Is That a Fact?

by Jeff & Kimberly Saward

We have all read about the curious overlay and overlap of the celebrated rose window in the west frontage of Chartres Cathedral with the labyrinth that spans the floor of the nave, heard about the text of the psalms formerly engraved upon its pathway or maybe seen mention of the pools of coloured light that stream through the rose window to fall on the labyrinth on certain days of the year. But have you ever stopped to think what the source of these ‘facts’ might be, or ever seen the evidence to support these assertions? These cherished items of accepted labyrinth folklore, and many similar alleged facts surrounding other labyrinths, have become popular topics in a number of recent books and publications. Regrettably, many of these notions, however attractive they may seem, are based on shaky scholarship and dubious sources, often perpetuated from speculative statements made many years ago and subsequently repeated and embroidered many times over.

Labyrinth literature has long been riddled with error, exaggeration and romantic speculation, requiring readers and researchers to navigate a minefield of confusing and contradictory statements, as well as patently false information. With so many popular books on mazes and labyrinths published within the last few decades, at an ever-increasing rate, the recent proliferation of this labyrinth misinformation has continued apace. The quality and value of information published in a book can sometimes be gauged by the reputation of the author or the publishing house, and other times by the context of the book in which it appears. However, the advent of the internet, despite its many benefits, brings with it an information source that has no quality control and no easy way of determining which of the many websites you can find might be reliable sources. Unlike a well-produced book from a recognised publisher, a polished website with flashy graphics, bells and whistles, comes with no guarantee of quality content.

In books, magazine articles and the internet alike, a process akin to the childhood game of Chinese Whispers (known to American audiences as Telephone or Gossip) has been responsible for many of the more serious items of labyrinth misinformation. An account from one source gets misquoted repeatedly until it no longer even faintly resembles the original statement. And because we are dealing with a field where fact and mystery intertwine in many languages over a long history and broad geographical area, it becomes especially difficult to discern between fact and fiction. Equally, a statement which was never true in the first place, if repeated enough times, is assumed by all that hear it to be correct, if only because everybody tells the same story.

A sound research base of documented, verifiable facts does exist, but checking it may require more than just referring back to favourite popular books whose authors may themselves be guilty of merely quoting others. What is required is an inquiring and open mind, coupled with a willingness to follow the thread of a statement back to its original source and to weigh that writing against the statements of others. Often considerable light can be shed simply by considering the context of the original statement, evaluating it for common sense and possible bias– not always the easiest thing to do when we ourselves are holding to an agenda we want to prove.

Even when writing about a favourite theory in hopes of convincing others toward your way of thinking, a good rule of thumb can be: Don’t mystify fact and don’t factify mystery to prove your point. We don’t need to mystify facts when Mystery is all around us in our experience of the process. The labyrinth is an archetype; when we are walking it, we are in direct interaction with an archetype – that is Mystery, which doesn’t need embellishment by human hands to make it useful.

Myth and Mystery are not quantifiable. This can mean that if numbers fit a story too well, we might do well to be suspect. Real life is messy, but that doesn’t negate the need for integrity or the effort required to strive for objectivity. Good research is a tool in the hand of a teacher, and the nature of teaching is a sacred trust. It is the responsibility of the teacher, the writer and the researcher to convey information factually and fairly. This trust is broken when the gaps between a handful of facts are filled with misinformation, made-up ideas or imaginative embellishment. As examples of how easily some statements can be become distorted, and how difficult it can sometimes be to verify factual information, we will give three particular case studies that illustrate well the problems that exist within the field of labyrinth research.

The American Southwest

In her book, Exploring the Labyrinth, Melissa Gail West writes [1]:

Imagine Arizona, 1000 years ago. You are an Anasazi Indian, living high in the cliff dwelling of Casa Grande. It is a cold afternoon in January, too cold to venture from the mesa, and you idly scratch a crude labyrinth into the adobe walls of your pueblo. As you carve out the labyrinth from the soft pink earth, you remember how this labyrinth represents your people’s emergence into this world from the previous world in which they dwelt. Your spirit swells with pride as your fingers trace your people’s birth from the centre of this labyrinth.

