A labyrinth is a patterned path, often circular in form, used as a walking meditation or spiritual practice. A labyrinth's walkway is arranged in such a way that the participant moves back and forth across the circular form through a series of curves, ending at the labyrinth's heart or center. It is a unicursal hexagram, which means that it has only one entrance and leads in only one direction.
The unicursal designs associated with labyrinths are thought to predate constructed labyrinths. Pottery estimated to be 15,000 years old painted with labyrinthine patterns has been discovered in the Ukraine. The oldest known constructed labyrinths were built in ancient Egypt and Etruria (central Italy) around 4500 b.c., perhaps to prevent evil spirits from entering tombs. It was thought that the evil spirits were repelled by the planned order of the labyrinth's design.
Other labyrinths were made by the Romans as mosaic patterns on the floors of large houses or public buildings. These mosaic labyrinths were usually square or rectangular in shape. The Romans also constructed turf labyrinths in fields or other open areas as a test of skill for horseback riders. Traces of Roman turf labyrinths have been found all over Europe.
The labyrinth on the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France was installed around a.d. 1200, and a similar labyrinth in Amiens Cathedral was made around the same time. Tracing the path through the labyrinth, often on the knees, was for many pilgrims the final act of devotion on the pilgrimage.
Medieval labyrinths were circular in shape, the circle being a universal symbol of wholeness, completion, and unity.
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