S. Berliner, III's Labyrinth Page keywords = labyrinth labyr labrys path circuit rosette petal lunation cusp foil turn quadrant classical medieval Chartres maze entry Inisfada

Updated:   16 May 2020; 23:45  ET
[Page created 27 Aug 2013;
    original AT&T Worldnet Website begun 30 May 1996.]

URL:  http://sbiii.com/labyrnth.html hair

S. Berliner, III
Consultant in Ultrasonic Processing
"changing materials with high-intensity sound"

[consultation is on a fee basis]

Technical and Historical Writer, Oral Historian
Popularizer of Science and Technology
Rail, Auto, Air, Ordnance, and Model Enthusiast
Light-weight Linguist, Lay Minister, and Putative Philosopher

note - The vast bulk of my massive Web presence (over 485 pages) had been hosted by AT&T's WorldNet service since 30 May 1996; they dropped WorldNet effective 31 Mar 2010 and I have been scrambling to transfer everything.  Everything's saved but all the links have to be changed, mostly by hand.  See my sbiii.com Transfer Page for any updates on this tedious process.

S. Berliner, III's




[Please note that I rearranged this main page and the first continuation page and added
    a second continuation page on 09 Jun 2015 to balance out the coverage better.
 Accordingly, I have removed all prior NEW and REV'D icons.]

On this main Labyrinth page:
  Introduction to the Labyrinth.
  Labyrinth Terminology.
  The Chartres Labyrinth.
  Designing a Labyrinth.
  Miniature and Finger Labyrinths.
  Building a Garden Labyrinth.
  Building a Deck Labyrinth. (moved to Continuation Page 2 on 09 Jun 2015).
  Building a Tape Labyrinth (moved to Continuation Page 1 on 16 Nov 2013).
  Redwood Shores Labyrinth (moved to Continuation Page 1 on 09 Jun 2015).
  Glastonbury Tor Labyrinth? (30 Oct 2016)
  Inisfada Labyrinth (Long Island, NY).
    Labyrinth Links.

On Labyrinth Continuation Page 1 (moved from main page on 16 Nov 2013)):
  Building a Tape Labyrinth (moved to Continuation Page 1 on 16 Nov 2013).
  Chartres Labyrinth Proportions and Dimensions.
  Nominal Dimensions and Precision.
  Redwood Shores Labyrinth (moved from main page on 16 Nov 2013).
  Grace Cathedral (S.F.) Labyrinth (24 Oct 2016).
  Armenian Heritage Park Labyrinth (09 Jun 2015).
  Clark Estate Labyrinth {???} (27 Jul 2015).

On Labyrinth Continuation Page 2:
  Building a Deck Labyrinth. (moved from main page on 09 Jun 2015).
  Chartres on the Beach (07 Oct 2018)

On Labyrinth Continuation Page 3 (29 Aug - 20 Sep 2019)
  Cherry Point, MI.
  Gude Garden, MD.
  Building a Rock Labyrinth.
  new (20 Sep 2019)

[Please note that illustrations shown on this page are all, unless otherwise noted, from Wikipedia or other public domain sources.
My gratitude to Jeff Saward of Labyrinthos for permission to reproduce drawings and a photograph from his site.
My gratitude also to Robert Ferré and LG Moriarty for helpful advice.]

Classic7  Chartres11
Classical (L.) and Medieval (R.) Labyrinth Patterns
[Medieval (Chartres) diagram by and courtesy of J. Saward - all rights reserved]

Introduction to the Labyrinth - a labyrinth is an ancient mystical religious tool to facilitate spiritual practices such as meditation, introspection, prayer, contemplation, and the like.  It is basically a complex and convoluted path with a single entrance and a single focus or goal.  Unlike a MAZE, which is designed to baffle and puzzle, with several possible entrances and exits and even independant paths (multicursal), a labyrinth is unicursal; a labyrinth only has a single path which winds around and around but never intrudes with decisions to be made.  Thus, a labyrinth, no matter how large or complex, only guides one along the path.

