Making a Mappamundi: The Hereford Map
Scott D. Westrem
Produced some seven hundred years ago, a large map of the world that is housed today in the cathedral at Hereford, on the English border with Wales, is a great encyclopedia of knowledge imprinted and illustrated on a single page, but a page that measures over five feet long running vertically down the middle and almost four-and-one-half feet horizontally. On it the terrestrial landmass of the earth—what we today would call Asia, Africa, Europe, and adjacent islands—is depicted as having a round format; the great Ocean Sea believed to separate east Asia from western Europe was both enormous and unknown to the medieval world, and cartographers found no cause to devote much attention to this great void. The map is literally oriented: thus east is at the top and north to the left. In conformity with biblical passages describing Jerusalem being set “in the midst of the nations,” the Holy City is found at the map’s exact center (where, in fact, an image of the crucified Jesus appears). The surface of the map is replete with inscriptions—or map “legends,” numbering nearly 1,100 by my count—most of which are simple names of towns, rivers, mountains, and islands, but some of which contain detailed cosmological, ethnographical, historical, theological, and zoological information (or at least lore). Many hundreds of these legends have an adjacent depiction.1 The single sheet of vellum—or fine parchment—on which this round earth is drawn is itself pentagonal, conforming to the shape of the calf that gave its skin to the history of cartography, and in the corner spaces between the pentagonal frame and the circular earth are scenes of the Last Judgment (at the top), of Caesar’s commissioning of geographers to assemble a complete account of the world (at lower left), and of a huntsman calling out in French to a rider on a horse in a rather puzzling illustration that probably has a connection to an important juridical proceeding in the diocese of Hereford in the late 1280s (at lower right). Each of these scenes might be—and has been—the subject of focused scholarly study in its own right.2 Although such marginal designs of religious and historical significance are relatively uncommon in known examples of medieval cartography, the image of the earth in Hereford Cathedral is the largest traditional world map—or mappamundi—that survives from the Middle Ages.3
To be sure, other gigantic mappaemundi are known from artefact or record. The Ebstorf Map, probably assembled around 1239 on thirty stitched-together sheets of vellum, was almost six times larger than the Hereford Map, although its number of legends represents an increase of only around 15%; it was destroyed by Allied bombs during World War II. The Catalan Atlas, which the King of France appears to have possessed by 1375, is also a cartographical monument, but it is a hybrid mappamundi and marine chart, oriented to the north and rectangular in format (it is mounted today double-sided on six wooden panels, and is housed in the Bibliothèque nationale de France). The Fra Mauro world map of the mid-1400s (now in Venice) easily outsizes the Hereford Map, but it has south at the top—after the fashion of Islamic cartography—and also shows some influence of navigational maps in its delineation of coastlines. We know of three other large-scale world maps from the chronicler Matthew Paris, a cartographer in his own right, who copied one in the king’s chamber at Westminster into his ordinal around 1250; none of the originals and only one of Matthew’s copies survives. The art historian Marcia Kupfer has made something of a career out of finding behemoth-mappaemundi that have been lost to time, as church or civic walls have collapsed or been plastered over, leaving only a trace of some former glory.4
Understandably, a great deal of scholarly attention has centered on important historical questions regarding the Hereford Map: its date of production, its place of origin, its maker or makers. As is the case with many other medieval “texts,” the Map has occasioned much dispute with little consensus. Recently, however, an article by the historian Valerie I. J. Flint and an assembly of map scholars organized in the summer of 1999 by P. D. A. Harvey and Peter Barber at Hereford Cathedral has shed helpful light on some aspects of the Hereford Map’s history. It seems likely that the Map—or at least its prototype—was drawn in Lincolnshire or Yorkshire, but that it was very early on (and perhaps originally) in the possession of the bishop of Hereford. (Among other things, the network of rivers and the siting of cities is extremely impressive in northeast England, whereas the depiction of the southwest, in the Hereford area, has some striking inaccuracies.) A recently discovered wooden frame matches drawings of the Map that date from the 1770s (this frame appears to be the same one referred to in the first historical mention of the Map, from 1682); carbon dating of the wood indicates that the frame is at least as old as the Map itself, and a gouged hole at the frame’s exact center may well have been made by the compass foot that was used to draw the circle of the earth, two surrounding rings, and the city of Jerusalem (the Map has an apparently corresponding perforation at its exact center where the compass may have poked through). The eighteenth-century drawings show the Map to have been flanked by images of the angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, and it may thus have been part of a triptych of images, although in what way it would have functioned in religious ceremony or contemplation is unknown.5
Attention has be paid so intently to archival material, however, that one other question of historical interest has been somewhat overlooked: that is, what went into making a mappamundi? Since 1994, I have visited Hereford four times to study the cathedral’s cartographical treasure—most recently in January 2001, when I was able to examine it outside its case under ample light for many hours—and during these visits I have discovered that for some basic empirical questions, the Map is its own best witness as a prime example of what might be called “luxurious cartography.”6
