Category Archives: Labyrinths and Mazes

Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth (early 13th century)

  • Designer / builder: unknown
  • Location: Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France
  • Date: early 13th century
  • Size: 40.3 x 41.3 feet
  • Materials: stone

“Built during the height of Gothic expression in France, the various architects of Notre-Dame de Chartres sought to make this cathedral “higher, wider, and lighter than all previous churches, and in this respect they certainly succeeded.”[2]  In comparison with other cathedral-building projects, Chartres was built relatively quickly, with construction beginning in 1194 and finishing in 1221.[3]  It was toward the end of this period, between 1215 and 1221, that the church’s labyrinth was placed within the nave.[4]  Because of the cathedral’s impressive size, the labyrinth itself would be equally grand, attaining a diameter of 12.85 meters, making it the largest church labyrinth ever constructed during the middle ages.[5] While perhaps not the most embellished or ornate of labyrinths, the one found in Chartres is arguably one of the most famous in the world.  With its rounded sides and eleven concentric circles, any labyrinth using this model has come to be known as a Chartres-type recreation.

Unlike the ornate mosaic labyrinths which are found throughout much of northern and central Italy, there are no images or allusions to the battle between Theseus and the Minotaur from Greek mythology.[6]  There has been some debate on whether or not there was an actual depiction, with some arguing that a bronze plaque once graced the center of the labyrinth until 1792 when it was melted down by the city in its efforts to build cannons for the newly founded Republic.[7]  This argument is based off of Charles Challine’s (1596-1678) observations.[8]  However, Hermann Kern, who devoted much of his career studying the labyrinths of Europe, disagreed, and argued that there was not enough physical evidence on the pavement to suggest a plaque had ever been placed in the center.[9]

Whether a central plaque existed or not, the labyrinth’s center is surrounded by a six lobed rosette, which was an ancient symbol from the east and was used to portray the nature of God in Sumerian, Babylonian, Jewish, and even Roman art.[10]  Craig Wright argues that this depiction is being used to point towards the “new God,” in this case Christ.[11]  If, as Wright argues, that the labyrinth is connected to Christ’s Harrowing in Hell, its placement within the nave creates a stunning visualization which pulls together numerous beliefs and fuses them into one.  The cathedral itself is a celebration of geometry, and taking the celestial implications made by both its location and its central rosette, one can expand the symbolism of the labyrinth further, tying it in with Chartres’ great rose window that depicts the Final Judgment.  An eschatological history lesson is being taught.  Christ suffered on earth (the nave) and then descended into Hell (the labyrinth), but he defeated death and ascended into heaven, where one day he will judge all of mankind.  Accordingly, the labyrinth points to the moment that the “new God” saved humanity, but when connected with the rose window, it represents a call for repentance.” [credit]

[2] Craig Wright, The Maze and the Warrior: Symbols in Architecture, Theology, and Music (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2001). 39-41.

[3] Ibid. 39.

[4] Ibid.

[5]  Ibid. 44.

[6] Hermann Kern, Through the Labyrinth: Designs and Meanings over 5,000 Years (Art & Design), (New York, Prestel, 2000) 143; Louis Charpentier, Les Mysteres de la cathedrale de Chartres (Paris, 1966).

[7] Wright, The Maze and the Warrior, 44.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Kern, Through the Labyrinth, 143.

[10] Wright, 43-44.

[11] Ibid.

Renaud de Cormont, Amiens Cathedral Labyrinth (1288)

  • Designer: Renaud de Cormont
  • Location: Amiens, France
  • Date: 1288 (reproduced in the 19th century)
  • Size: perimeter of 136.5 feet
  • Materials: stone

The Labyrinth of Amiens Cathedral is the second largest in France, being slightly smaller than its cousin in Chartres.[3]  Measuring about 12.1 meters wide, the labyrinth occupies the entire width of the fourth and fifth bays of the nave, and is thought to have originally been placed in the cathedral in 1288.[4]  Although it is octagonal, its tracks follow the same pattern as Chartres, which is why it is considered to be an Octagonal, Chartres-type labyrinth.[5] Comprised of “white-and-blue-black” stones, its entrance opens to the west, with the white stones acting as the labyrinthine obstacles.