[It should be noted here that hedge and turf mazes, especially popular in England, and corn mazes (maize mazes?),
quite popular on the American Great Plains, are often unicursal labyrinths.]

Historically, labyrinth patterns were inscribed on stones and cave walls in prehistory and may have been meant as traps to hold evil spirits.  There was a famous and gigantic labyrinth in the Fayoum of ancient Egypt which rivalled the Pyramids in importance and the foundations of which still exist.  Perhaps the most famous labyrinth of antiquity was the one in the Palace of Knossos in Crete, reputedly built by Daedalus as a dance venue for Ariadne and used to imprison the monstrous Minotaur,

Long after the Cretan and Egyptian labyrinths, various tribal groups of Native Americans in the American Southwest and Northern Mexico inscribed labyrinth rock carvings (petroglyphs) which date to 300 to 400 years ago (contrary to some circulated accounts).  Later, some 100 years ago, in the early 20th century, the Tohono O'odham (so-called "Papago") tribe used a similar Classical pattern, the "Man in the Maze" design, as decoration on their basketry,

[I am indebted to Jeff Saward for the chronology of early North American usage.]

Per Wikipedia, "I'itoi or I'ithi is, in the cosmology of the O'odham peoples, the mischievous creator god who resides in a cave below the peak of Baboquivari Mountain, a sacred place within the territory of the Tohono O'odham Nation.  O'odham oral history describes I'itoi bringing Hohokam people to this earth from the underworld.  Hohokam are ancestors of both the Tohono O'odham {Desert People} and the Akimel O'odham (River People).  He is also responsible for the gift of the Himdag, a series of commandments guiding people to remain in balance with the world and interact with it as intended."  Here he is, at the mouth of the maze:   added (24 Oct 2016)


I find this eye-straining, so here is the path (in black), but perhaps not very much easier to follow:


Perhaps the best known of more-modern labyrinths is the one of Medieval pattern built into the stone floor of the nave at the great Cathedral at Chartres in France:

Classic7  ChartresDiagram
Classical (L.) and Medieval (R.) Labyrinths
[Medieval (Chartres) diagram by and courtesy of J. Saward - all rights reserved)

The example on the right is that of the Chartres Cathedral; there is more detail about the Chartres labyrinth below.

There is an entire discipline devoted to the way of the labyrinth as a spiritual practice; my mentors linked below write extensively to this and my wife, the minister, even teaches walking the labyrinth as a spiritual practice.  Let me simply note that people often pause at each turn for a prayer or directed thought and that they often face a special direction in each petal, east or inward, for example.  There are also special courtesies extended, such as pausing to allow others to pass, maintaining a reverential attitude and remaining silent, putting tea lights or candles in the lunations or at the petal tips, and so on, ad finitum.

As noted in the Labyrinth Links, below, there is a World-Wide Labyrinth Locator where you can find labyrinths near you or anywhere.

Labyrinth Terminology:   rev (03 Jun 2015)

Labyrinth Terminology
[Base diagram after J. Saward, as altered by S. Berliner, III 2013 and amended 03 Jun 2015 - all rights reserved)

I can't offer provenance for the terms "rosette", "tip", nor "'goal'"; they are my usage, although not necessarily unique to me. (09 Dec 2014, "ENTRY" added 03 Jun 2015).

The very word "labyrinth", itself, apparently comes from the ancient Greek for "Place of Labryses" (both in Webster's and Wikipedia).  A "labrys" is a Minoan symmetrical double-bitted axe:

Labrys (Minoan and Labyrinth Detail)

The word "labrys", as describing a feature of the Medieval labyrinth, is often mis-spelled "labyr" (the correct plural is "labryses", not "labyrs").

The Chartres Labyrinth, dating to the early 13th Century, measures an enormous 42' 4" (12.9m) in diameter, with a 10' (3m) diameter center, 40" (1m) diameter petals, 13¾" (35cm) wide paths, and 3" (76mm) thick lines {all measurements are nominal¹}.  It has 11 courses and serves as the model for many other labyrinths, both in Europe and abroad.  The proportions of all dimensions are in multiples´ of 3 and 4.  However, few institutions are willing to spring for such an extensive (and expensive) project and very few homeowners have room for anything near that size,  So, a whole family of so-called "mini-Chartres" designs have been executed. I am guilty of two of them, as described hereafter.