It can tell us, for example, that the Map’s making was costly, organized, time-consuming, and taken seriously from the very beginning. The vellum on which it was drawn came from the hide of a single calf, probably less than one year old when it was slaughtered. The skin’s quality is very high and apparently of even thickness; there is almost no sign of the rippling that results from the impression of the rib cage and other bones, indicating that the beast was consistently well fed. The cured hide was carefully scraped to remove hair and residual fat; only at one spot near the bottom, the tail end, did the luna (scraping) knife employed in the process apparently slip and sever the skin, probably when it encountered scar tissue. The fact that there is only one instance of such a phenomenon is further testimony to the calf’s good health and breeding. The text and design appear on the flesh side of the vellum, where the inner skin’s silvery membrane has been preserved; its luster is still visible. On the basis of their close analysis of the handwriting and decorative pictures on the Map, announced at the Hereford Map conference two years ago, Malcolm B. Parkes and Nigel Morgan have shown quite conclusively that this work most likely took place between 1290 and 1300.7
A team of talented people worked at separate times on the Map. The outer circles were most likely drawn first, with a compass: there are three of these, with the round earth surrounded by a double set of rings, forming a series of concentric circles. In an era before the “discovery” of perspective, this was diagrammatic short-hand in geometrical texts for a sphere. (Scholars who have looked at the Hereford Map’s earth and dismissed it as a disc or proof of medieval belief in a flat earth are victims of their own myopia.)8 Design preceded text, and the order of illustration appears to have commenced with major geographical units (including the general coastline and most or all of the Map’s 105 islands). A group of artists was probably responsible for the images that followed. Human figures and animals seem to have been drawn first, followed by mountains, then rivers, city emblems (or “architectural devices”), and miscellaneous depictions, such as the colossus of Rhodes or Daedalus’s labyrinth on Crete. Some designs were sketched out in pale ink or perhaps crayon before they were more definitively drawn in or altered; the painting of all the designs—including those along the upper arc and in the two lower corners—probably occurred at one time and almost certainly before the addition of any written text. (The Map’s colors were made from vegetable dyes that have much faded over time: the bright blue of the rivers can still be glimpsed in some places, but the green of the seas—as well as of several forests and garments worn by humans—has faded to a brown that leaves us with a much more drab impression of the world than an an original spectator would have enjoyed.)
The making of a mappamundi was a significant textual matter, and the compilers of the Hereford Map display an impressive awareness—either directly or indirectly—of geographical texts by at least ten writers whose works went into circulation between the first and eighth centuries, as well as the Bible and a number of medieval works. Around 150 of the Map’s 1,091 legends can be definitively traced to one of these sources, making this a remarkable example of medieval inter-textuality, since many hundreds of legends are only one or two words long and thus cannot be reliably attributed to any one writer. Moreover, some of these writers were sources for each other—Solinus re-wrote Pliny, Isidore used Solinus, and Hugh of St. Victor carefully studied Isidore, so it is sometimes hard to determine which of two or three possible authorities underlies a given legend. The names of these sources, many of which were pagan writers, and the frequency with which each can be shown to be cited on the Map can be found in Chart 1.10
The likelihood that a cartographer—or even a team of mapmakers—sat with a collection of ten or fifteen manuscripts around them and recorded various passages on a huge piece of calf skin laid before them has seemed an unrealistic way to imagine the assembly of data that come from so many sources and range so widely in content as we see on the Hereford Map. Historians of cartography have conjectured that surviving and lost maps of this kind must have been copied from each other or some, probably French, prototype, although how and in what format this prototype circulated has been uncertain because no one has ever located a “smoking gun.” Aware that navigational charts with extremely “accurate” representations of the east Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Black Sea coastlines were being drawn from at least the late 1100s, at the same time that mappaemundi were representing a more schematized earth, they have also taken it somewhat for granted that these two images of geographical reality came from different—indeed, in the estimation of some, intellectually quite opposed—circles.13
EMM is a spatially specific, instructive manual about the appearance of a world map; its language approaches that of a rudimentary science, as the citations recorded on Charts 3 and 4 indicate. A map “legend” is a titulus; many toponyms are noted to be “opposite” (contra) others; some are specifically noted to “span” rivers, appear “to the south of” something else, or be “above,” “after,” or “below” a different city, mountain, or island. Some territories are “demarcated” (distinguuntur) by lines. A design “depicted” (pingitur) near a legend is briefly, exactly described. Regions of the earth are divided into sections and treated separately. Thus, the writer observes that the Danube has sixty tributaries, “of which we shall place twelve on the map”; each of the dozen is identified, working from west to east (source to mouth), with key adjacent cities located, usually along one (or at a confluence) of the rivers.16 This locational and imagistic exactitude is evident in the passages quoted in Chart 3, in the left column, in which the author of EMM describes precisely the placement of six islands along the upper-left (northeast) rim of the earth. A comparison of the text of, and instructions for layout in, EMM with the legends and design of the Hereford Map on Fig. 3 reveals their exact correspondence.17
