Terracotta Angel, c.1896
Watts Chapel, England

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Labyrinths in Nordic Churches

John Kraft & Jeff Saward

Catalogue of Nordic Church Labyrinths


Back to Nordic Church Labyrinths - Back to Caerdroia Archive

Grinstad Church, Dalsland.

A large labyrinth, nearly 1 metre in diameter, painted on the north wall was uncovered during restoration work in 1913. Only half of the labyrinth is preserved, the rest was destroyed by the insertion of a window in the wall, probably when the church was enlarged in the 17th century. The design of the labyrinth fresco is exceptional; it is the only example from the Nordic countries of the medieval, or Chartres-type, that dominates in mediaeval Europe. However, the labyrinth has a number of design errors, which might suggest that it was copied from a poor sketch of an example from a European cathedral, or from an old manuscript. As the church was originally built during the 13th century, it is possible that the labyrinth fresco is also from this period, the time when many labyrinths were being constructed in the Cathedrals of central Europe. Although no dating evidence for the fresco is available, it would seem to be painted on the original wall surface and is now deeply recessed below the current level of plaster.

Sveriges kyrkor: Dalsland, bd.I, häfte 1, p.33, 40. Stockholm 1931. Grinstad Kyrka. Barbro Jeperson (Church guide book), n.d. Kern, Hermann. Through the Labyrinth, Prestel, München, 2000, p.283. Thordrup, Jørgen. Alle Tiders Labyrinter. Silkeborg, Denmark, Dixit, 2002, p.43. Saward, Jeff. Labyrinths & Mazes. London, Gaia, 2003, p.108-111.

Horred Church, Västergötland.

On one of the bells in the tower of Horred Church there is an engraved labyrinth, 23cm in diameter, of classical double angle type with 12 walls. Above the entrance to the labyrinth is a small cross and on the same bell the text "Help Maria." This example of the labyrinth on a church bell is quite unique, and while the age of the bell is unknown, it is considered to date to the late Middle Ages.

Åmark, Mats. Sveriges medelfida kyrkklockor, p.213-14 & p1.59. Stockholm, 1960. Thordrup, 2002, p.43. Saward, 2003, p.108-111.

Båstad Church, Skåne.

A poorly preserved labyrinth painting was discovered during restoration in 1936, and is still visible above one of the vault arches. The remains consist of eleven or twelve concentric arched lines, which most probably formed a labyrinth of classical double angle type. The church was built sometime during the period 1470-1520.

A Catalogue of Wall-Paintings in the Churches of Medieval Denmark 1100-1600: Scania, Halland, Blekinge, bd.II, p.76-80. Copenhagen, 1976. Kern, 2000, p.280. Thordrup, 2002, p.43. Saward, 2003, p.108-111.

Östra Karup Church, Halland.

Discovered in 1963, and situated only 7 km from Båstad, the partially preserved remains of five arched lines painted on the wall of this church were probably once part of a labyrinth design. Immediately to the right is painted a ship of a type known as a Kogg. The church was built sometime during the period 1470-1520.

A Catalogue of Wall-Paintings in the Churches of Medieval Denmark 1100-1600: Scania, Halland, Blekinge, bd.III, p.278. Copenhagen, 1976. Kern, 2000, p.280. Thordrup, 2002, p.43-44. Saward, 2003, p.108-111.

Sorunda Church, Södermanland.

A small labyrinth, 26 cm wide, inscribed on a shield sculpted in the vaulting of the Fleming burial chapel. The design, although of classical double angle type, has only 11 walls and contains several errors, leaving unfinished connections around the entrance of the labyrinth. Maybe the designer had forgotten the art of drawing a perfect labyrinth? The design of the shield seems to be from around 1500, the probable time when the vault was built.

Sveriges kyrkor: Södermanland, bd.III, häfte 1, p.27. Uppsala 1972. Thordrup, 2002, p.43. Saward, 2003, p.108-111.

Hablingbo Church, Gotland.

