I saw my first labyrinth, while still a young man, in the open-air museum at Arnhem
in the Netherlands in 1946. It was a Doolhof, a hedge maze, and in poor condition.
This was understandable, as the war had just ended the year before.
It wasn’t until 1959 that I found my next labyrinth, when together with a friend
in the peaceful Rocky Valley, near Tintagel in Cornwall, England, we found two classical
labyrinths “from the Bronze Age” engraved in the slate rockface (1). A notice on
the door of the nearby café invited the visitor to inquire for further information
from Mr. Ackroyd Gibson at Treforda Farm. We finished our teas first and then started
climbing up through the narrow valley along an overgrown path, passing some fields,
until we arrived and knocked on Mr. Gibson’s door – could he tell us more about labyrinths?
Seldom have I been greeted so warmly - “Do come in, please” - and then he spent the
rest of the evening explaining and constructing labyrinths for us. Indeed, it was
rather dark by the time we tried to find our way back down from the farm. I was initiated
into labyrinths, and since that time I have been lost within them!
Three years later, in the summer of 1962, I visited Chartres Cathedral for the first
time, and was disappointed - as so many are - the masterpiece in the floor was almost
completely covered by chairs. It was difficult to form any impression of the labyrinth
at all, but better luck would follow on subsequent visits in later years.
Another three years later, on my next trip to France in the summer of 1965, I located
and sketched the graffito inside the Cathedral of Saint Pierre in Poitiers. This
“Ariadne’s Thread,” the course of the path of a Chartres-type labyrinth, is still
to be seen incised on the north wall of the cathedral (2).
Over the following years I visited a number of different labyrinths in many diverse
settings: the Hollywood Stone in the National Museum in Dublin, Ireland, in 1971;
the floor labyrinth in Ravenna, on the wall at Lucca, on the rocks at Val Camonica
and the Roman mosaic at Piadena, in Italy in 1972. In southwest Sweden the same summer,
I visited the labyrinth at Ulmekärr near Grebbestad, north of Gothenburg, laid in
Next year, 1973, and the aim was to visit the Swedish island of Gotland, to see the
famous Trojaborg at Visby, the fresco in Hablingbo Church and at Fröjel the stone
labyrinth overgrown with grass in the churchyard, which was excavated and restored
the following year - surely the only labyrinth with its own water pump.
During 1975 I began lecturing on the subject of labyrinths and mazes in my evening
school adult classes, and together we built a Trojaborg stone labyrinth, 14 metres
in diameter, in May 1976 on the property of two of my pupils from Tulstrup, to the
north of Copenhagen. Between 1976 and 1995 we held 15 gatherings, for old friends
and labyrinth enthusiasts alike, and successfully experimented with dancing the labyrinth
with red ribbons around a Maypole. I am told we were the first people to practice
this dance, and our original red ribbons are still used from time to time on other
labyrinths in Denmark.
Also in 1976, my first article on labyrinths was published (3), and several others
soon followed, but it was not until 1998 that I held my first labyrinth exhibition,
at the Vestjysk Kunstforening in Tistrup, West Jutland, Denmark. The next was in
the charming town of Risør on the south coast of Norway in 1999, and a third exhibition
was held at the Silkeborg Art Centre in Central Jutland, during October to December
2002, to coincide with the publication of my book Alle Tiders Labyrinter (Labyrinths
of All Times). This was also the occasion of a small conference for labyrinth researchers
- “Labyrinthologists!” - from Scandinavia, the UK, the Netherlands and Germany.
I first met with Caerdroia through John Kraft of Västerås, Sweden, who was distributing
the magazine for readers in Scandinavia. After a while I took over the distribution
for Danish subscribers and soon added some readers in Germany, but we never found
“Our Man in Norway!” Together with writing articles for Caerdroia, describing the
mazes and labyrinths of Denmark, and the newly discovered labyrinth frescos in the
small village churches, I have also built labyrinths here in Denmark, and elsewhere
in Scandinavia and Northern Germany, during this time: at least 55 Trojaborgs, both
permanent and temporary, of a variety of materials for all manner of different occasions.
By good fortune, Jeff Saward photographed one of these, the stone labyrinth, 17 metres
in diameter, built in Valbyparken, Copenhagen, shortly after completion on a glorious
sunny day in May 1995. The photos of this labyrinth have now been reproduced in many
books and magazines, and it is now well known, worldwide. The largest of my creations
you will find at the Labyrinthia activity park, south of Silkeborg, in Jutland -
22 metres in diameter, it was constructed from 1388 large boulders (4).
Dear friends, I admit, after all these years I am still suffering from labyrinthitis!
Jørgen Thordrup; Bagsværd, Denmark, August 2005.
1... See Caerdroia 33, p.18-19, for current thinking on this dating. 2.. Kern, 1982,
no.273. 3.. ICO (Den Iconographiske Post) 1-2, 1976, pp.23-36. 4.. See www.labyrinthia.dk
The death of Jørgen Thordrup in December 2008 was a great loss to the world of labyrinths.
A great friend to many of his fellow researchers and colleagues, his tireless work
from a small apartment in Bagsværd was a major influence in the revival and preservation
of labyrinths and mazes in his native Denmark, and much further beyond. A full appreciation
of his life and work will be published in Caerdroia 39, due out November 2009.
Jeff Saward, March 2009
Reprinted from Caerdroia 35 - 2005 - pp.34-36
Maypole Dancing on the labyrinth at Tulstrup, Denmark, May 1995
Photo: Jeff Saward
Labyrinth in Valbyparken, Copenhagen, Denmark, May 1995
Photo: Jeff Saward
Jørgen points to the problem at the Silkeborg Arts Centre, 2002
Photo: Jeff Saward
Ilse Seifried & Jørgen Thordrup at the Tistrup exhibition, 1998