This statement, which refers to the labyrinth inscribed on the inner wall of the Casa Grande ruins in Arizona, is admittedly not presented as a factual account of the origin of this inscription, more as a suggestive visualisation for the reader to ponder (or use with others) as part of an exercise. But this example brings up the problem of creating imagery with no foundation in fact. While perhaps not the gravest of sins, it should be remembered that when working with visualizations and guided imagery, one is working with deep recesses of the psyche where personal imagery is formed and ideas can be deeply implanted; it is, in fact, hypnosis. By definition, hypnosis bypasses the critical factor of rational thinking. Do we really want to be responsible for constructing for someone else an imagery that has no basis in reality, but which we pass off as real fact? Careful research is an important precursor to responsible spiritual teaching and psychological process as well as to writing. The reader, or another writer, imagining that this original statement is based on sound knowledge might well repeat part, or all of the supposed sequence of events given above as factual information, with or without the source being given to allow others to check the origin of the ‘facts.’

© Jeff Saward/Labyinthos
Casa Grande, Arizona

The problem here is that the statement is riddled with error and misinformation. Firstly, the ruin at Casa Grande is not an Anasazi cliff dwelling perched on the edge of a mesa; instead it is a four-storey adobe tower house, surrounded by the remains of a settlement with single storey dwellings. Situated amongst the saguaro forest of the open desert of the Gila River valley, on the edge of the modern town of Coolidge, some 45 miles (75 km) southeast of Phoenix, it was constructed and inhabited by the Hohokam people, sometime during the early 14th century CE, but was abandoned by about 1450.[2] While the origin of the labyrinth inscription high on the inner wall of the tower is impossible to determine for certain, it would seem likely that it was scratched by a later visitor to the ruins, maybe 200 – 400 years ago to judge from the position of the labyrinth and the surface erosion of other (datable) inscriptions on the adobe walls of the tower house.[3]

The history of the labyrinth symbol amongst the native peoples of the Americas is poorly understood and the question of the initial origin, whether an independent discovery, or a colonial introduction, remains a contentious issue. In such a vacuum of factual inform
ation, speculative ideas are bound to flourish. The labyrinth inscribed objects in the collection of Fr. Carlo Crespi, formerly housed in the church of Santa Maria Auxiliadora in Cuenca, Ecuador, one of which was recently displayed in Vienna at an exhibition of ‘evidence’ for ancient astronauts,[4] provides a good example of where this process can lead. Although claimed as ancient artefacts by various writers with particular agendas to promote,[5] the majority of the objects in the Crespi collection, including the items crudely inscribed with labyrinths, are probably little more than modern fantasies produced to meet the demands of an antiquities collector.

© Jeff Saward/Labyrinthos
Labyrinth from Crespi Collection

Similar items have appeared on the market before. Two supposedly Olmec bowls inscribed with labyrinths were sold by an antiquities dealer with dubious credentials in Mexico City in the 1950’s.[6] A supposedly Minoan seal stone with a labyrinth, purchased in Beirut in the 1960’s, was published in a learned journal before

Minoan Seal

subsequently being exposed as a fake.[7] When dealing with antiquities, there is always fraud in the marketplace and researchers and writers dealing with similar items with uncertain provenance should always be aware of these potential pitfalls.

Likewise, commercialism can bring misleading information, as well as objects, into the field. Recently we’ve seen websites talking about labyrinths as part of the Mayan tradition, even though there is absolutely no historical evidence for the labyrinth in Mayan culture. Further information on this labyrinth tradition is offered, on receipt of credit card details, as part of an online Mayan shamanic training service.[8] People selling sacred and secret information about labyrinths, especially on the Internet, should ring alarm bells!

The Rocky Valley Labyrinths.

The controversy surrounding the dating of the two classical labyrinths inscribed on a rockface behind Trewethett Mill in Rocky Valley, Cornwall, England, has been around ever since the carvings were discovered in the late 1940’s. The ‘official’ plaque attached to the rockface is carefully phrased to say that the carvings are “like” others that date to the Bronze Age, c.1800-1400 BCE. However, this dating was proposed some 50 years ago by a non-specialist and was never investigated or questioned by qualified archaeologists, despite the fact that the sharp edges of the carvings, clearly engraved with a metal tool, are quite unlike the pecked lines of genuine prehistoric petroglyphs found elsewhere in the British Isles.[9] Besides, the petroglyphs at Rocky Valley, carved into relatively soft, easily weathered slate, would surely not have survived over 3500 years of weathering and root action from the vegetation that cloaks the sides of the valley and rockfaces.

