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Labyrinths: Information Sheet

A labyrinth is not the same as a maze – the labyrinth is a uni-cursal (single) route through to the centre. A maze is a puzzle / game to outwit the maze designer.

Basically, in a maze you can lose yourself; in a labyrinth you can find yourself.
A labyrinth allows you to trust the process of walking (without having to think about where you are going). This helps to quieten the concerns of the mind and frees you up to ponder and reflect on the deeper questions that you may have. A maze, on the other hand, requires an intellectual alertness and heightened activity. Both are hugely enjoyable activities but for different reasons!

The first recorded mention of a labyrinth was by Herodotus.  This labyrinth was a large building complex built in Egypt during the reign of King Amenemhet in 1800BCE approx. The most famous labyrinth in antiquity was built for King Minos around 1600BCE at Knossos on Crete (and contained the Minotaur of legend).

The classic labyrinth design is the Cretan labyrinth, a meandering path that has seven circuits and one entry / exit point.

The word labyrinth is thought to derive from the term, labrys, meaning ‘double axe’, echoed in the pattern of the labyrinth symbol.

The labyrinth is believed to represent a journey through life, or a pilgrimage. A typical labyrinth path first appears to take you close to the centre (the ‘goal’) then leads you away on paths that almost take you back out before finally turning towards the centre.

Although pre-dating Christian tradition, the labyrinth has become associated closely with places of Christian worship. It may have been intended to symbolise the city of Jerusalem.

The labyrinth at Chartres cathedral in France is probably the most famous pavement type labyrinth in the world. It dates from the 13th century and is believed to embed principles of sacred geometry.

Evidence of former labyrinths (and mazes) could exist in places which echo traditional names for labyrinth or maze: Troy, Troy Town, Walls of Troy, Jerusalem, Jericho, Babylon, Nineveh, Mismass (for Mizmaze).

There are few remaining permanent labyrinths in Hampshire. Both the Winchester mizmaze and Breamore mizmaze are turf-cut labyrinths. St. Mary’s church at Itchen Stoke also has a labyrinth in brick. A mizmaze near Fordingbridge (on Rockbourne Knoll) may have existed up to 1915. The name ‘mizmaze’ also appears on older maps in the Wherwell area.

February 2008