Loyola University Chicago

Medieval Studies

St. Reparata Labyrinth

Type: Square, Roman Labyrinth

Status: Moved, can be found at Algiers Cathedral, Algeria

                                                           St. Reparatus[1]

Having finally gaining official recognition, the early Christian Church conscientiously sought to bring Christianity closer to Roman culture so as to open the faith up to larger numbers of people, and one of the ways this was accomplished was by adopting foreign symbols to their cause so as to help converts better understand his or her religion.  While not the most famous example of symbol absorption, the labyrinth of Saint Reparata of El Asnam (Orleansville), Algeria illustrates these changes.

Looking at the labyrinth of St. Reparata, one will notice that it is unlike its successors in Medieval Europe.  While later labyrinths would follow the Cretan model, Saint Reparata is unmistakably Roman, meaning it is square and was originally laid down in 324 CE, making St. Reparata’ the earliest known church labyrinth in the world.[2]  Unique to this object, the labyrinth’s center seems to be comprised of a crossword puzzle, but this is actually a palindrome of “Sancta Eclesia.”[3]  This means that no matter how one reads this phrase, be it forwards or backwards, vertically or horizontally, it will always say the same thing.  As a result, this creates a “process of reversal” in which the mirroring phrases reflect a higher, spiritual, truth.[4]  With the phrase Sancta Ecclesia, or Holy Church, replacing the figures of Theseus and the Minotaur, this early Christian labyrinth is an assertion that while the journey to the center is perilous, the reward for reaching it is not death as in the Greek legend, but eternal life.[5]    

[1] Source: W.H. Matthews, Mazes and Labyrinths, (Detroit, Singing Tree Press, 1969). Accessed from http://www.sacred-texts.com.

[2] Hermann Kern, Through the Labyrinth (New York, Prestel, 2000) 143; Craig Wright, The Maze and the Warrior (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2001) 16-18.

[3] Wright, The Maze and the Warrior, 16-18.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.