© Jeff Saward/Labyrinthos
Rocky Valley, Cornwall

Nonetheless, the dating was accepted without question, because it fitted the notion of sea-borne trade and diffusion of Mediterranean culture and symbols, popular at the time with archaeologists and writers alike. Modern archaeological thinking now downplays these links, and the rock art found in the British Isles is more often dated to the Neolithic or early Bronze Age – prior to 1800 BCE and it is only recently that the original dating has been questioned.

The Rocky Valley carvings have also been claimed to date to the early Christian period, partly by association with nearby early Christian settlements and antiquities, and partly because a similar classical labyrinth petroglyph has been found on the Hollywood Stone from County Wicklow, Ireland. Although these two locations are separated by 300 kilometres and the stormy Atlantic Ocean, this has been presented as evidence for a perceived link between these otherwise isolated labyrinths in early Christian Cornwall and Ireland. While cultural links between these two areas certainly existed at this time and the context of the Hollywood labyrinth certainly suggests a Christian heritage, ascribing a date to this labyrinth is also fraught with problems – at best it could be said to likely date from anywhere between the 6th and 14th centuries CE.

© Jeff Saward/Labyrinthos
Rocky Valley Carvings

More recently, a study of the history of Trewethett Mill, adjacent to the cliff on which the Rocky Valley labyrinths are carved, has provided a timeframe into which the labyrinths can be more plausibly located.[10] The mill was built sometime during the mid-1700’s and functioned until at least the 1860’s. The similarity of carved dates and owner’s initials on the ruins of mill to the carving style of the labyrinths, certainly suggests that they are contemporary with each other.

While many people might wish to cling to a romantic notion that the Rocky Valley labyrinths were carved by sea-faring Bronze Age traders or prospectors, or even some Celtic hermit or wandering missionary, en route to Ireland, a revised origin during the late 18th or even the early 19th century CE cuts the supposed age of the labyrinths at a stroke, and perhaps dispels the air of mystery that has long surrounded them. However, this revised dating doesn’t devalue them – they remain a fascinating example of an ancient folk symbol in use just a few hundred years ago and they remain situated in a beautiful and evocative setting.

If the Rocky Valley carvings date to the 18th century – which they could – then they’re not so far removed, either in time or distance, from the unique and fascinating occurrence of labyrinths on the Scilly Islands, 45 kilometres off the southwest coast of Cornwall. The stone labyrinth on the island of St. Agnes was originally constructed in 1729, just a little earlier than the time when the Rocky Valley labyrinths may have been carved, and is likewise of the same classical type. A number of other examples of this labyrinth design in use during the 18th and early 19th century, throughout the British Isles, provides far more evidence for knowledge of the labyrinth at this time than either the Bronze Age or Early Christian periods.

One might ask whether all this really matters. When a labyrinth is simply enjoyed in situ, the details of its construction probably don’t matter. However, the accurate dating of these or any labyrinth becomes vital when the dates are being used to construct theories about their origins. If the dates don’t tally, the theory won’t hold water. The problem with the example of Rocky Valley is that for the better part of half a century there has been no questioning of received wisdom, probably in part because the proposed dating fitted so nicely with romantic notions. It provides a good lesson on using disputed or untenable dates to construct theories about how something got there, without ever considering the context of the location.

The Labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral

© Jeff Saward/Labyrinthos
Chartres Cathedral, France

With the splendour, the awe, the mystery of Chartres Cathedral, it is no wonder that it has attracted so much mythology over the course of its long history. As a repository of holy relics, it has attracted pilgrims for over 1000 years, and in much the same way it has attracted popular folklore as well as misinformation. For instance, the story that the cathedral is situated on the site of a former Druidic temple, erected in honour of the “Virgo Paritura” (The Virgin who will conceive) is not based on any historical or archaeological evidence. As Mgr. Michon has shown, this story was created in the 16th century and popularised in the early 17th century by Sebastian Rouillard.[11] Recent archaeological excavation has shown that the cathedral overlies the alignment and foundations of earlier Roman buildings. However, the topic of this case study will be one particular part of this remarkable building – the pavement labyrinth situated in the nave of the cathedral. Not surprisingly, the published information about this labyrinth is riddled with confusion, supposition and fantasy – probably more so than any other labyrinth.

