The Crossing Labyrinths by Dom Nicolas de Rély

The last crossing labyrinths I want to show were all designed by Dom Nicolas de Rely. This clergyman from Benedictine abbey Corbie near Amiens has produced eight drawings with own labyrinth designs, all in pen and ink. Three of them are crossing labyrinths. I have ordered them by the number of axes and labelled them Rely 2, 3, and 4. 

Rély 2 has 15 circuits. It is designed on a layout with 8 axes; however by shifting of one (real) single barrier, it can be reduced to 7 axes. The pathway crosses the main axis from the 7th to the 12th circuit. And it reaches the center from the innermost 15th circuit, which is a complete attached trivial circuit. Therefore it is an uninteresting labyrinth (fig. 1). 

Figure 1. Rély 2
Figure 1. Rély 2

Because of its pseudo single barriers, Rely 3 has been already shown on this blog (see related posts, below). It has 9 axes and 5 circuits. The pathway crosses the main axis from the 4th to the 1st circuit and reaches the center after a full circle on an attached trivial 5th circuit. Thus, also this labyrinth has to be described as uninteresting (fig. 2).

Figure 2. Rély 3
Figure 2. Rély 3

The third crossing labyrinth, Rély 4, is designed on a layout with 14 axes and 15 circuits (fig. 3). This, however, can be reduced to 10 axes. The pathway crosses the main axis from the 6th to the 13th circuit. The entrance to the labyrinth is from the left side and (erroneously?) closed. The center is not reached at the main axis, but from the third side-axis on the innermost circuit. Therefore there remains a short piece of the pathway leading into a dead-end at the end of the last circuit.

Figure 3. Rély 4
Figure 3. Rély 4

I will have a closer look at the two labyrinths Rély 2 and Rély 4 in a later post.

Related posts:


Crossing Labyrinths with Multiple Axes

In addition to the three labyrinths with one axis from my last post (see: related posts 1, below) there are also 7 historical labyrinths with multiple axes and with their pathway crossing the main axis. Of these, I want to present here four very different examples from Roman times until the 18th century together with their patterns. I have already shwon on this blog how the pattern can be obtained in crossing labyrinths (related posts 2). 

The oldest crossing labyrinth with multiple axes is the polychrome mosaic labyrinth in the Roman proconsul’s residence, House of Theseus, at Kato Paphos, Cyprus dating from 4 CE (fig. 1). Presented is the Ariadne’s Thread as a guilloche ribbon. The pathway starts from a dead-end on the first circuit. After completion of the full circuit, it crosses the main axis and describes a sector labyrinth with four axes on circuits 2 – 6. Then follows a full 7th circuit that leads into a closed 8thcircuit. 

Figure 1. Theseus
Figure 1. Theseus

Figure 2 shows the labyrinth of Bayeux Cathedral from the 13 CE. This has 4 axes and 10 circuits. The pathway crosses the main axis on the innermost circuit. 

Figure 2. Bayeux
Figure 2. Bayeux

A strange labyrinth is depicted on a plaquette from Italy of the 16th century. It has 6 axes that are distributed irregularly. There is a flaw between the third and fourth axis, where there is an encapsuled piece of a pathway that is not accessible. This piece circulates on the second and third circuit but has no connection with the pathway that leads from the entrance to the center of the labyrinth. Furthermore, the pathway crosses the main axis three times. This labyrinth can be easily reduced to three axes. 

Figure 3. Plaquette
Figure 3. Plaquette

Also in this design for a hedge labyrinth from year 1704, the pathway crosses the main axis twice and then ends peripherally in a dead-end (fig. 4). 

Figure 4. Liger
Figure 4. Liger

All these crossing labyrinths with multiple axes show particularities. Theseus has no entrance and no center, Bayeux is uninteresting, as it has simply a complete circuit added at the inside. The plaquette is drawn faulty and unnecessary complicated. And in Liger, no center can be spotted. 

