Terracotta Angel, c.1896
Watts Chapel, England

 Photo ©: Jeff Saward/Labyrinthos

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A Life of Labyrinths

Jørgen Thordrup

Jørgen Thordrup

Photo: Labyrinthos Archive

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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 stones.

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 for details.

Editors Note:

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

Photo: Jeff Saward