Prior to the French Revolution, the labyrinth’s center comprised of a medallion which stated:

In the year of grace 1220, the construction of this church first began.  Blessed Evrard was at that time bishop of the diocese.  The king of France was then Louis the son of Philip the wise.  He who directed the work was called Master Robert, surnamed Luzarches.  Master Thomas de Cormont came after him, and after him his son Renaud, who had placed here this inscription in the year of the incarnation, 1288.[6]” [credit]

[1] Source: Louis la Vache, “Les Cathédrales De France:Nôtre-Dame-d’Amiens.”  The Frog Blog Of Louis La Vache. Web. 07 Mar. 2010. <>.

[2] Source: “Labyrinth Design on Interior of Amiens Cathedral – Rights Managed – Corbis.” Stock Photography, Illustration and Footage – Corbis. Web. 07 Mar. 2010. <>.

[3] Craig Wright, The Maze and the Warrior (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2001) 59.

[4] Wright, 60; Hermann Kern, Through the Labyrinth: Designs and Meanings over 5,000 Years (New York, Prestel, 2000) 253; see also Jean Macrez, Le Labyrinthe de la cathédrale d’Amiens (Amiens, 1990).

[5] Wright, 59.

[6] Kern, 149; Wright, 60; the original French document is kept in Amiens, Archives départementales de la Somme, MS 2975, fol. 247; Stephen Murray, Notre-Dame Cathedral of Amiens: The Power of Change in Gothic (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996) 129.

[7] Source: “Amiens Cathedral Labyrinth.” Paxworks Labyrinths, Canvas Labyrinths Spiritual Prayer Gifts Gospel Peace. Web. 05 Mar. 2010. <>.


Saffron Walden Turf Maze (Labyrinth) (uknown)

  • Designer / builder: unknown
  • Location: Saffron Walden, Essex, England
  • Date: unknown, initially re-cut in 1699, bricks laid around path in 1911 (relaid 1979)
  • Size: 132 foot labyrinth diameter
  • Materials: turf

“The Turf Maze (Labyrinth) on the Common is of great antiquity and importance. It is the largest example of its type in the world and is one of the eight surviving turf labyrinths in England. Its design is basically circular with 17 circuits. Four bastions at equal distances around the circumference give the labyrinth a total diameter of 132 feet. It is enclosed by a bank and ditch, the overall dimensions of which are 150 x 110 feet. The pathway follows grooves cut in the turf and approaches a mile in length.

Restorations of this labyrinth are recorded for 1826, 1841, 1859, 1887 and 1911, when the pathway was laid with bricks on edge. The most recent re-cutting was completed in 1979. On this occasion the bricks were relaid flat.

The Saffron Walden Mazes leaflet can be seen by clicking here Saffron Walden Mazes” [credit]

Jeppe Hein, 3-Dimensional Mirror Labyrinth (2005)

a mirror maze

The mirrored lamellae of the labyrinth sticking up from the ground within the park.

  • Designer: Jeppe Hein
  • Location: Anyang Public Art Project, Anyang, Korea
  • Date: 2005
  • Size: diameter of 26.25 feet, height of 7.2 feet
  • Materials: steel frame, PVC, polished steel mirrors

This is a site-specific installation comprised of equidistant reflective posts. The mirror-polished stainless steel posts are arranged in three radiating arcs that form the labyrinth, distorting the surroundings. The posts are set at various heights, but maintain a consistent width.

Visitors are encouraged to walk the pathways formed by the negative space, with each step further altering their already shifted perception of the installation site. The mirrored posts appear to recede into the landscape at times and boldly contrast it at others, ensuring a unique experience for each individual visitor. Mirror Labyrinth alternately obscures and reveals its environment, providing a rich new perspective. [credit]

Pezo von Ellrichshausen, 120 Doors Pavillion (2003)

  • Designer: Mauricio Pezo and Sofía von Ellrichshausen (Pezo von Ellrichshausen architecture firm)
  • Location: Ecuador Park, Concepción, Chile
  • Date: 2003
  • Materials: wood, tubular steel

“The 120 Doors Pavilion, installed in Ecuador Park, in the city of Conception, Chile, is a structure of tubular steel tubes supporting wooden standard doors. The doors are arranged in 5 continuous and consecutive perimeters; the outer one with four sides of ten doors each and, inwards, sides of eight, six, four and two doors.

