What is a Labyrinth

The terms ‘maze’ and ‘labyrinth’ are often used interchangeably in literature and through the media. The concepts are however appreciably dissimilar.

Put simply, a Maze is multicursal, meaning that it is has many paths. It is a puzzle or game, often set up to trick us. Choices have to be made at junctions, with some ending in dead ends. A maze may be constructed from hedges or other materials that obstruct the view of the central goal.

By contrast a Labyrinth is unicursal, meaning that it has a single circuitous path leading from the entrance into the centre and out again. There is only one entrance and this is also the exit. The pattern is marked on the ground, the whole of the pathway can be easily seen throughout the walk, and you can’t get lost in it.

The labyrinth pathway meanders in such a way that the walker can never be quite sure how near to the end point they really are, and often the pathway teases the walker into a false assumption as to where they are in relation to the end point.

We shall not cease from exploration.
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Elliot, Four Quartets, Little Gidding

The oldest and most common labyrinth pattern is the Classical or Cretan 7-circuit. This prevailed worldwide until about 1000 AD and most, if not all, labyrinths are forms and adaptations of this pattern.

The Frederic and Margaret Wallis Labyrinth is a replica of the medieval 11-circuit labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France.

This in turn is an adaptation of the Roman design in which 4 squared Classical labyrinths were placed together.

The Vatican holds documents dated 860-2 AD which feature a prototype of this emerging design.