Date of Construction

Nobody actually knows when the labyrinth was constructed, because no surviving documents record that information, although various writers have published dates of 1200, 1220 and 1235, even as late as 1240, all given as if they were provable installation dates. The architectural detective work of John James (James, 1990) suggests that the labyrinth must have been laid early in the first decade of the 13th century (c.1201-1205 is a commonly quoted figure), as its position is so integral to the geometric layout of the cathedral, but this argument has a hint of circularity.[12] Craig Wright places its construction around 1215-1221, when the construction of the nave was essentially complete and the masons moved on to finish other parts of the cathedral structure. [13] As the masons would surely not have invested considerable time and expense in installing the labyrinth while there was still the possibility of damage by falling masonry, from work on the roof above, this would seem a sensible dating. Besides, until the construction scaffolding surrounding the pillars in the nave was removed, it would have been very difficult to install the labyrinth, the outer circuits of which run very close to the base of the pillars on either side.

Speculation that the current labyrinth replaced an earlier labyrinth in the nave is totally unfounded. While labyrinths with ‘mediaeval’ designs laid as floor decoration first appeared in churches and cathedrals in Italy during the early 12th century, it would appear that the idea did not spread to Northern France until the last decade of that century at the earliest. The labyrinth formerly at Sens may date to the 1190’s, but the example at Chartres was certainly among the early examples, and was clearly influential in the subsequent popularity of labyrinths in 13th century France and elsewhere in central and northern Europe.

The Central Plaque and the Psalms on the Pathway

All that remains of the copper plaque that formerly decorated the centre of the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral are the worn stubs of the rivets that held it in place. While we know, from a description of the plaque from around 1640, that it formerly bore a representation of the combat between Theseus and the Minotaur, we have no plan or diagram of the layout of its design. It would surely have been similar to the depictions of this scene found in contemporary labyrinth decorated manuscripts, or at the centre of the 12th century floor labyrinths in Italian cathedrals.

© Jeff Saward/Labyrinthos
Psalms on Chartres Pathways

However, in a recently published book, we are told that the plaque used to bear the following legend: “This stone represents the Cretan’s labyrinth. Those who enter cannot leave unless they be helped like Theseus, by Ariadne’s Thread.”[14] Since the plaque was supposedly removed in 1792, and no record of any text inscribed upon it survives, this statement might seem to the uninformed to provide a long-missing piece of the puzzle. But this is in fact a garbled version of the inscription alongside the labyrinth at Lucca in Italy. A simple enough case of confused information, but one that will surely be repeated, sometime in the future, in another book on labyrinths.

Likewise, another misunderstanding that has appeared on a number of occasions, concerns the words of the 51st psalm, Miserere mei, Deus, that were supposedly once engraved on the stones that form the path of the labyrinth at Chartres. This old chestnut continues to appear from time to time,[15] despite the fact that Jean Villette dispelled this notion as nothing more than a misinterpretation of an old engraving of the words of the psalm superimposed over a plan of the labyrinth, probably drawn in the mid 17th century, but not published until 1918. As Villette rightly points out, had the words ever been engraved on the flagstones, some trace of their former presence would surely survive, however worn.[16]


Much has been written about the exact size and measurements of the Chartres labyrinth. Hermann Kern, for example, stated categorically that the labyrinth is elliptical rather than circular,12.60  x 12.30 metres (41’4” x 40’4”).[17] He based his statement on comments from Maurice Guinguand, who had presumably taken his measurements from the often-published overhead photograph that appears in many books. However, this photograph, taken through a small hole in the ceiling of the nave, where the vaulting ribs intersect, is not directly above the centre, but offset toward the entrance of the labyrinth. As a consequence, it will always appear slightly elliptical in any of these ‘overhead’ photographs.

The exact size of the labyrinth has also been the subject of some disagreement. W.H. Matthews said about 40 feet,[18] Nigel Pennick[19] and Lauren Artress[20] say approx 42 feet and Emanuel Wallet gives 13 metres, nearer 43 feet.[21] Actually the labyrinth is 42 feet 3? inches by 42 feet 4 inches (12.887 x 12.903 metres), with the longest axis across the line of the entrance to the far side, or top, of the labyrinth.[22] This slight discrepancy from a true circle, although only a 0.0465 % error, might seem to support the claims that the labyrinth is slightly elliptical, but it is difficult to see that the original architects would have created this slight obliquity of ? inch (1.6 cm) on purpose. It would seem more likely to be the result of 800 years of gradual compression of the floor from the weight of the aisle pillars that line the nave, either side of the labyrinth, causing the individual interlocking stones that form the pavement to creep slightly inwards across the width of the labyrinth. The mortar gaps between the individual stones would easily absorb this movement without damage to any of the stones.

