MAZES AND LABYRINTHS
TWO MAZES AT THE WATTS CHAPEL, COMPTON, SURREY
Sundial expert Jo Edkins has kindly given his views on the types of maze shown in the photos above CHARTRES MAZES
He writes “Both mazes appear to based on the famous ‘Chartres’ maze pattern, the model for many that came after (also seen at Lucca Cathedral in the porch, which may even pre-date Chartres – see below). The simpler (smaller) version of Chartres is described as a ‘mini-Chartres’. Chartres mazes are ‘unicursal’, with a single path and no choices or branches. You start at the edge, walk the path, and end at at the middle. Surprisingly enough, it’s very hard to design an original maze of this type.
A normal branching maze is much easier, as you draw the path, then fill up all the spaces with dead-ends. But in a unicursal maze, you have to fill up the spaces with the path itself, which can’t cross itself. When you try to design one from scratch, you tend to get ‘boxed in’ in one particular area, and can’t get out without crossing a path that you’ve already done…
The ANGEL maze. The terracotta angel is holding what appears to be a mini-Chartres, but there’s more in the centre. It looks half way between a mini-Chartres and a normal Chartres.
The ALTAR maze looks like a mini-Chartres in the centre, and then has some Roman-style zigzags on the outside. But it’s not really Roman as they have each quarter the same (rotational symmetry), whereas here the zigzags mirror each other (Roman mazes are square as well, but you can easily turn a square maze into a round one).
Mary Watts possibly invented the mazes or more probably adapted both mazes from the Chartres pattern. She may have started with the standard design and either deliberately experimented with variations or simply got it wrong, and ended up with a new pattern of her own. There are known instances of miscopied Chartres mazes, where some adaptation has been needed to make it come right. An obvious way to make a new design is to start with an existing one, and either complicate it a bit or just redraw a bit of it.
It’s unlikely that she invented the mazes from scratch, as the four ‘arms’ of the cross, and the Chartres style of either turning back or going straight on at an ‘arm’ are very distinctive (and very cunning). And the combination of a chapel and mazes surely means that she knew about the original Chartres – the most famous church maze – or seen one of the many, many versions of it. Maybe she had a terrible time time trying to make a new one, and then decided to fiddle with the Chartres one instead!
The proper Chartres has a rigour to the pattern which pre-determines how many circles there are. She’s produced a simpler design (in one way) which means that she has more freedom with the number of circles. Who knows! I suspect that it IS an original design, but sadly, not as elegant as the original Chartres. But it works, so full marks to her for that!”
TWO ITALIAN MAZES
MAZE IN THE ENTRANCE PORCH OF THE DUOMO S. MARTINO, LUCCA
This maze is embedded in the right pier of the portico and is believed to date from the 12th century or 13th century. Its importance is that it may well pre-date the famous Chartres maze, yet is of the Chartres pattern that became a standard for mazes. The attractive and rustic incised Latin inscription refers to ancient pagan mythology: “This is the labyrinth built by Dedalus of Crete; all who entered therein were lost, save Theseus, thanks to Ariadne’s thread.”
HIC QUEM CRETICUS EDIT
DAEDALUS EST LABERINTHUS
DE QUO NULLUS VADERE
QUIVIT QUI FUIT INTUS
NI THESEUS GRATIS ADRIANE
Both these maze images are now featured in the excellent and fascinating maze website at MAZES & LABYRINTHS This site covers the history of mazes, with prolific examples both photographic and diagrammatic, and a multitude of links to other maze-related material. Once you start in there, you may never find your way out…