Towers, squared-off pathways, an open door, and a minotaur are prominently featured in the labyrinth mosaic that is found in the Museu Monografico. A double undulating line marks an outer border of the work. This labyrinth has many of the common features of Roman mosaic labyrinths: a door opens onto a pathway that leads through four quadrants, one at a time, to a center where a “minotaur” can be found. Clearly depicting the ancient Greek myth, these artistic designs are quite stunning, even after nineteen centuries.
People in churches often ask about the minotaur in the center of labyrinths. It is important for modern-day Christians to realize that the labyrinth is a tool and as is true with all tools, it may have many different functions. In the twenty-first century, we use it to deepen our relationship with God, to listen to the voice of the Spirit, and to literally “Get in step” with the teachings of our faith. The Conimbriga mosaic labyrinths were clearly used for decorative purposes, and what beautiful “decorations”! Some scholars suggest that the Romans may have believed that these labyrinths could serve a protective function as well.
Praying with labyrinths is one of the great joys of my life. The ways in which my walking labyrinth experiences have drawn me closer to God thrill and amaze me. While labyrinth myths and mosaics do not relate directly to my spiritual practice, they do remind me that the Spirit can use all things to help us deepen our love for journeying through this life, step by step, with God. As I studied and photographed this labyrinth, I maintained an internal attitude of prayer. The Scriptures, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10) and “For you [God] are my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy” came to mind. As I gazed at this ancient labyrinth I sensed the beauty and power of God (although I doubt that was the intention of its creator). The minotaur was part of my prayer too. It’s threatening nature seemed small and insignificant compared to the confidence I felt that God’s loving care was greater than any force that might cause me to fear.
To see two other Roman labyrinth mosaics
in Conimbriga (ancient Lusitania), click here and here.
Thank you, Jill, for sharing your fascinating experiences with us.