The St. Omer labyrinth seems to be of a strange and confusing design, at least at first sight.
It was situted in the abbey church St. Bertin in Saint-Omer (France), was built in the 14th century, and was destroyed during the French Revolution in the 18th century. A copy of the original in half a size was installed as a floor labyrinth about 1843 in the cathedral Notre-Dame in Saint-Omer. The layout is also passed down by drawings.
The floor labyrinth in square form with an edge length of nearly 11 m was built of 49 horizontal and 49 vertical rows of black-and-white tiles. The white tiles show the path, the black ones are the walls of the labyrinth.
In the Pacificatizaal in the town hall of Ghent (Belgium) is a 1533 built floor labyrinth with the dimensions 11.05 m x 13.30 m in rectangular form, that still exists these days. It is formed from 41 horizontal and 49 vertical rows of black-and-white tiles, and is inspired obviously by the St. Omer labyrinth. Probably for lack of space it was not built squarely and thereby has quite an other alignment than the St. Omer labyrinth.
The cross above the middle is remarkable in both labyrinths. The centre itself is relatively small and the lines looks confusing. However, it is a real labyrinth in both cases. Because there is only one way into the centre and no bifurcations or dead ends. There is a vertical main axis and both the first and the last piece of the path lie on this axis. Through that one single white tile is enclosed.
These labyrinths were not intended as labyrinths to walk, they had other functions, we may not forget this.
Comparison with the Chartres labyrinth
If we examine more exactly the square St. Omer Labyrinth, we recognise the relationship with the Chartres labyrinth.
This will be manifested if we develop a square Chartres labyrinth with the same structural principles as in the St. Omer labyrinth.
To ascertain the relationship best one looks to the passages in the axes. In both labyrinths there are in the horizontal axis through the centre on the right and left side of it five crossings of the path from one sector into an other. In the vertical axis above the centre three crossings can be found. Though they lie at different places – this comes from the different layouts – it is the same number.
In both labyrinths the way immediately is right in the middle, touches quite quick the centre, runs past it, moves to all sectors of the labyrinth, and finally enters the centre coming from completely outside.
In the St. Omer Labyrinth the alignment is more confusing than in the Chartres labyrinth, and therefore reminds of a maze.
On the website labyreims.com of Jacques Hébert (1938-2007) is a well-illustrated comparison between the Chartres labyrinth and the St. Omer labyrinth … > Link
Note (02/20/2013): The website is unfortunately no longer available
Note from 01/09/2015: You may find the above mentioned website of Jacques Hébert here: http://web.archive.org/web/20110110060424/http://www.labyreims.com/e-st-omer.html
Thanks to Jamie for this information!
- But here is something new from Samuel Verbiese …>Link
- A St. Omer labyrinth in front of the church St. Urban in Ottmarsbocholt (Germany) … > Link (in German)
- Photographs of the labyrinths in Notre-Dame Saint-Omer and in Ghent on Jeff Saward’s website … > Link