Labyrinths have been a part of religious and spiritual life all over the world for millennia, as traced through archaeology, literature and the oral tradition. Variations of a seven-circuit labyrinth have been found all over the world, from Peru to Arizona, Iceland, Scandinavia, Crete, Egypt, India and Sumatra. The cultural links between the ancient societies where labyrinth consciousness flourished remain mysterious. The Classic labyrinth design, found on ancient Cretan coins from 2000 BCE, is also known as the Cretan Labyrinth, and is associated with the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.
Labyrinths have most likely always been used in spiritual and religious practice and as a tool for heightened awareness. To build a labyrinth is to create sacred space, and to walk a labyrinth is to imbue it with power and meaning. The more a labyrinth is used, the more powerful it can become as a symbol of transformation. The cross in the middle that used as a starting point to construct the labyrinth, may have eventually been linked to Christian practices, and the inclusion of labyrinths during the cathedral-building and pilgrimage era in Europe and the Middle East.
The Middle Ages showed a renewed interest in labyrinths
and a design more complex than the classical
seven-circuit labyrinth became popular.
This was an eleven-circuit design divided into four quadrants.
It was often found in Gothic Cathedrals but over
time many of these eleven-circuit designs were destroyed
or intentionally removed.
The most famous of these remaining
labyrinths is at
Chartres Cathedral near
Paris, France. The labyrinth at
Chartres was built around
1200 and is laid into the floor
in a style sometimes referred
to as a pavement maze. The
original center piece has been
removed and other areas of
the labyrinth have been restored.
This labyrinth was meant to be
walked but is reported to be infrequently used today. In
the past it could be walked as a pilgrimage and/or for
repentance. As a pilgrimage it was a questing, searching
journey with the hope of becoming closer to God.
When used for repentance the pilgrims would walk on
their knees. Sometimes this eleven-circuit labyrinth would
serve as a substitute for an actual pilgrimage to Jerusalem
and as a result came to be called the "Chemin de
Jerusalem" or Road of Jerusalem.
In walking the Chartres style labyrinth the walker meanders
through each of the four quadrants several times
before reaching the goal. An expectancy is created as
to when the center will be reached. At the center is a
rosette design which has a rich symbolic value including
that of enlightenment. The four arms of the cross are
readily visible and provide Christian symbolism.
sacred pilgrimage and ritual