[1 - Please refer to the comments about "nominal" dimensions and Robert Ferré's
tabulation of Chartres proportions and exact dimensions, on Labyrinth Continuation Page 1.]

Here are a plan view of the Chartres labyrinth showing how the individual stones are fitted and a view of the Chartres labyrinth at night, illuminated by candles placed in the lunations (a very popular practice at many similar labyrinths):

ChartresPlan  ChartresCandle
Chartres Plan View (L.) and Chartres by Candlelight (R.)
(Plan and photograph by and courtesy of J. Saward - all rights reserved)

There are exact reproductions and even far larger Chartres-style labyrinths, generally contemporary and usually outdoors.  Just for example, Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, California, has TWO Chartres labyrinth reproductions (thanks to the Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress), one of terrazzo in the pavement out front and a limestone one inside.

Designing a Labyrinth:

[I have almost no interest in Classical or other patterns; my interest is almost-solely in the Chartres design;
the intructions and hints which follow are primarily oriented towards adapting the Chartres design to smaller spaces.]

One of the most critical aspects of adaptation to smaller spaces is proportioning.  Chartres follows an exceedingly-simple formula, as just noted.  Unfortunately, the path width and the line thickness do not necessarily scale along with the outer diameter.  Also,the configuration has to change to suit different numbers of courses and the "handedness" (left or right entry) can be swapped.  Further, the orientation of a labyrinth is traditionally "upward"; that is, away from (with the entry toward) the viewer.  In both of my efforts to date (NOT counting masking tape labyrinths I have made up for churches), I had to rotate the disc 90°. so that the entry was convenient to some physical feature of the surroundings.

Chartres90°  FPC5MiniChartres
Rotated Chartres Plan View (L.) and 5-course rotated Mini-Chartres (R.)*

* - drawing for tape labyrinth at First Parish in Cambridge, Massachusetts (by and © 2012 S. Berliner, III)

[Please note that this stone drawing and all line drawings of this style are adapted from those on Jeff Saward's Labyrinthos site.]

The more courses, the harder it becomes to follow the full path by eye.  Here are 7-course and 5-course rotated "mini-Chartres" designs shown as drawn and with the pathway delineated (the courses are numbered in the third 5- and 7-course drawings) (17 Nov 2013):

MiniChartres7  MiniChartres7Path°  MiniChartres7#
Mini-Chartres 7-Course Design

MiniChartres5  MiniChartres5Path  MiniChartres5#
Mini-Chartres 5-Course Design
(Base diagrams after J. Saward, as altered by S. Berliner, III 2013 - all rights reserved)

The lunations (the bristling appendages around the outer circle) are thought to be a part of an ancient lunar calendar:

Medieval (Chartres) Lunations
(Base diagram after J. Saward, as altered by S. Berliner, III 2013 - all rights reserved)

Incidentally, not only are labyrinth patterns widely used for decoration and in jewelry but miniature "finger labyrinths" also make fascinating toys for children and wonderful meditation aids for adults.  John Ridder of PAXworks, The Labyrinth Shop, and The Story Path, makes beautiful wood and pewter labyrinths, as well as children's finger labyrinths. (05 Sep 2013)

This two-tone walnut veneer example of John's craftsmanship really caught my eye:

FingerChartres0  FingerChartresO
18" Two-Tone Veneer Finger Labyrinth
(Photos courtesy of and © J. Ridder, PAXworks, - all rights reserved)

Unfortunately, John can no longer get the two-tone veneer, so you'll have to "settle" for maple, cherry, or solid walnut (13 Sep 2013):

FingerChartresMa18  FingerChartresCh18  FingerChartresWa18
18" Maple, Cherry, and Walnut Finger Labyrinths
(Photos courtesy of and © J. Ridder, PAXworks, - all rights reserved)

John also offers a 4½" 11-course pewter labyrinth to carry around and with which to demonstrate; it comes in a fine cloth bag and includes a beautiful wood pointer to trace the path:

