thank you. xx

  2. Beautiful poem Sarah, and a wonderful record of a morning full of richness and beauty – and not a little interesting conversation along the way! xx

  3. I have visited with students to sketch and with AK a few years ago when we first hooked up creatively. It is a special place. The windows bringing the glorious light in.

  4. I imagine every time one goes there is more that becomes revealed, though my memory of that day is perfect. I loved Chagall depicting Jesus as smiling at everyone. Tudeley is uniquely beautiful; yes, I must come back. We didn’t even giggle in the labyrinth. A great mystery there…

  5. Pingback: Garden Visiting with a Five Year Old… | Writer In The Garden

  6. I just noticed that one of the churches in St. J Vermont has a labyrinth and was really surprised. We have a labyrinth here at the American Society of Dowsers and I thought that it was mystical before learning that many churches have them. Thank you for the story.

  7. We visited that church. I’m a Chagall fan, and didn’t quite believe the map which said this little village – has Chagall windows in the church! It still makes my heart ACHE to imagine her family in church, looking up to that window, and remembering their daughter in the moment that she drowned.

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