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The Laybrinth

Short History

The numerology of the

Chartres Cathedral labyrinth

The labyrinth was designed and installed by master mason Scarlet in 1200

The meanings that seem to have been embedded into the labyrinth are both Christian and Muslim. One set comes from the Gnostic tradition of the Chartres School, and the other from Sufi beliefs.

Though the two sides were at war in the crusades, the mystic arms of both religions were pursuing the same goals.


THE USE OF ELEVEN. The Chartres labyrinth has eleven tracks, or rings. Eleven is a somewhat non-Christian number. Its source may be eastern. In early Hindu numerology the most important shrines had eleven roofs, as in Bali today. The Koran sets out the 99 most names for God that encompass the whole of His creation, to which is added the un-nameable name, called by the Sufis The State of Blindness.

The next highest state is the Hu, felt as the first exhalation, the primordial outflow of the breath of the One when He first sees Himself as both object and subject. It is the first duality, the first Yin and Yang. From here he continues to the definition of archetypes, then of matter, and so on until the whole of creation has become manifest.

The state of Hu is the highest man can reach in the quest. He cannot become God, but can approach the rose in the centre thus far. This is the most intimate name of god, and is repeated eleven times.

It is usually drawn as one+one, as two strokes one behind the other so it is still seen as one, but prescient of dual. Thus it well depicted as an eleven.

THE CURVED PATHS THEMSELVES. When you follow the path round the labyrinth, you walk around the left inner rings first, then the centre ones and finally those on the right. After this you do the left outside rings, and then the right. Notice how symmetrical the pattern is, and how orderly.

Each part has a meaning, and each segment stands for a position on the Sacred Way. Just as the cathedral is man's access to the altar and the Eucharist, so the labyrinth is an ideogram of the path man must travel in himself to be worthy of what the cathedral itself stands for. I have discussed this further in "The mystery of the great labyrinth, Chartres cathedral", Studies in Comparative Religion, xi 1977, 92-115.

If you ever get the opportunity to walk around the labyrinth you will travel a path of 261.55 meters, measured along the centre of the tracks. This is exactly 740 Ped Manualis, one of Scarlet's two foot units.

As the labyrinth has four quarters, each quarter plus one spells MARIA EST ASSUMPTA. This is from the ancient way divines would combine the meanings of words with the letters through a process called Gematria. In this modality each letter is given a number, starting with 'A' as 1, and using the 22 letters of the Roman alphabet.

Adding or subtracting one from a phrase in Gematria is acceptable, as it represents unity, and therefore the godhead itself.

The number 740 is also 20 times 37. Now 37 is a prime number. Three times this is 111, and eighteen times is 666.

THE COGS around the outside of the labyrinth have puzzled many people. Are they the ring of fire which surrounds Paradise? There are 112 of them, plus two halves at the entry. The circumference of the circle taken through the centres of all the cogs measures 114 Ped Manualis, or one Ped per cog.

The eighth century Arab Sufi-alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan divided the four elementary qualities of existence (earth, air, fire and water) into four degrees with seven subdivisions giving a total of 112 classifications which between them contained all the materials, liquids and gasses found in manifest creation. This is 111+1.

Four times 28 is 112, pperhaps reference to four lunar months (thankyou Robert Ferré).

Also, 112 is also the number of years the moon takes to repeat the Metonic cycle six times, and this is the cycle which determines the date for Easter.

The entry being to the left of centre there are 55 cogs on one side and 57 on the other. These two numbers spell ECCLESIA and DOMINE, while the whole including the two halves which add one cog spell both CHRISTUS and MARIA MATER DEI.

THE TRACKS AND THE NUMBER 35. The labyrinth has 31 curved tracks and 4 straight ones, 35 altogether. This spells BVM, which is short for Beata Virgo Maria, to whom the cathedral is consecrated.

There are 28 half-round changes of direction and six quarter changes, 34 in total. This is the number of ANNA the mother of Mary, while both 6 and 28 are the first two Perfect Numbers.

Together they add up to 34 which is one off BVM, and one off MV, or Maria Virgo.

Half of 34 is seventeen which is the letter R standing for the Resurrection.

37 times 3 is 111, which we met earlier.

Twice 35 is 70, which spells JESUS,

Thrice is 105, which is TRINITAS, and four times is 140, or CHRISTOS EST.

The geometry of the labyrinth is not included here, as it is complicated to follow. If you are interested read pages 472-73 in my The contractors of Chartres, Wyong, ii vols. 1979-81

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