From the authors’ description of the work:

These five perimeters operate as fences that confine a progressive sequence of interiority and depth of the space. Seen from the outside the exterior perimeter is a compact horizontal block. In the interior space is closed laterally and opens to the sky and the ground. This configuration establishes a series of paths along narrow spaces, vertical in section, that dissolve into a cubic central space confined within the smallest perimeter.

With this, what we were really looking for was a way to evidence how relative and artificial the distinctions of limits within a work of architecture are and, hence, within one of art. We are interested in exploring the points of transmission, or friction, between one place and another. We think of the doors as a turning point that subverts temporally the definition of space, adding a dynamic dimension to the construction of walls in a work of architecture, something that could be seen as a key that regulates the fluctuation of forces.

After a brief installation in a public park, the doors were donated to public housing and the structure was the only thing that remained in the place, apparently indestructible due to its nakedness or, as Breuer said about his chairs, because its volume occupies no space.

Two years later (2005) the duo proposed a reduced version of the pavilion featuring “only” 36 doors that was installed in Santiago, Chile.

Giuseppe Castiglione, Wanhua Zhen (1756-1759)

  • Designer: Giuseppe Castiglione
  • Location: Summer Palace, Beijing, China
  • Date: built 1756-1759, rebuild 1977-1992
  • Size: 232 x 193.5 feet
  • Materials: stone

“The Wanhua Zhen (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: wàn huā zhèn; lit. ‘10,000-flower maze’), or Huanghuazhen (simplified Chinese: 黄花阵; traditional Chinese: 黃花陣; pinyin: huánghuāzhèn; lit. ‘yellow-flower maze’,


40°0′44.46″N 116°18′8.10″E) is a maze formed of 1.2 m (3 ft 11 in)-high embossed-brick walls covering an area of 89 m × 59 m (292 ft × 194 ft). The total length of the walls is 1.6 km (0.99 mi). In its center sits a European-style circular pavilion. The emperor is said to have sat in this pavilion to watch his concubines competing in a race with yellow lanterns through the labyrinth on the occasion of the Mid-Autumn Festival. ” [credit]

“Later when age prevented the Qianlong Emperor from visiting Chengde for Mid-Autumn, there would be a maze competition held in his honor at Yuanmingyuan, and the Emperor would personally award the winner. Holding lanterns, palace servants would try to find their way out of the Wanhuazhen Western-style maze. Seated above, Qianlong must have had a remarkable vantage of the bright steadfast moon in the night sky and below it the flurry of lanterns casting about like shooting stars. As always, spreads of delicacies were placed before of him, while his children and grandchildren frolicked at his feet, and his empresses and consorts stood by his side. These festivities took place every autumn year after year, until the Qianlong Emperor passed away at the age of 87 as Emperor Emeritus of the Qing dynasty.” [credit]

Moira Williams, Fissures, Holes, Limbs: Breathing Dislocated Scales (2019)

person with large had and group walking outdoors


“Fissures, Holes, Limbs: breathing dislocated scales is an eco somatic sound walk centering disability.

I-Park Kicks off Seventh Art Biennale in East Haddam


EAST HADDAM — At night, animals, birds, flowers, and even mushroom spores become active, moving about, making sounds and leaving traces, mostly unbeknownst to humans.

Participants in artist Moira Williams’ sound walk called “Fissures, Holes, Limbs: breathing dislocated scales,” were invited Sunday to shift from “daylight to moonlight” and experience night sounds and images she had recorded onsite at I-Park, an international artist-in-residence program founded in 2001.

Williams, a New-York-City-based artist, is one of nine artists in I-Park’s seventh Site-Responsive Art Biennale who spent three weeks on the program’s 450-acre campus “creating ephemeral artworks that respond to the property’s natural and built environments,” according to the program notes. The artists’ works can “take the form of environmental sculptures, videos, aural experiences or performance pieces.”

At the beginning of Williams’ sound walk, participants were asked to choose a stick from a number of precut tree branches, mostly about five or six feet in length. These branches were used as “limbs,” extensions of the human body, to explore holes and fissures in the path, as well as rocks and lichen.

After the band of sound walkers set off along a path, Williams stopped the group at a field and played a recording she had made while camping onsite of an owl hooting.

