Chartres blue

Labyrinths New Zealand

Find labyrinths, mazes and sacred sites in New Zealand

Typology of Labyrinths

Jeff Saward has developed a classification system for labyrinths. In the interests of a world-wide convergence in terminology, the material below is an extract from his excellent website.

"The earliest labyrinth symbols so far discovered are all of the same simple design - the 'Classical' type - which is found worldwide and remain popular to this day. During this 4000 year history, the Classical labyrinth has developed into a number of closely related forms, often in particular geographical regions, by means of simple adjustments to the 'seed pattern' that lies at the heart of its construction."

"However, from time to time, major developments have taken place, resulting in quite different types of labyrinths being created, which have then themselves been further developed. This process continues to this day ...."

"To bring some sense of order to this multitude of seemingly different labyrinth designs, I would propose that labyrinths can be classified into four major categories ... which can be further sub-divided if one so wishes. The major categories are Classical, Roman, Medieval & Contemporary Labyrinths."

Classical Labyrinths

"The archetypal classical labyrinth design consists of a single pathway that loops back and forth to form seven circuits, bounded by eight walls, surrounding the central goal. It is found in both circular and square forms. Practically all labyrinths prior to the first few centuries BCE are of this type."

"Found in historical contexts throughout Europe, North Africa, the Indian sub-continent and Indonesia, this is also the design that occurs in the American Southwest and occasionally in South America. During the current revival of labyrinths it has once again found popularity for its simplicity of construction and archetypal symbolism."

The seed pattern for a classical seven-circuit labyrinth:

Roman Labyrinths

"While the classical labyrinth was known throughout the Roman Empire, the popular use of the labyrinth as a design element in mosaic flooring resulted in a number of developments, all conveniently classifiable as 'Roman' varieties."

Medieval Labyrinths

"First developed during the ninth and tenth centuries CE, the medieval labyrinth has obvious four-fold symmetry to produce a design far better suited for use in a Christian context. While commonly created with 11 concentric circuits surrounding the central goal, a number of early examples can be found with anywhere between 6 and 15 circuits."

"By the eleventh and twelfth centuries this form became common in manuscripts and in the decoration of church walls and floors in Italy. By the early thirteenth century it had spread to France, and soon became the principal form throughout southern and western Europe. The famous use of this labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral has led many writers to term this design the 'Chartres' labyrinth."

Contemporary Labyrinths

"The current revival of interest in labyrinths has resulted in a number of designers and builders consciously stretching the boundaries of what constitutes a labyrinth, or deliberately seeking new forms for new purposes. Ranging from the minimalist, with just a few turns and paths to capture the essence of the labyrinth, to complex symbolic and thematic designs, they still retain a single pathway, leading sometimes to a centre, but other times around the full course of the design and back out."

~ Jeff Saward, Labyrinthos

classical 7 circuit labyrinth
Chartres black

More Information ...

Jeff Saward runs the Labyrinthos website and publishes Caerdroia magazine

Animation of drawing a Classical labyrinth from a seed pattern

Instructions for making a Chartres-style labyrinth

Instructions for placing a labyrinth

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