Loyola University Chicago

Medieval Studies

Labyrinths and the World: One Big Mapmundi

                                   T-in-O map[1]

                                                  T-in-O map[2]

Gothic Architecture is famous for its love of geometry and its implementation of sharp angles, flying buttresses, and rose windows.  All of these characteristics point to a society which was infatuated with shapes.  As such, the labyrinth, being one of the great expressions of geometry since it can be comprised of almost any shape, is right at home inside these various churches.  But the labyrinth was not simply a decoration, for there was a definite purpose behind its existence.  Whether it served as a substitute for pilgrimages to Jerusalem or as a staging ground for Easter festivities, there is another possible meaning behind labyrinths, particularly the circular ones: they were representations of the known world.  As a result of the Crusades, European culture was increasingly curious about the wider world around them.  Oftentimes, this world would be imagined as proportioned between the three continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe, which led to the creation of T-in-O maps.[3] Generally speaking, T-in-O maps are depicted as circles, and as such it would not have been overly difficult to connect the dots between the map and labyrinth.[4]

With the connection made between the two, a fascinating side story of sorts develops.  Christianity during the Middle Ages perceived churches as being a microcosm of the universe, so with the introduction of the labyrinth, which became the world, heaven and earth were united as one, which consequently brought together the physically and spiritually “journey-able” aspects of faith: pilgrimage and salvation.[5]  In representing the world, the labyrinth was seen as connecting worshippers with the divine.

[1] Source: "205LL Sallust T-O Map with West Orientation, from De Bello Jugurthino (6.8 Cm Diameter)." Henry Davis Consulting - New Products and Marketing Consultants. Web. 07 Mar. 2010. .

[2] "205Y T-O Map, from 11 Th Century MS. Edition of Beatus' Commentary (4.7 Cm Diameter)." Henry Davis Consulting - New Products and Marketing Consultants. Web. 07 Mar. 2010. .

[3] Connolly, “At the Center of the World,” 302-303.

[4] Kern, Through the Labyrinth, 148.

[5] Connolly, 304-305.