“Think of how the owl moves so quietly throughout the night and what it disturbs and what it accentuates, think of the different way our breath moves and accentuates as well, think of the spores and the seeds that we never see that we move,” she said.

She asked the group to face the field and to lift up their shoulders and think about them as wings, with the limb as an extension of sorts.

“Think about how they feel in the air and what you can move and what you can share and extend,” she said. “If you have a limb, an extra limb with you, please raise your limb in any way that you like, and think of your shoulders and your extra limb, think of the breeze going through your shoulders and your extra limb.”

Dressed in a white hazmat-type suit embellished with bright neon stripes made from tape, Williams carried a roll of black wire on one shoulder, like a techie epaulet, and a small speaker and projector connected to her mobile phone in a pouch around her waist. On her head was a wide “hat,” made from a piece of flat white painted cardboard with a space cut out for the top of her head, and long neon green streamers attached at each end that trailed behind her when she walked.

As the group proceeded down the path, Williams removed her hat and projected a tiny video of a fox she had recorded at night, letting the walkers experience the sight and sound as they hiked past.

She asked everyone with “an extra limb” to use it to touch the rocks, holes and lichen along the path, as a way to experience the site.

Soon the group came upon a field where Williams had created a labyrinth.

“Choose a path and walk to where you can find a white stump,” she instructed. “We’re under a full moon in the middle of the night, it’s an extraordinary full moon.”

Soon the group gathered around a white stump that had holes drilled in it about the size of the limb walking sticks. She asked those who had limbs to share them with those who were without.

“Those who haven’t had an extra limb, think of the limb that they now have and how the previous person used that limb and what that means to them not to have it now,” she said. “And think about whether the bark is smooth and whether there’s holes or fissures or lichen or even insects on your limb.”

Williams invited everyone holding a limb to place it in one of the holes in the stump, which created a kind of tree sculpture. The new tree symbolized connection, she said, and could forge a new identity for everyone who took part.

people putting sticks in a trunk


“If you walked with an extra limb and want to think about if you have a new name, you can say your new name out loud if you do have one, or if you can think of a new name that might incorporate an extended limb,” she told the group. “My new name would be Lichen.”

Of the 20 participants, names like Woody, Meadow, Shaggy, Hiawatha and Tripod emerged.

Then Williams directed the walkers’ attention to the far side of the meadow where a large tree with bare branches reached to the sky, a living reflection of the group’s tree made from limbs.

“Look at the tree in front of us and think about the tree behind us and the juncture of all of us connecting all of us,” she said.

Williams next led the group to a boardwalk that snaked through a marshy area with numerous streams flowing along the ground.

At one point she stepped out of the path and projected a video of mushrooms sporing onto a series of white vertical boards that were set in the marsh.

“This is an image of sporing mushrooms that only spore at night and these are things we seldom get to see,” she said. “They’re just ghostlike spores that we’re gathering on our own bodies and sharing with the rest of the world.”

Williams, who holds a BFA from the School of Visual Arts, a graduate certificate in “Spatial Politics,” and an MFA from Stony Brook University, said her underlying interest is about “making the environment accessible to all people, especially people with disabilities.

“It’s about thinking in ways that are not about independence but more about connectedness with the environment and one another,” she said. “It’s connectedness as a holistic ecosystem, we’re not just this very big myth about how we’re independent.”

She explained that her white outfit reflects a philosophy of healthcare — “the idea of nursing and empathy and being a caregiver.”

“I think of myself as a steward caregiver. I love wearing the white suit because I’m in the lead and I want people to see me,” she said. “The hat is a device to say, hey, here I am, come and join me, but it’s also the width of walkways that need to be for people that need a wheelchair.”

By walking through the marsh and the woods, participants will carry traces of the environment to new places, she said.

Near the end of the path, Williams crouched down, removed her hat and projected a time-lapse video of a lotus flower opening and closing at night on the pond at I-Park, a film she made while floating on the water.

The tour was over and she bade the group good-bye by saying, “Good morning everybody.””