Plan of Chartres Labyrinth

There is also confusion surrounding the width of the paths of the labyrinth. Some claim the paths are 16 inches wide; in fact they average 13 ¼ inches (34 cm) with a 3 inch (7.5 cm) wall separating each path. Similarly the path length from entrance to centre is claimed to be anywhere between 450 feet (Matthews)[23] and 965 feet (294 m according to Kern).[24] This is clearly a considerable range, which should suggest caution in believing any of these figures, however apparently reliable the source may seem. Several books give the path length as 666 feet, a number that is surely too good to be true, often quoting Jean Shinoda Bolen’s Crossing to Avalon, published in 1994. But Bolen gives her source as Barbara Walker’s The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols & Sacred Objects (1988), which in turn quotes Elizabeth Pepper and John Wilcock’s Magical & Mystical Sites from 1976.[25] Turning to this source, we discover that this information comes from an unnamed “old book about Pagan Rome” which is clearly not a reliable basis for the subsequent faith in this almost magical path length.

The thing to bear in mind is that almost certainly, none of the authors confidently quoting numbers for this measurement have actually taken a tape to the path and measured it in person. At best these numbers are estimates based on approximate diameters, at worst just wild guesses! John James, who has measured much of Chartres Cathedral gives a path length of 261.5 metres (858 ft), which is surely correct, although it is not specified exactly where his path begins and ends.[26] Based on actual measurements and a mathematical model of the labyrinth, we calculate that the path length from the entrance to the very centre of the labyrinth is somewhere around 860.9 feet (262.4 m), but it is still worth checking if you ever happen to be in Chartres Cathedral with a pedometer!

The number of stones that form the path of the labyrinth provides a final numerical puzzle. Often quoted as exactly 270, and considered by many as symbolic of the number of days of human gestation, the exact number is in fact difficult to determine.[27] Several of the original stones have clearly broken since they were originally laid in place and now appear to be two slabs instead of one. Those with ragged, interlocking cracks are easy to spot; others with clean breaks are more difficult. There are also a few short slabs that look suspiciously like ‘patches’ inserted to replace damaged portions of pathway. Depending on how you count, it is possible to arrive at a number anywhere between 268 and 274. Either way, the use of the word ‘exactly’ in discussion of this, or any other labyrinth, should be treated with caution, as labyrinths tend not to conform to exactitudes.

Overlays and Alignments

Without doubt, the most frequently quoted ‘fact’ about the labyrinth at Chartres is the notion that the famous rose window, set high in the west frontage of the cathedral, if hinged down along the length of the nave, would exactly overlay the pattern of the window onto the labyrinth.[28] It’s a nice image, but unfortunately it isn’t true. This is a good example of a statement that has been repeated so frequently, but never checked, that nobody ever questions its authenticity. The idea was first popularised by Keith Critchlow in the 1970’s, but even then he stated only that… “the west rose window conforms basically in size to the labyrinth” and admitted that… “there is room for splitting hairs at the mechanically precise level.”[29] As the Rose Window has a diameter of around 11.9 metres (clear aperture of the glazed area, and nearer 13.6 metres including the moulding around the window), with the labyrinth measuring just under 12.9 metres, these are thick hairs indeed.

Overlaying the two designs would result in approximately 14 inch (0.35 m) overlap all round including the moulding and approx. 19 inch (0.50 m) shortfall if just the glazed pattern is overlaid. However this ignores a vital error in the original concept – the height of the rose window on the west wall is not the same as the distance of the labyrinth from the base of that same wall, indeed the difference would seem to amount to approximately 10 feet (approx. 3.0 m) based on published plans of the cathedral and trigonometric measurement (see note below). The whole business is a nice piece of imagery, but in reality it just doesn’t work. Instead, the two designs would overlay to form a symbol somewhat akin to a vesica. No doubt this piece of imagery could also spawn a whole new mythology, especially if it were to be retold in the same fashion as the original overlay concept.

