July 21, 2024

Turn, turn, turn: Ashland’s Chartres-style labyrinth restored

Volunteers help out on the labyrinth renovation project at Trinity Episcopal Church on Friday, Sept. 15. The renovation process took almost a week to complete. Drew Fleming photo for
September 25, 2023

Location at busy downtown corner belies soulful solitude of the mini-park at Lithia Way and Second Street

By Peter Finkle for Ashland News

What is a labyrinth? Ancient. Mysterious. Stimulating. Soothing. Playful. Sacred.

It is a winding path, like life.

Where is a labyrinth? There are thousands all over the world! At churches, hospitals and schools; in meadows, forests and beaches; at parks and public spaces. Here in Ashland, you’ll find a beautiful labyrinth at the mini-park next to Trinity Episcopal Church at Second Street and Lithia Way.

Marie Chesnut and Stephen French work in the middle on Friday, Sept. 15, as labyrinth specialist Lars Howlett applies tape prior to new surface being applied. Drew Fleming photo for

Last week Tuesday, Sept. 19, labyrinth builder Lars Howlett completed the restoration of the Trinity Episcopal Church labyrinth installed by Robert Ferre in 2004. Howlett estimates he is one of only eight full-time labyrinth designers and builders in the country, so we were fortunate to receive his expertise in our town.

My first question to Howlett was: “Is there something important you want to say?”

He replied: “The biggest thing about this project is that it’s a restoration of a labyrinth that my mentor created. Robert Ferre is the master labyrinth builder I trained with as an apprentice from 2012 to 2015. He retired, and now I’m kind of ‘carrying the tape machine’ (i.e., ‘carrying the torch’) into the future. To help ensure his work continues and to be here where he was 19 years ago is very meaningful.”

On Saturday, Sept. 16, at about the half-way point to completing the renovation of the Trinity labyrinth in downtown Ashland, Lars Howlett looks over the status of his project. Trinity member Catherine Hendrick works away at right. Drew Fleming photo for

The Ashland labyrinth is an 11-circuit medieval Chartres labyrinth, based on the famous one inside Chartres Cathedral in France, which was built more than 800 years ago. Labyrinths at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and many others around the world are also based on the Chartres pattern.

‘People can come here to have a direct connection to the spirit, or inner wisdom, or a feeling of peace.
Lars Howlett

Since he has seen so many of them, I asked: “What is special about this labyrinth?” His short answer was: “What’s unique about this Chartres labyrinth is that it’s in this beautiful setting — and it’s a place for people from all walks of life.”

Howlett traveled to Ashland from Maryland, to where he recently moved from his 20-year home in the Bay Area, to work on the labyrinth

Restoring the labyrinth was a four-step process. The first was to clean and prepare the surface with two pressure washings. When Howlett arrived, he began applying masking tape — with help from church volunteers — on both sides of every line and “lunation” (the semi-circular outer notches of the pattern). Another layer of blue masking tape strengthened the lines for the next step.

Philippe Sprague of Ashland, a new member of the church, applies the crushed granite paste for the labyrinth renovation. The crushed granite paste looks like stone-ground mustard. Drew Fleming photo for
Philippe Sprague applies crushed quartz-granite paste defining the path through the labyrinth. Labyrinth expert Howlett is headed next for Yosemite National Park, where he’ll rebuild another labyrinth with the same color materials, chosen by pure chance — and convenient for Howlett. Drew Fleming photo for

For more:
To learn more about Howlett’s work or labyrinths in general, visit or
 For more on Trinity Episcopal Church, go to its website at
To donate to labyrinth upkeep (or any number of other church causes), click here, or call 541-324-4237

For the third step, Howlett used a crushed granite called GraniTite mixed with a liquid acrylic polymer in the form of a thick paste. No color is added, so this material won’t fade over time like paint does. He was then helped by 12 people working in shifts to apply this crushed granite over the fading painted lines of the 2004 design.

The GraniTite was troweled on by hand, as close to 1/8-inch thick as they could make it. After removing the two types of masking tape, Howlett and a helper detailed the crushed granite lines with grout knives and pumice stones to smooth them out. Hand-taped and hand-troweled, the labyrinth renovation is literally “handmade” — with small imperfections and lots of loving care. The final step in the week-long process was application of a protective sealant over the entire labyrinth design.

Howlett, who has designed hundreds of labyrinths in the past decade, described a variety of aspects that impressed him about this labyrinth. He was especially impressed with the beautiful garden setting.

As he put it: “Here there has been a lot of intention to create a container for the labyrinth. It’s especially important here because it is a busy intersection. The location is a benefit, because it’s highly visible: more people are going to find this labyrinth, they’re going to ‘happen’ upon it. It’s accessible: people can walk here from their homes or their work.”

Lars Howlett removing the lining tape. Drew Fleming photo for

He described the entire setting as “well balanced,” pointing out the low plants and ginkgo trees, the corner arbor, the columbarium and the fountain.

Two other aspects impressed Howlett when he walked the labyrinth. He liked how it is oriented to the fountain, which serves as a focal point when one reaches the center. When he stood in the center, he was happily surprised to find that each one of the petals of the central rosette design is oriented to one of the six ginkgo trees. He told me with a smile, “When you stand in each rosette, you face a tree. I had never thought about orienting the rosette to the landscape, so I think that’s really cool that the trees reflect the center.”

Final step: Applying a second coat sealant. Labyrinth expert Lars Howlett, left, works with church member Florence Thompson. Roughly 15 gallons of the sealant were used. Drew Fleming photo for

The final words of this story go to the church, which has offered this “gift to the community” for the past 20 years — and into the future. In its brochure “Trinity Garden: Labyrinth & Sacred Ground,” it says of the labyrinth and garden:

“A gift to the community from Trinity Episcopal Church, the garden is a place for prayer, meditation, introspection and relaxation. The sacred space includes a columbarium and sacred ground for the remains of parishioners, and a 42-foot Chartres labyrinth for all to use. Enjoy!”

Peter Finkle gives Ashland history and art walking tours. See for walking tour information, or to request a private tour for your group or family.

Before: Lars Howlett uses a tape machine early in the restoration process, after the area has been pressure washed, to mark off the walkway from the dividers. Peter Finkle photo
After: Lars Howlett, labyrinth designer, builder and educator, at the Trinity Episcopal Church labyrinth. Peter Finkle photo
The finished labyrinth, still wet and shiny, on Tuesday, Sept. 19. A ginkgo tree, center, is one of several lining the labyrinth. A columbarium is in the background. Drew Fleming photo for
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Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Email him at

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