A large labyrinth, c.1 metre in diameter, is painted on the western wall of the dark ground floor of the tower. The design is of the classical or angle-type, but most unusual, with 19 walls and the final path terminating to the upper left of the normal centre. The labyrinth is now quite difficult to discern, but would probably originally have been dark red, overpainted on the right-hand side with a black stick-figure, possibly a man with a sword, or maybe a dancer on the winding path.

In the same dark tower on the southern wall is another labyrinth, a graffito that has not been completed - only the 'seed pattern' and the first three loops at the top of the design have been drawn. Had it been completed, it would have resulted in a regular labyrinth with 12 walls. Maybe the 'artist' was disturbed before the graffito was completed. This example is interesting, for it demonstrates how the labyrinth was drawn from a central cross, angles and dots. The walls of the tower room are covered in graffiti; to the left of the labyrinth are several ships.

Kraft, John. Gotlands Trojeborgar, p.74-75. Gotländskt Arkiv, Visby, 1983. Kern, 2000, p.281. Thordrup, 2002, p.44-45. Saward, 2003, p.108-111.

Lye Church. Gotland.

A well-preserved labyrinth graffito, 24 cm in diameter, of double angle-type with 12 walls, is to be found on the south wall of the ground floor of the church tower. This tower is especially rich in graffiti and immediately above the labyrinth is a short text in runic letters - "I am a poor, sinful man," - a sentence from the Lutheran confession of sins, introduced to the Swedish liturgy c. 1540 by Olaus Petri. Among the graffiti on the opposite wall of the tower room are some ships, which seem to be of types dating to the latter part of the 15th century. The tower room itself is from the 13th century, but it is difficult to know when the labyrinth was scratched on the wall.

Jansson, Sven B.F. & Elias Wessén. "Gotlands Runinskrifter," pt.1 in Sveriges Runinskrifter, p.173-83. Stockholm 1962. Sveriges Kyrkor: Gotland, vol.5, p.54-56. Uppsala, 1972. Kraft, 1983, p.74-75. Thordrup, 2002, p.44. Saward, 2003, p.108-111.

Ganthem Church, Gotland.

In 1979, Anna Nilsén, an iconographer searching for mediaeval wall paintings, discovered the faint traces of a labyrinth graffito lightly incised on the northern side of the western vault. Although difficult to see, the graffito is still preserved. Of double angle-type, with 12 walls, the labyrinth is nearly 1 metre in diameter. The church is from the 13th century, but dating the labyrinth is difficult, it could have been scratched on the wall at any time.

Kraft, 1983, p.76. Thordrup, 2002, p.44. Saward, 2003, p.108-111.

The Julskov Cross, Levide, Gotland.

Later moved to the Julskov estate in Kullerup parish, Fyn, Denmark, but now destroyed, this stone cross was decorated with a labyrinth of classical double angle type. Ole Worm, a pioneer expert on runic inscriptions, published a drawing of the cross in 1643, based on an original drawing made by Jon Skonviq in 1627. From these it is possible to conclude that the designer forgot to add the four dots, a mistake that reduced the number of walls to 10 and made it impossible to reach the centre of the labyrinth from the entrance. Erik Moltke has interpreted the text on the cross as "(the year) after the birth of God 1442 Gengulf at Levede and his son Oluf had this cross made". On the arms of the cross are the names of Mark, Matthew, John and Luke, The cross was obviously made in 1442, probably at Levide on Gotland, and was probably moved to Julskov by Emmike Kass, who was governor of Gotland 1576-84 and married the heiress of Julskov in 1580. Late in the 18th century the cross was broken up and used as building material for a dam and a stone bridge. The pieces have never been recovered.

Moltke, Erik. Julskovkorset. Fra Nationalmuseets Arbejdsmark, p.153-57. Copenhagen, 1950. Worm, Ole. Danicorum Monumentorum libri sex: e spissis antiquitatum tenebris et in Danica ac Norvegia extantibus ruderibus eruti, p.243. Copenhagen, 1643. Kraft, 1983, p.77. Kern, 2000, p.278. Thordrup, 2002, p.106-107. Saward, 2003, p.108-111.