4½" Pewter Labyrinth
(Photo by and © 2013 S. Berliner, III - all rights reserved)

In addition to these items, the Gift Shop at Grace Cathedral offers a wide range of other Chartres-labyrinth-based gifts. (09 Dec 2014)

Building a Garden Labyrinth - when I lived in Westbury on the North Shore of Long Island, New York, ca. 2006-2010, we had a nice, shaded back yard where I built a 19' (5.8m) diameter mini-Chartres labyrinth outlined with "river pebbles" (small boulders) laid in a sand bed over ground cloth (to prevent weeds from growing through).  The paths then had slates laid irregularly in the sand and the remaining spaces were filled with finely (¼" / 6.5mm) crushed rock.  In the center of the rosette, I inlaid a Unitarian-Universalist Flaming Chalice made of crushed rock in different colors.  It was, if I do say so myself, quite beautiful and my wife, a minister, used it well.

Although the underlying ground was basically level, I drafted the sand and rock slighly downward from the center to assure drainage.

It had five courses and 18" (46cm) paths.  For the first season, it was also quite nifty to walk.  BUT - there HAS to be a "BUT", eh? - nature took her toll.  Wind-borne seeds implanted themselves in the spaces between the rocks and all sorts of wonderful things grew up!  Seeds also meant birds and they pecked right through the ground cloth and weeds soon sprang up, as well!  It DID stand up well under snow, though, and, amazingly, winds kept it reasonably free of autumn leaves.  It all came to naught however; as soon as the new owners moved in, they instantly removed all trace of the labyrinth!

One construction detail may be of interest; I did no layout whatsoever; once I had established where the center would be, I drove in a broomstick and looped a marked cord over it.  Walking around with the marks, I simply placed the rocks at the radial spacing determined by the marks.  A ruler and template took care of the turns and labryses.  I did the rosette by eyeballing and empirical trial.  The same served for the added chalice.

Some details (in sequence) of the Westbury construction project:

(Ca. 2008 photographs by and © 2013 S. Berliner, III)
The Start

Westbury01 Westbury08
Placing Rocks (L.) || Walking the Cord Around (R.)

Westbury12 Westbury15
A Work in Progress (L.) || Getting There! (R.)

Westbury22 Westbury24
Dusted with Snow (L.) || Chalice Detail (R.)
(Ca. 2008 photographs by and © 2013 S. Berliner, III)
Westbury Garden Labyrinth

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Building a Deck Labyrinth moved to Continuation Page 2 on 03 Jun 2015).

Glastonbury Tor Labyrinth?

Whil(e)(st) looking in Wikipedia for something completely unrelated to labyrinthi, I stumbled on a possibly novel one; Glastonbury Tor is a 518 foot/158m high terraced hill near Glastonbury in the English county of Somerset, topped by St Michael's Tower.    new (30 Oct 2016)

(click on thumbnail for larger image)

The conical hill of clay and Blue Lias* rises from the Somerset Levels, formed when surrounding softer deposits were eroded, leaving the hard cap of sandstone exposed.  The slopes of the hill are terraced, but the method by which they were formed remains unexplained and therein lies the rub.

    [* - limestone and shale layers (latest Triassic/early Jurassic); rich in fossils.]

The sides of the Tor have seven deep, roughly symmetrical terraces, the formation of which remains a mystery, with many possible explanations.

(click on thumbnail for MUCH larger image)

The unattributed Wiki article offers many possibilities.  The terraces might have been formed as a result of natural differentiation of the layers of Lias stone and clay used by farmers during the Middle Ages to make ploughing easier.  Other explanations include the construction of defensive ramparts or that the terraces are the remains of a medieval "spiral walkway" created for pilgrims to reach the church on the summit.

