Richard Rhoda of Orient Credit: Joseph Cyr / BDN

HOULTON, Maine — A quick walk through the famed Chartres Cathedral’s medieval labyrinth near Paris 52 years ago planted a seed in Richard Rhoda’s heart that is only now beginning to blossom. 

Rhoda, a Houlton attorney, now plans to bring a near-scale version of the French masterpiece to downtown Houlton’s Riverfront Park as a gift to the community.

Labyrinths are patterned circuits designed for walking and meditation. In recent years, they have appeared on lawns, in the wilderness or even carved in snow. People walk them to experience balance and serenity. Rhoda wants Houlton’s labyrinth to inspire peace and greater understanding between cultures. 

“This is my gift back to Houlton in memory of my father and something to leave for the future,” he said, adding that he hopes the labyrinth will bring people to visit Houlton.

Once constructed, America’s Peace Labyrinth, as Rhoda has named it, will be located along the park’s walking path, on the left, just past the eagle monument, the flower garden and two weeping willows. Its 42-foot diameter will be nestled in-between two trenches and a meditative walk to its center should take about 15 minutes, Rhoda said. 

Rhoda will purchase about 9,000 colored concrete pavers, roughly 4-by-6-by-3 inches, from The Labyrinth Co. in South Carolina to form the maze-like pathways.  

America’s Peace Labyrinth will be 91 percent of the size of the meditative path inside Chartres Cathedral. At its center will be a five-foot granite stone bearing a message of peace. 

As Rhoda currently envisions the center stone, there will be engravings of a rising sun on the horizon indicating the dawning of a new day, an all-knowing eye atop the sun. Below the horizon line, will be the words “peace,” “shalom” and “salam” in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

Rhoda hopes America’s Peace Labyrinth helps bring peace to those who walk it, to America and to the world.

In 1964, Rhoda attended the Institute of European Studies for a semester in Vienna. He and 180 other students traveled around Europe in three Mercedes buses, stopping at historically significant locations along the way. But it was the stop at Chartres that really stuck. 

At the time, Rhoda knew nothing about labyrinths or the famed Chartres paths. And even though he and a few other students rushed through the meditative route, he never forgot it.

Historians believe the labyrinth at Chartres was created in the early 13th century and walked by royalty, peasants, warriors and peacemakers in those early years. At the time, a journey to the center was seen as a path to the Holy Land, a moral cleansing or a place for self-introspection, Rhoda said. 

Several studies cite the mental healing power of walking a labyrinth’s circuit, and they have been used in correctional and mental health facilities.

America’s Peace Labyrinth is given in memory of Rhoda’s father, Leslie “Les” Richard Rhoda, who owned United Cleaning Center on Bangor Street until his 1993 death. Les Rhoda was also very active in the Houlton community, serving on the town council and in many other leadership positions.

To his family he was an inspiration.

“Ever since I was little, he has instilled a sense of pride for my town,” wrote the late Daniel Rhoda, about his grandfather in a 1992 essay. “He says it might just be a little Northern Maine town in the middle of nowhere, but it’s a heck of a great place to live.” 

So when Rhoda decided to sell the dry cleaning business building at 34 Bangor St., he asked, “What can I do with the money?”

And that’s when the labyrinth idea struck.

A dedication ceremony is tentatively planned for Sept. 21, United Nations International Peace Day, in Houlton. Rhoda has already invited U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Gov. Janet Mills, and Jewish, Christian and Islam leaders who will speak about peace relative to their teachings. 

“This can be a place of understanding each other,”  Rhoda said.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Dick Rhoda’s father. His name was Leslie.

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Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli is a reporter covering the Houlton area. Over the years, she has covered crime, investigations, health, politics and local government, writing for the Washington Post, the LA...