Likewise the often claimed astronomical alignments involving the labyrinth – the notion that the sun shining through the western rose window, or the Virgin Mary panel in the window below the rose, projects its coloured pattern onto the labyrinth on certain days of the year – are also seriously flawed. For a start, the stained glass of the original mediaeval windows does not transmit the sun’s rays directly; rather it diffuses the light to produce the remarkable glowing colours that are especially celebrated at Chartres. The pattern of the rose window simply cannot be seen falling on the labyrinth. More importantly, all of the calculations that have been used to prove these supposed projections, real or symbolic, use the same magnetic compass bearing for the alignment of the cathedral, 223 degrees.[30] This apparently ignores the magnetic correction for Chartres, currently around 2 degrees, but slowly and constantly changing, which constitutes the difference between true north and the magnetic north pole to which the compass points. This correction is critical for determining any astronomical alignments and therefore the true alignment of the labyrinth on the centre of the rose window is around 225 degrees, almost exactly southwest.

Another problem, often overlooked with these theories, is that all of the calculations seem to assume that the Rose Window is the same height up the wall as the labyrinth is away from it – therefore subtending a 45-degree angle between the labyrinth and the window. While the sloping floor of the nave makes calculating this angle from absolute measurements difficult, measure this angle with a clinometer, which negates the uncertainties and provides a true azimuth, and you will discover that it is a little under 41 degrees (average reading 40.9 degrees).[31] Clearly this makes all such calculations published to date either suspect or invalid.

Finally, any such calculations need to take account of the differences between the current calendar and the dates that any such alignments may have worked some 800 years ago when the current cathedral and the labyrinth were built. Pope Gregory XIII’s reform of the Julian calendar in 1582 shifts all such alignments by around seven days from the day where we might observe the same effect today. Therefore, such alignments claimed by several recent authors to happen on August 15th, the day of Assumption in the mediaeval calendar, would now happen on August 22th.[32] But they would also happen in exactly the same fashion during the Spring, as the movement of the sun back and forth between the extremes of the solstices creates duplicate conditions at either end of the cycle.

The “Lunations”

Without doubt, the most remarkable feature of the Chartres labyrinth is the halo of ornamentation that surrounds the outer circuit of the labyrinth. Comprising of 112 ‘cusps,’ enclosed within 113 ‘foils,’ the complete circle would contain 114 of each, but for the two cusps and one foil omitted to allow entrance to the labyrinth. Variously described by different authors as cups, cusps, spikes, teeth or cogs, the majority of recent books on the subject refer to this unique arrangement as the ‘lunations.’ This term is obviously redolent with connotation, suggesting some ancient symbolic meaning, but what is the origin of this terminology?

Keith Critchlow first coined it, almost inadvertently, as recently as the early 1970’s. Talking about the 112 cusps around the halo, he says, “When one does divide 112 by 4 (the major divisions of the paths of the maze) we find it gives us 28. The days of a lunar month?”[33] He later talks in the same sentence about the ‘lunations’ and ‘cusps’ and although he is talking about lunar months, and not naming the pattern as such, the connection was made and this nomenclature has been used ever since, especially since it was popularised by Lauren Artress in her 1994 book Walking a Sacred Path. In that book, Artress says, “Some believe that the labyrinth served as a calendar. It offered a method of keeping track of the lunar cycles of 28 days each. Using this, the church could determine the date of the lunar feast of Easter.”[34] Many folk have picked up on this qualified statement without inquiring how exactly such a supposed lunar calculator might work in practice, and what started life as nothing more than a simple speculative observation has now become accepted fact in many circles.

The biggest problem with this notion is that there are actually 29.5306 days in an average synodic lunar month (the time between consecutive new moons), not 28, and the mediaeval scholars and clerics were well aware of this awkward number, if not its precise and slowly changing value. They created complex lunar calendrical systems with alternating months of 29 and 30 days, employed embolistic years with additional intercalated months and inserted leap days, to keep track of this cycle in order to keep the theoretical lunar cycle in sequence with the solar calendar according to the principles determined by Dionysius Exiguus during the early 6th century CE. [35] These tables were constructed to determine in advance the date of the first full moon that would occur on or after the spring equinox in any given year, and thus calculate the date of Easter, the primary festival of the Christian Church. They were assiduously compiled, copied and distributed by Christian scholars, scriptoriums and centres of learning across Europe and can still be found in old Bibles as the tables of Golden Numbers.