Jean Tinguely and Willem Sandberg, Dylaby (1962)

Dylaby (1962), an exhibition organized by Stedelijk director Willem Sandberg in collaboration with the artist Jean Tinguely, transformed the museum into an immersive labyrinth. At times dark and disorienting, the participating artists—Tinguely with Niki de Saint Phalle, Daniel Spoerri, Per Olof Ultvedt, and Robert Rauschenberg—cluttered the galleries with physical obstacles that required visitors to navigate raised platforms, climbing structures, and false stairways amidst a cacophony of noise. A celebratory atmosphere likely tempered any frustration generated by the deliberate lack of clarity in the exhibition layout, as visitors gleefully fired BB guns and danced in a sea of floating balloons. Scholars have noted that Dylaby anticipated major trends that defined art of the 1960s and beyond: active participation supplanted passive spectatorship, and both experience and environment took precedence over the autonomous art object.[1]

Less frequently discussed, however, is the actual structure of Dylaby, which gave the exhibition its title—an abbreviated form of “dynamic labyrinth.” Dylaby was far from the only exhibition to foreground the labyrinth as a central motif, metaphor, and organizing principle. Following World War II, the labyrinth experienced a revival in popularity throughout Europe, evident in works by collectives like the Letterist International, the Situationist International, and the Nouveaux Réalistes, which counted Tinguely, Saint Phalle, and Spoerri among its members. …

Upon entering Dylaby, visitors plunged into darkness, feeling their way through a dark gallery littered with objects that Spoerri coated in an array of materials creating different textures and even varying temperatures. Throughout the installations, visitors navigated raised platforms, climbing structures, and false stairways. In a second environment by Spoerri, chairs, pedestals, and mannequins affixed to a wall created the illusion that the gallery had been flipped ninety degrees (fig. 5).[27] Ultvedt built an elevated walkway strewn with white shirts, which rotated on suspended turnstiles like floating specters, evoked in the work’s title, Doorloop met spoken (Walking with ghosts). In Raysse Beach, a jukebox played The Beach Boys while people danced among plastic balls and blow-up animals floating in a kiddie pool (fig. 6). Doing the twist in the raucous Raysse Beach had all the makings of what Jaffé would describe as the ritualized dance performed in the labyrinth. If Dylaby generated a disorientation akin to the chaos endemic to modernity, it also proffered the ludic means to work through and process that confusion.” [credit]

George Maciunas, Flux-Labyrinth (1975-1976)

building plans

Read a full account of the Flux-Layrinth from initial plans in SoHo NYC, to the first execution in Berlin, and later a 2015 installation in NYC. [read more – includes images and plans]

“As Fluxus founder George Maciunas often referred to, Fluxus is gag-like, and Fluxus artists are jokers. Fluxus artists have been producing not good art per se, but inventive gags, among which this one hundred square meters Flux-Labyrinth (1975-1976) was a notable one. This was a collective efforts by Fluxus artists including George Maciunas, Larry Miller, Ay-O, Joe Jones, Bob Watts, Ben Vautier, George Brecht, Geoff Hendricks and many others. This project not only marked the particular organizational and collaborative genius of George Maciunas, but also perfectly illustrated his interpretation of Fluxus through a well-designed life-sized gag.

According to George Maciunas, the whole structure of gag is linear and monomorphic, just like Fluxus’ conceptual inventions. There are sight gags, sound gags, object gags, all kinds of gags. But no joke can be presented in multi-forms, nor can several jokes be made simultaneously, because people just cannot get it at once. Likewise, the Flux-Labyrinth is a cleverly designed and rigidly defined gag series, which unfolded linearly in the obstacle-laden one-way passage among extensive maze of puzzling.

In Maciunas’ letter to René Block, explaining the final plan of labyrinth with great detail, he wrote, “First door at entry is one with a small (about 10cm square) door with its own knob. One has to open it and find pass the hand through, looking for the knob of the big door on other side that will open door. This way only smart people will be able to enter. Anyone passing that door will be able to pass all obstacles. Idiot will be prevented from entering…”

The opening statement is clear, it is an intelligent game. As described by Larry Miller, “Part fun house and part game arcade, the labyrinth fits within Maciunas’ broader idea of Fluxus-Art-Amusement.” Fluxus, at least Mr. Fluxus, is a serious joker.” [credit]

Cecilia Ramón, Free Range Trials (2018)


paths in the grass

Cecilia Ramon, Free Range Trials

Cecilia Ramon’s drawings, projection and earthwork, focus on ocean currents, water movements and aquatic organisms. Oceangrass, an earthworks installation piece, is a walk to experience the planetary path of the Thermohaline Ocean Global Current.