Terracotta Angel, c.1896
Watts Chapel, England

 Photo ©: Jeff Saward/Labyrinthos

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Labyrinths in Nordic Churches

John Kraft & Jeff Saward

Catalogue of Nordic Church Labyrinths

Norway & Finland

Riska, Tove. Suomen kirkot, Turun arkkihiippakunta III OSA, Turun tuomiorovastikunta I, p.71-78. Helsinki, 1964. Stigell, Anna-Lisa. "Kyrkans tecken och årets gang," Finska fornminnesföreningens tidskrift 77, Helsinki, 1974. p.82-89. Kern, Hermann. Through the Labyrinth, Prestel, München, 2000, p.281.Thordrup, 2002, p.45-46. Saward, 2003, p.108-111.

Sibbo Old Church, (Sipoo), Uusimaa.

The church was probably built at the beginning of the 15th century and was abandoned in 1885, but is now maintained as a historic monument. High on the interior north wall is a labyrinth fresco, 124 cm in diameter and now very faded, with a woman standing at the centre. Of classical double angle type with 12 walls, this has frequently been interpreted as a depiction of the Jungfrudans (Virgin Dance), traditionally played in labyrinths in Finland until recent times. Other frescos within this church include a horse, a tree, two opposing dogs and a man blowing a trumpet.

Rancken, A.W. Kalkmålningarna i Sibbo gamla kyrka. Finskt Museum XLII, p.15-32. Helsinki, 1935. Kern, 2000, p.281. Thordrup, 2002, p.46. Saward, 2003, p.108-111.

Pernå Church, (Pernaja), Uusimaa.

A small labyrinth, only partly preserved, is to be found high on the south wall. Of classical double angle type with 12 walls, it is rendered in red pigment. Other frescos within this church include a tree, ships, a mermaid, soldiers in tourney, two men with crossbows and blowing trumpets and two creatures resembling human beings, one with big ears.

Utterström, Anita. Pernå Kyrka. Pernå, 1989. Thordrup, 2002, p.46-47. Saward, 2003, p.108-111.

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Seljord Church, Telemark.

A labyrinth, c.80 cm in diameter, is painted in red pigment on the west façade, next to the doorway of this fine church, built in the late 12th century. Uncovered during restoration in 1926, the labyrinth is of 12-wall double angle classical type with the entrance to the top left, but with an unusual spiral centre and a 'floating' outer wall, that causes the first three circuits to spiral inwards in a simple fashion with no 'switch-backs' or turns in direction. The curious look of this labyrinth can be explained by the way the designer has started to connect the cross, angles and dots. The conventional way of drawing is to begin with a connecting arc between one of the arms of the central cross and the closest angle, but in this case the drawing has begun with a connecting arc between a dot and its adjacent angle, resulting in the spiral at the centre. To the right of the labyrinth is a depiction of a small ship.

Marstrander, Sverre. 1937. Mindre meddelelser. Universitetets Oldsakssamlings Årbok 1935-36, p. 147. Aschehougs konversasjons Leksikon, bd.12, p.8-10. Kern, Hermann. Through the Labyrinth, Prestel, München, 2000, p.281. Thordrup, Jørgen. Alle Tiders Labyrinter. Silkeborg, Denmark, Dixit,2002, p.42-43. Saward, Jeff. Labyrinths & Mazes. London, Gaia, 2003, p.108-111.

Vestre Slidre Church, Valdres.

A perfectly drawn, 12-wall double angle classical type labyrinth, c.40 cm in diameter and drawn in black pigment, is preserved on the wall of the southern doorway, on the exterior side, to the east of the door. As with the example at Seljord, the entrance of the labyrinth is to the top.

Kern, 2000, p.282. Thordrup, 2002, p.42. Saward, 2003, p.108-111.


Korpo Church, (Korppoo), Turku Achipelago.

Two labyrinths are to be found in this church on the island of Korpo. The larger example is well preserved alongside a high window and is of the classical single angle type, with 8 walls. The smaller example is on a pillar in the western part of the church and only partly preserved. Other frescos within this church include a man with a staff and a ship, a mermaid, a man blowing a trumpet, hunters with dogs and shooting bow and arrows, several ships, mounted soldiers in tourney and St.George and the dragon.

Nikala, Sigrid. Finlands kyrkor, Borgå stift, pt1, Åbolands prosteri I, p.33. Helsinki, 1973. Thordrup, Jørgen. Alle Tiders Labyrinter. Silkeborg, Denmark, Dixit, 2002, p.45. Saward, Jeff. Labyrinths & Mazes. London, Gaia, 2003, p.108-111.

Maaria Church, Turku (Åbo).

This is without doubt the most interesting of all the Nordic churches with labyrinths. Formally situated in the village of Räntämäki, and now within the boundaries of the city of Turku, the church was built during late 14th century and further extended during the 15th century, and presumably the frescos also date from this period. It has a large number of wall and ceiling frescos with motifs that seem to have been inspired from folk art rather than by the common art of mediaeval churches.

In total there are four labyrinth paintings, three of classical double angle type with 12 walls, including one that preserves a curious construction error that results in a labyrinth with no entrance path! The fourth example is very small and of a simple design that while possibly intended to represent a labyrinth, is in fact little more than a spiral. As well as the labyrinths, there is also a King, Christ's face, a man blowing a trumpet and mounted soldiers in tourney, several ships, stars and other geometric devices, a 'chessboard' and several curious figures, presumably representing characters from local folk-tales.