Related Posts:

  1. Crossing Labyrinths
  2. The Pattern in Non-alternating Labyrinths

What is a Labyrinth?

or, freely adapted from a song by Herbert Grönemeyer (German musician):

When is a Labyrinth a Labyrinth?

My researches on Wikipedia about the labyrinth have inspired me once again to try an own definition of the labyrinth. This is my proposal:

The labyrinth is (at first sight) a confusing, nevertheless unique, purposeful, artful and meaningful system of lines. The labyrinth, strictly spoken, leads (as a rule) on an unbranched, winding path to the aim, mostly in the middle. The labyrinth, broadly defined, has a branched system of lines with more options, dead ends and loops and is called a maze. The labyrinth as a metaphor signifies confusing and mostly difficult facts and circumstances.

Classical 7-circuit labyrinth with a larger centre

Knidos Labyrinth

Ariadne's Thread (path) in a classical 7-circuit labyrinth

Ariadne’s Thread

Hedge Maze Schönbusch (Germany)


Classical 3-circuit labyrinth

Simple Labyrinth

Classical labyrinth with 4 circuits and an additional path

Type Baltic Wheel

Type Gossembrot with 5 axes and 7 circuits

Type Gossembrot

Schwanberg Labyrinth (4 divisions)

Type Schwanberg

Calligraphic Labyrinth by Ingeborg E. Müller

Calligraphic Labyrinth

Crossing Labyrinth by Alana Forest

Crossing Labyrinth
















This is probably too long, sounds to complex and looks, hence, quite labyrinthine. Maybe the first sentence would be enough, because it does not exclude the maze and admits the exceptions.

A labyrinth is not always unbranched and totally without every option. Otherwise, the type Baltic wheel (such as the Rad in der Eilenriede at Hannover) would not be a labyrinth. The aim also is not always the middle, especially the geometrical middle or the centre. The Wunderkreis of Kaufbeuren with branching paths is without a real middle and is rather a passageway labyrinth, hence, very well suitable for pageants.

Also the change of course in the movement belongs not necessarily to the labyrinth, because, otherwise, a 3 circuit labyrinth or some modern forms would not be a labyrinth. One can even accept crossroads, like in the Crossing labyrinth of Alana Forest from Australia, because the alignment is unequivocal. One may neither turn left nor right, but always go straight ahead.

Labyrinths and mazes have a lot in common and are related. In colloquial English, labyrinth is generally synonymous with maze. A maze is also a labyrinth (in the broader sense), but a labyrinth (strictly spoken) is not a maze. Since one cannot get lost in it. But it can be bewildering and irritating (at first sight).
I believe, the confusion also comes along that we speak of the labyrinth in the strict sense from a single path free of crossroads and branches and then we show the boundary lines of the labyrinth. Besides, the information refers to the path, Ariadne’s thread, which lies between the boundary lines and is not visible in this form of expression. Just this happened to me at the beginning of my acquaintance with the labyrinth. Only the second and more exact look makes clear the right correlations.

It is the fascination of the labyrinth that it is an ancient, archaic human symbol to be found in different cultures, religions and time epochs and that is open for many interpretations and approaches. This is why it is also qualified for our current time and world as a universal symbol. However, nobody should claim for himself the interpretational sovereignty.

A new Labyrinth Design from the Outback

Alana Forest from Australia has developed new and creative ideas for the labyrinth.

The ways are crossing and looks like being knotted. At first sight this seems to be a maze, because there are crossroads. However, they are not intended as those. Rather one should always go straight ahead, not branch off  to the right or to the left. One can figure the labyrinth three-dimensional, like the lanes in a motorway interchange.

Hence, the way right into the labyrinth is unequivocal and certainly leads into the centre. The way out from the labyrinth is the same and, nevertheless, another. If I was in the centre of the labyrinth and want to go outside again, I must turn back and take the same path. And, nevertheless, something has changed. The drawings should make this clear.

The way in

The way in

The way out

The way out

The labyrinth sometimes changes something. Here one can see it.

A Chinese proverb says: A way is made by walking. This is applicable here literally.