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Hopkinsville next in line to walk in circles

HOPKINSVILLE — A crowd of people find solace together while remembering Sept. 11. A woman battling breast cancer is comforted in her search for healing. Hundreds of people find a deeper connection to God.

These people all have one thing in common — they're walking in circles.

But their walking is not directionless. They are all following the ancient path of a labyrinth, and soon the residents of Hopkinsville will have their own downtown labyrinth to aid in prayer and meditation.

From late September through mid-October, labyrinth builder Marty Kermeen and his partner, George Puga, have built this symbolic piece of art in a lot beside Grace Episcopal Church on East Sixth Street. Funded by the church, the paver-constructed labyrinth is a part of its green space project.

Working 10- and 12-hour days, and even in the rain, Kermeen and Puga have constructed a replica of one of the world's most famous labyrinths, in the Chartres Cathedral near Paris, France. The Chartres labyrinth is more than 800 years old and was walked by medieval pilgrims as a way to symbolize the path to God.

"This is by far our most requested labyrinth," Kermeen said.

Kermeen, who is from Yorkville, Ill., has built about 60 labyrinths across the country in the last 15 years in both public and private spaces. He grew up as an artist and specialized in sculptures. In 1987 he started a high-scale landscaping business with Puga. He said they acquired a reputation for quality work and started doing paver mosaic logos for corporations, schools and other groups. Then, in 1998, a client asked Kermeen to build a labyrinth for a church.

"I literally became obsessed for three months until I figured out how to make one," Kermeen said.

His first public labyrinth was built along the Naperville, Ill., riverwalk park. Laby rinth patterns have been seen in a variety of human cultures around the globe for around 4,000 years. About 800 to 1,000 years ago, the labyrinth design began to be incorporated in Christian drawings and cathedral construction.

Kermeen said from that point on, hundreds of variations of labyrinth designs were created. However, Kermeen said that all of them have one defining feature: "a singular path that leads to the center."

The artist said labyrinths rely heavily on something called spiritual geometry.

"There are no random numbers," Kermeen said. Many of the measurements have significance to the Christian faith.

For example, it is said medieval labyrinths have 279 stones to the center. That is the number of days from the annunciation to the birth of Christ.

"There's all kinds of symbolism to unravel," Kermeen added.

Kermeen and his partner Puga spend around 1,000 hours creating each labyrinth. Half the time is spent in preparation of the pavers and creating the rosette center. The stones are hand-carved without the aid of lasers or computers.

The materials are then shipped to the work site and the base is leveled and prepared.

At the Grace Episcopal Church site, 100 pounds of compressed limestone were used to provide a stable base. Kermeen said he uses high-quality materials because he wants the one-dimensional sculpture to last for hundreds of years. "I'd like to think we're creating a historic landmark," Kermeen said.

He said the two biggest challenges of the work are its physical nature and the need to be constantly precise. "You have to keep the sacred geometry intact," Kermeen said. "I want to honor what the masters did."

A woman from Oklahoma wrote Kermeen and told of a profound spiritual experience she had while walking one of his labyrinths. She was a domestic violence survivor and as she walked the winding path, she saw her tears fall to the ground in the moonlight. She said during those moments she realized that she had value as a human being.

"It's pretty humbling to know you had a hand in that," Kermeen said.