Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Labyrinth

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A complicated arrangement of paths and passages; or a place, usually subterraneous, full of windings, corridors, rooms, etc., so intricately arranged as to render the getting out of it a very difficult matter.

The labyrinth as an architectural term derives its name from the famous ancient or mythical labyrinths of Crete and Egypt. Geometrical figures composed of various pieces of coloured marbles and so disposed as to form labyrinths were frequently found in the pavements of French cathedrals and so-called labyrinthes de pavé. The finest remaining example is in the centre of the nave of Notre Dame, Chartres, and a person following the various windings and turns of the figure would walk nearly 800 feet before he arrived at the centre, although the circumference does not exceed thirteen yards. Similar labyrinths formerly existed at Notre Dame, Paris, at the cathedral of Reims, and at Amiens. This latter was only taken up in the latter part of the last century, and the centre stone (which is octangular and was formerly inlaid with brass imagery) is still preserved in the museum of that city. These labyrinths were supposed to have originated in a symbolical allusion to the Holy City, and certain prayers and devotions doubtless accompanied the perambulation of their intricate mazes.

In modern times, generally a fantastic arrangement of lofty and thick hedges in a garden as at Hampton Court, where it is difficult to find one's way to the centre.

THOMAS H. POOLE