People from ancient and modern times have long looked to the labyrinth as an archetypal symbol of journey and spiritual renewal. Evidence of this dates to 4500 B.C. A figurine from the Ukraine, with a labyrinthine pattern, dating 15000 to 18000 B.C., was discovered by the archeologist Marja Gimbutas, who concluded the pattern may have predated the actual labyrinth.
Certainly, labyrinths are found in Greek mythology, Peruvian symbolism, Native American artifacts, and in Sweden, Finland and Estonian cultures. Legend says fishermen walked them slowly in order to entrap ill-intentioned trolls. Ancients believed the intestine was the uterus or womb or birth canal; therefore, the labyrinth symbolized the death that will come and the death that preceded birth, both naturally and spiritually. The labyrinth at Crete contained 272 stones, the same as the average number of days in the human gestation cycle.
Christian labyrinths (the earliest of which may be in the Church of Reparatus in Algeria, 400 A.D.) may have come to be used as a substitute for making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land for those who could not go to Jerusalem. People imitated the journey in a faux pilgrimage, but they were also engaged in a journey understood to be both spiritual and real. The Cathedrals at Rheims (1240), Amiens (1288) and Chartres had labyrinths, all situated in the nave. Moving out of the labyrinth has traditionally been understood as symbolic of the process of rebirth or resurrection. From the day of our birth — we journey.
Adapted from “Labyrinths from the Outside In,” Schaper, Camp; Skylight Publishers, VT