Next, and of primary interest here, another suggestion is that the terraces are the remains of a three-dimensional labyrinth!  In 1968, Geoffrey Russell proposed that the classical labyrinth (Caerdroia), a design found all over the Neolithic world, can be easily transposed onto the Tor, so that by walking around the terraces a person eventually reaches the top in the same pattern.  "Evaluating this hypothesis is not easy.  A labyrinth would very likely place the terraces in the Neolithic era, but given the amount of occupation since then, there may have been substantial modifications by farmers and/or monks and conclusive excavations have not been carried out.  In a more recent book, Hutton writes that 'the labyrinth does not seem to be an ancient sacred structure'."

Taking a satellite look down on the Tor, we can see for ourselves:

(click on thumbnail for larger image)

Sure looks like a spiraling, rising path to me; having seen just such cattle paths so cut into hillsides all over the U. S. northeast, I'm inclined towards that view.

Whether it's so or no, what a neat idea - a 3D labyrinth!

rip - We seem to have lost a large, beautiful labyrinth on Long Island, New York.  It was located on the grounds of the Jesuit retreat house Inisfada (Gaelic for "Long Island"), the former home of Nicholas and Genevieve Garvan Brady in North Hills (Manhasset).  I still have the Jesuit's view of the labyrinth looking southwest and my own shot {which was to have been reshot at a better sun angle} looking west:   new (18 Nov 2016)

inisfadalaby inisfadalaby2
(Click on thumbnailed left inmage for larger picture.)
Inisfada site (l.)  |  ca. 2001 SBIII photo (r.)
[Right image © 2016/2001 S. Berliner, III - all rights reserved]

This labyrinth, apparently built by or for the Jesuits, was about 50' (~16.25m) across and made of cut stones (or was it poured concrete?) with a gravel infill; actually, I found it cold and uninviting in aspect, even though it was magnificently sited.

Inisfada (more on Long Island page 0) was demolished in December 2013 after being sold to a Hong Kong-based development company.  If there is any trace of the labyrinth left, I can't find it on satellite views.

HA, HA!  I FOUND IT!  It barely shows from the air but, unmistakeably, there it is:   new (25 Oct 2019)

InisfadaAer1 InisfadaAer2
Inisfada Labyrinth Remains in 2019
[images after Google Maps © 2019 S. Berliner, III - all rights reserved]

What a shame; a waste of a magnificent resource!

A more current aerial view shows the labyrinth a little more clearly and the impression of the reflecting pool is more obvious (at left), as well:   new (16 May 2020)

Inisfada Labyrinth Remains in 2020
[image after Google Maps © 2020 S. Berliner, III - all rights reserved]

Labyrinth Links (in no significant order):

    The Labyrinth Society - an international organization supporting all those who create, maintain and use labyrinths.

    Veriditas - The Labyrinth Society - dedicated to inspiring personal and planetary change and renewal
            through the labyrinth experience.- Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress, founder.

    The Labyrinth Society's World-Wide Labyrinth Locator@.

    Labyrinth Enterprises, LLC, - a collaborative of skilled labyrinth artists (founded by Robert Ferré, now retired).

    Paths of Peace - Lisa Gidlow Moriarty - an artist who creates innovative and beautiful labyrinths.

    The Labyrinth Company - David Tolzmann, "Chief Geometer and Labyrinth Builder".

    The Labyrinth Coalition - "The place to look for everything about Labyrinths!".

    Labyrinthos - an excellent resource (based in Essex, England) - Jeff & Kimberly Saward; co-directors,
            @ - Jeff is the administrator and researcher of the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator (above).

    PAXworks, The Labyrinth Shop, and The Story Path, all three - John Ridder. (05 Sep 2013)

  and, locally (for me):

    The Labyrinth Guild of New England.

If you like labyrinths, you really MUST look at David Brazzeal's Guerrilla Labyrinths site!  Be sure to check out ALL the magnificent photos therein.   new (09 Jun 2015)

[This list is neither definitive nor exhaustive, nor does a listing necessarily imply a recommendation.]


NOMINAL DIMENSIONS and PRECISION (moved to Cont. Page 1 on 16 Nov 2013).

Continued on Labyrinth Continuation Page 1, Labyrinth Continuation Page 2
and Labyrinth Continuation Page 3.


  What happens to all this when I DIE or (heaven forfend!) lose interest?  See LEGACY.


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