Labyrinths & Mazes Resource Centre, Photo Library & Archive
As with the classical labyrinth, a considerable number of variations upon the basic
theme of the medieval labyrinth have been recorded. Circular, square, and polygonal
forms of the basic medieval form are common and need no separate classification.
However, some examples display deliberate attempts to produce a different design
- with more or fewer circuits, different methods of connecting the pathways, or alterations
to fit the space available or purpose intended. Some, such as the labyrinth formerly
in Reims Cathedral, France, were especially influential. With the invention of printing
in late 15th century, specific labyrinth designs appearing in early architecture
and gardening books were widely copied and adapted further. Other variations are
clearly the result of incorrect attempts at construction or inaccurate restorations
of previous designs; this is especially the case with labyrinths formed from turf
or boulders, which are prone to deterioration and disturbance.
The turf labyrinth formerly at Boughton Green, England, had a medieval design with
various changes to the circuits and the centre replaced by a spiral
The current revival of interest in the medieval labyrinth design, especially in America
since the mid-1990s, has resulted in the development of a number of new variations.
Some are based directly on the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral, often with fewer
circuits to enable them to fit in confined spaces, or to produce wider paths. A number
have been given specific names by their creators, but as most of these titles exist
primarily to establish copyright, they can conveniently be included in this sub-category
of the Medieval type.
St. Omer type
One particular medieval group deserves separate recognition - the St. Omer labyrinth.
Although its pathway may seem to be a random meandering design, it can be demonstrated
that the pattern was developed directly from the standard medieval form. The original
example constructed in the fourteenth century at the Abbey of St. Bertin in St. Omer,
northern France, was subsequently copied and further developed and has been employed
on various occasions until recent times.
The pavement labyrinth formerly in the Abbey of St.Bertin, France
The pavement labyrinth formerly at Reims Cathedral, France, had a medieval design
with various changes to the circuit connections and bastions at the four ‘corners’
The design of the turf labyrinth at Sneinton, England shows several path connection
‘errors,’ resulting in a choice of paths and no central goal as such
This labyrinth design from Serlio’s architectural design book of 1537 was used for
the construction of a number of labyrinths across Europe during the 16th century