In medieval Christian manuscripts and encyclopaedia these tables were sometimes accompanied by drawings of labyrinths, presumably to illustrate the complexity of the subject matter, as much as anything else. Arguably, this juxtaposition may have been influential in the subsequent connection between labyrinths and Easter festivals and dances in the cathedrals of France. Undoubtedly, the complex alternating circuits of the labyrinth were seen as symbolic of the intermeshing cycles of the calendars, as well as the spheres on which the sun, moon and planets moved around the firmament against the background of the fixed stars. Beyond these lay additional spheres representing the spiritual heavens, where saints and angels resided. The use of labyrinths to exemplify these principles is a further demonstration of the flexibility of the symbol to reflect the complex interplay of the scientific and spiritual worlds of mediaeval thought.

So the supposed 28-day lunar month is a fallacy, based on a modern misperception of ‘primitive’ calendrical systems. However, early Babylonian, and subsequent Greek astronomers, over 2500 years ago, had not only calculated the length of both lunar and solar cycles, but also figured out how to integrate the two. Our modern calendar of alternating days of 30 and 31 days, with a shorter month in February allocated to contain a leap day to correct the exact number of days in the year, has essentially been in operation since the calendar reforms of Julius Caesar were enacted in 46 BCE. Look, for example, at the medieaeval  clocks with moon faces in cathedrals (Wells Cathedral in England, for instance), and they all give 29-1/2 days for the lunar cycle.

However, we recently heard a well known speaker tell how there were formerly 13 (lunar) months of 28 days in mediaeval Europe, until the Gregorian calendar was introduced in the 16th century to replace it with a solar calendar – absolute nonsense! It was introduced to bring the existing Julian (solar) calendar back in line with the equinoxes, which had been drifting ever since it was introduced some 1600 years earlier, because there were too many leap years – a reform first suggested by Roger Bacon in his Opus Maius sent to Pope Clement IV in 1267.[36]


Because of the uncertainty and genuine mystery that surrounds the origin, construction, and meaning of the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral, it typifies the problems that occur in published research and popular works within this field. The contradicting “facts” and numerical discrepancies are highly significant in terms of measurements and historical accuracy, but not so significant in terms of symbolism if your point is merely to describe relationships as you might do if you were to say that something is nearly the same size as something else. You can’t, however, construct a 21st century theory of Medieval symbolism without taking into account the specific details of what the world was like back then. A society with its inherent culture and spirituality cannot be separated from its history.

If your own writing is based on other people’s research, you need to be aware and constantly question the premises of that research. Look for clues as to what’s real and provable fact and what’s speculation, so you don’t pass one off as the other. Further, if you are using broad parameters for determining symbolic relationships, be truthful by avoiding words that imply specificity and exactness. Be careful, therefore, about using words like ‘always’ and ‘exactly’ and qualify your statements unless you have precise figures or measurements. The intent and the impact will remain the same without casting shadows of imprecise scholarship on your work.

Don’t make up facts to fill in gaps. If you don’t know, don’t guess. There is nothing wrong with admitting you don’t know something. Make it clear when you are giving an opinion and be equally clear when you are quoting someone else. Crediting and referencing your sources validates your work and serves as a guide for future researchers who are building on what you have done. Above all, as you strive to communicate your information, stay in integrity: temper your creativity with responsibility.


