Christian Labyrinths

One of the earliest Christian labyrinths is in the 4th century basilica of Repartus at Orleansville in Algeria. It is set in a pavement near the church entrance, and is c. 2.4 metres (8 feet) wide. The words Sancta Eclesia in the centre distinguishes it from the Roman pavement labyrinths, which it otherwise resembles in form. There is also a labyrinth in the 4th century Roman basilica at El Asnam in Algeria.

During and after the Reformation in Europe many labyrinths were destroyed for one reason or another. This destruction includes six of the seven medieval labyrinths in the “new Jerusalem” Cathedrals, the only one remaining being at Chartres Cathedral.

In the 1990s there was a major resurgence of interest in labyrinths. One of the characteristics of the Western post-modern society is that many people search for meaning and purpose in life outside the traditional church organizations. The labyrinth seems to speak to people as a spiritual tool.

A key part of this renewal has been instigated by Dr Lauren Artress, Canon for Special Ministries at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco during the 1990s. Dr Artress founded the Veriditas Project, initiated the construction of two permanent labyrinths at Grace and set up a labyrinth planting programme.

The Veriditas Project sent out over 800 ‘seed kits’ world-wide to groups looking for help to build their own labyrinth and was in touch with some 500 groups internationally. They also sold numerous full size portable labyrinths and smaller finger labyrinths.

Dr Artress had a vision of labyrinth walking around the world as a preparation for entering the new Millennium, and Frederic Wallis House labyrinth users joined in.

Labyrinth building is now taking place in churches, retreat centres, schools, hospitals, prisons, cemeteries and open public spaces. Predominantly this is occurring in North America and Europe but the numbers in the Southern Hemisphere are also on the increase. The labyrinth at Frederic Wallis House was the first permanent outdoor labyrinth in Australasia and since relocation is now the first permanent outdoor labyrinth in an Australasian hospital.

Labyrinth History

A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that represents a journey to our own spiritual centre.

They have been used in many different religious and spiritual ways by many peoples, amongst being used as solar and lunar calendars, Labyrinths have long been used for purposes of prayer, meditation, and reflection.

The labyrinth dates back to prehistoric time, and is perceived as a sacred space.

It has been an integral part of many cultures, such as Celtic, Mayan, Greek, Cretan, and Native American.

The labyrinth predates Christianity by 3500 years, from medieval times the labyrinth have been in Christian churches and spiritual places.

Some of the simplest and most ancient labyrinth patterns have been found in the Mediterranean and Celtic lands.

The oldest existing Christian labyrinth is probably the one in the fourth-century basilica of Reparatus, Orleansville, Algeria.

Christian labyrinth designs are modelled on pre existing labyrinths created by earlier cultures.

The new Cathedral labyrinth patterns are all laid out according to the same basic pattern twelve rings that enclose a meandering path, which slowly leads to a centre rosette.

The development of this high medieval Christian seven circuit labyrinth was a breakthrough in design.

Its path of seven circles was cruciform (shaped like a Cross) and therefore incorporating the Christian symbol.

Use of these labyrinths flourished in Europe throughout the eleventh and twelfth centuries and beyond.

These are commonly referred to as "Classical" or "Cretan" labyrinths.




Cretan or Classical Design                                   Chartres or Medieval Design




Prehistoric Labyrinths are believed to have been traps for malevolent spirits or as defined paths for ritual dances.

During the time of the Crusades, Labyrinths were built to provide an alternative, as not everyone could make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. To walk a labyrinth was symbolic of the journey. By walking the path, it was thought that you could you ascend towards salvation or enlightenment.

The centre of the labyrinth represented the Holy City of Jerusalem and thus became the substituted goal of the journey, for pilgrims.

The labyrinth also served as a metaphor of a “hard path to God”. The entrance of the labyrinth symbolised birth, the centre represented God. 

Over time, the religious significance of labyrinths faded and they were used primarily for entertainment, although recently their spiritual aspect has seen a resurgence.

The best-known example of a labyrinth is embedded in the stone pavement of Chartres Cathedral near Paris.

Today, labyrinths are still being used throughout the world as meditative and healing tools.