October 30, 2000
3:29 AM   Subscribe

The Hereford Mappa Mundi (Map the World) is a remarkably beautiful and rare glimpse into the medieval view the world. It is the largest map its kind (54 x 64 inches) to have survived and dates from around 1295. It still resides at Hereford Cathedral in England just as it has done for the last 700 years.

The map depicts the world as a flat disk with east at the top. It shows all the features the then known world including Africa, India and China. Paradise is depicted somewhere east India. The Holy Land and its important sites expand to fill the middle the map. Jerusalem is placed at the centre the world.

It is a work of cosmology as much as a cartography. That is, it seeks to explain the world as well as merely depict its features. This was a time when the population was uneducated and provincial. In the Hereford map, people could revel in this vision of the outside world, which taught natural history, classical legends, explained the winds and reinforced their religious beliefs.

Here is a simplified sketch which makes the details and country names easier to identify. Here is the original and a very good written description.
posted by lagado (10 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I may be a bit rusty in my knowledge of medieval history, but from looking at these amazing links you've provided Lagado, my impression is that not only is this perhaps the earliest example of worldwide cartography to have survived, but it may also be one of the earliest examples of war-oriented propaganda.

Was this map made during the crusades? The map looks vaguely like a dartboard with Jerusalem as the bullseye - as if it were a target to conquer. Gives me chills just thinking about it. Eww.. =(

posted by ZachsMind at 3:53 AM on October 30, 2000

The map was made at approximately the same time that the Christian crusaders where being kicked out of Jerusalem by the Mamluk Turks. That was pretty much the end of crusades in the Holy Land. They held onto Jerusalem for nearly 200 years, from 1099 to 1291.

One thing to keep in mind here is that Jerusalem, in the minds of medieval Christians, really was the center of the world. It was seen as far more important than either Rome or Byzantium.
posted by lagado at 4:21 AM on October 30, 2000

One thing to keep in mind here is that Jerusalem, in the minds of medieval Christians, really was the center of the world.

In fact, if you read Dante's Divine Comedy, the intricately-mapped geography of heaven, hell and purgatory is based upon this flattened earth with Jerusalem at its navel.
posted by holgate at 5:49 AM on October 30, 2000

The map looks vaguely like a dartboard with Jerusalem as the bullseye - as if it were a target to conquer

Even more apt then, that the SAS are based in Hereford! Seriously, I've visited the Mappa Mundi, and it really is quite awesome to see something that old and fragile still in existense.
posted by viama at 6:27 AM on October 30, 2000

Great link! Thanks, Lagado.
posted by MattD at 6:58 AM on October 30, 2000

I've known that Jerusalem was considered to be the center of the world for Europeans at this time, but this map does bring the alterity of that perspective into stark relief.

For an American it's like looking at your own "world" (both in the sense of a personal globe image you carry around in your head, and in the sense of your values and cosmology) through a funhouse mirror. Europeans are weird!
posted by rschram at 9:15 AM on October 30, 2000

I don't know how weird the Europeans are, but if the story line-up of any of the major media outlets is a clue: Jerusalem is STILL the center of the world.


Interesting thing I noted is that the monks of Hereford colored the Red Sea red... funny. My understanding is that our own name for the sea, is actually attributable to an orthographic error. Apparently, before the little slip, it was the Reed Sea (or Sea of Reeds). Of course I may be wrong... correct me (gently) if I am.

On a similar note, Octavo recently published the Mercator Atlas.
posted by silusGROK at 9:48 AM on October 30, 2000

Thanks for posting this. Old maps are always fascinating.

posted by Mars Saxman at 10:55 AM on October 30, 2000

On most Mercator projections which are unfortunately the most ubiquitous of all maps, Jerusalem is roughly in the center.

Also, here's yet another thanks for the link. Geography and cartography are among my biggest interests but I've had a hard time finding good sites about them.
posted by kidsplateusa at 9:50 PM on October 30, 2000

Here's a picture of the Cathedral where it is housed. From my visit a while back.
posted by viama at 4:00 AM on October 31, 2000

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