  1. West, Melissa Gayle. Exploring the Labyrinth. New York: Broadway Books, 2000.
  2. Houk, Rose. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. Tucson: Southwest Parks & Monuments Association, 1987.
  3. Saward, Jeff. Labyrinths & Mazes. London: Gaia, 2003, p.70. The labyrinth clearly shows more weathering than graffiti scratched nearby from the early 1800’s onwards, but would have been at floor level on the polished walls of the building, if scratched during the occupation phase – an unlikely position and the only such inscription anywhere on the walls.
  4. Die Welt des Unerklärlichen Ausstellung, Vienna Art Centre, 22 June – 23 September 2001.
  5. Von Däniken, Erich. The Gold of the Gods. London: Souvenir Press, 1973.
  6. Schuster, Carl. Social Symbolism in Ancient & Tribal Art, Volume 3, Book 2, ed. Edmund Carpenter. New York: Rock Foundation, 1988, p.322-3.
  7. See “Notes & Queries”, Caerdroia (24) 1991, p.62.
  8. Originally at and, but both links now defunct.
  9. Beckensall, Stan. British Prehistoric Rock Art. Stroud, England: Tempus, 1999, p.85.
  10. Saward, Abegael. “The Rocky Valley Labyrinths” Caerdroia 32 (2001), pp.21-27.
  11. Michon, Mgr. Roger. “Les Druides – ont-ils honoré la Vierge qui devait enfanter?” Notre-Dame de Chartres 58 (1984).
  12. James, John. The Master Masons of Chartres. Leura, NSW Australia: West Grinstead Publishing, 1990.
  13. Wright, Craig. The Maze and the Warrior. Cambridge, MA & London: Harvard University Press, 2001.
  14. Schaper Donna & Carol Ann Camp. Labyrinths from the Outside In. Woodstock, Vermont: Skylight Paths Publishing, 2000, p.8.
  15. e.g. Pennick, Nigel. Mazes and Labyrinths. London: Robert Hale, 1990, p.120.
  16. Villette, Jean. “L’énigme du labyrinthe de la cathédrale” p.9.
  17. Kern, Hermann. Labyrinthe. Munich: Prestel, 1982. Revised edition published in English asThrough the Labyrinth, ed. Robert Ferré & Jeff Saward. Munich & London: Prestel, 2000.
  18. Matthews, W.H. Mazes and Labyrinths – A General Account of their History and Developments. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1922.
  19. Pennick, Nigel. Mazes and Labyrinths.
  20. Artress, Lauren. Walking a Sacred Path – Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool. New York: Riverhead Books, 1995.
  21. Wallet, Emanuel. Description d’une crypte et d’un pavé mosaïque de l’église St-Bertin à Saint-Omer. St.Omer and Douai, 1843.
  22. Measurements taken by Jeff Saward and Marty Kermeen, June 2002.
  23. Matthews, W.H. Mazes and Labyrinths – A General Account of their History and Developments.
  24. Kern, Hermann. Labyrinthe. Munich: Prestel, 1982.
  25. Bolen, Jean Shinoda. Crossing to Avalon. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1994, p.25; Walker, Barbara. The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols & Sacred Objects. Edison, New Jersey: Castle Books, 1988, p.215; Pepper, Elizabeth & John Wilcock. Magical & Mystical Sites. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976, p.159.
  26. James, John. The Contractors of Chartres. London: Croom Helm, 1981.
  27. It would appear that this matter was first mentioned by Robert Ferré in his unpublished manuscript A Day at Chartres, (1995), where he credits Canon Legaux and Jean Villette for pointing out that the path is composed of 272 stones.
  28. Ketley-Laporte, John & Odette. Chatres – le labyrinthe déchiffre. Chartres: Éditions Garnier, 1997, see p.64 with a diagram of the arrangment. This assertion is repeated uncritically by many recent authors, including Craig Wright, The Maze and the Warrior, Harvard University Press, 2001, p.43, and Penelope Reed Doob, The Idea of the Labyrinth, Cornell University Press, 1990, p131.
  29. Critchlow, Keith, Jane Carroll and Llewylyn Vaughan Lee. Chartres Maze – a model of the universe? London: RILKO Occasional Paper No.1, 1975, p.15.
  30. Ketley-Laporte, John & Odette. Chartres – le labyrinthe déchiffré. p.63.
  31. Measured by Jeff Saward with a Suunto 360 PC clinometer, May 2001, averaged from three readings taken across the labyrinth and weighted towards the reading taken from the centre of the Labyrinth to the centre of the Rose Window.
  32. Ketley-Laporte, John & Odette. Chartres – le labyrinthe déchiffré. See p.65, the authors shift the dates correctly, but ignore the Spring alignment.
  33. Critchlow, Keith, Jane Carroll and Llewylyn Vaughan Lee. Chartres Maze – a model of the universe? p.9-10.
  34. Artress, Lauren. Walking a Sacred Path – Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool. p.60.
  35. Richards, E. G. Mapping Time – The Calendar and its History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, see pp.354-378.
  36. Duncan, David Ewing. The Calendar. London: Fourth Estate, 1998, see pages 1-9.

Is That a Fact? first appeared in Caerdroia 33, 2003 © Jeff Saward & Kimberly Lowelle Saward, Thundersley, February 2003.
This revised edition is ©Jeff Saward & Kimberly Lowelle Saward, 2014.
Photos and illustrations © Jeff Saward/Labyrinthos
An expanded version of the Chartres section of this article can be found here, © 2009.