According to medieval zonal theory, the spherical earth was divided into three uninhabitable and two mutually inaccessible but habitable “bands” of territory; this promoted a medical understanding of elemental and bodily “humors” that led to a kind of meteorological determinism. As one approached the edges of the earth’s landmass and encountered increasing cold and aridity or heat and moisture, one inevitably came across people who looked or behaved in extreme ways. The idea is discussed especially in geographies written during the 1200s, such as Thomas of Cantimpré’s Liber de natura rerum (1237/1240). A growing interest in the effect of climate on human and animal populations during the thirteenth century may explain some gaps in EMM, which was probably written during the previous century.21
Comparing EMM to the Hereford Map—this time noting striking parallels—may alert us to a second kind of sophistication. What quite irritated Beazley and other historians of cartography about mappaemundi was their general lack of scale: space is not apportioned on the vellum surface in a fashion relatively consistent with space in the “real” world. This is most apparent in the delineation of coastlines, made even more problematic to the modern eye by placing the known landmass into a circular rather than a rectangular frame. (It is also evident in other ways: the Holy Land is half the size of all of Europe, perhaps a reflection of its historical importance to the Christian West, and thus its amplitude is moral rather than geographical.) Chart 4 (and the related Fig. 1), however, call attention to a remarkable degree of accuracy in the relationship of toponyms—for cities, rivers, and mountains—both in EMM and in Hereford Map legends. On the Asia Minor littoral, for example, one passage in EMM links 39 place-names in a running series, 23 of which are found in Chart 4 (and visible, in almost exactly parallel order, on Fig. 1).22 Moreover, the parallel is “correct,” reflecting the actual locations of these places in modern Turkey. This same accurate parallelism in strings of toponyms can be found along the coasts of Greece, Italy, and north Africa, as well as on the banks of most of the 89 rivers in Europe on the Hereford Map.
The third kind of sophistication requires a better understanding of the history of EMM as a text. In the introduction to his edition of it, Gautier Dalché convincingly argues that although the two known manuscripts were copied in Germany during the mid-fifteenth century—and thus EMM as we have it today post-dates the production of the Hereford Map by some 150 years—the work itself was most likely composed in England, probably Yorkshire, in the later twelfth century, very likely based on an earlier prototype but much improved by the author’s personal experience and knowledge. That author was probably in the entourage of Richard I (Lionheart) on the Third Crusade (1188-1192), and he may have been Roger of Howden, the Yorkshire cleric and counselor who chronicled this event. Roger was, in any event, almost certainly responsible for the two other treatises bound together with EMM in both manuscripts, De viis maris and Liber nautarum, works of practical navigation from the late-twelfth century that were used in connection with sea charts. This is a stunning discovery because in this Gautier Dalché demonstrates the falseness of the opposition traditionally thought to have existed between the makers of mappaemundi and navigational charts, an opposition usually cast as a stark division between naïve monks applying a Christian overlay to an outdated Greco-Roman model and savvy traders (merchants and/or pilots) laying the groundwork for “modern” cartography in innovative marine maps. The two different cartographical styles interested, and in some cases at least were evidently being produced by, the same individuals; in both cases, this occurred in a highly methodical way. Thus the only thing really monstrous about the Hereford Map, perhaps, is the way it and its making have been misunderstood and expected to conform to modern taste.
1 Citations from and references to the Hereford Map come from my study, The Hereford Map. A Transcription and Translation of the Legends with Commentary, History of the Representation of Space in Text and Image 1 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2001). Map legends (identified by the symbol §) are discussed individually in connection with related designs. The Map’s precise length (measuring along the animal’s spine) is 1,587 millimeters; its width varies, being 1,292 millimeters at the base of the triangular head (near the top); 1,325 millimeters across the middle (in effect the depicted earth’s diameter); and 1,335 millimeters across the bottom. It thus has a length of 5 feet 2 3/8 inches and ranges from around 4 feet 2 5/8 inches to 4 feet 4 inches across, with a “diameter” of 4 feet 3 11/16 inches. The skin was trimmed on all sides, with the loss of some painted surface at the left extreme; around 50 millimeters (2 inches) of vellum has probably been cut away (Westrem, p. xv, n. 1). On biblical evidence for Jerusalem’s centrality in the earth’s landmass, see Psalms 73 : 12 and Ezekiel 5:5.
2 The most significant of these specific analyses links the horseman to Thomas of Cantilupe, bishop of Hereford (1275-1282), and his successful lawsuit regarding hunting rights against Earl Gilbert of Gloucester in 1277-1278; see Valerie I. J. Flint, “The Hereford Map: Its Author(s), Two Scenes and a Border,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th ser. 8 (1998), p.19-44. On other studies, see P. D. A. Harvey, Mappa Mundi: The Hereford World Map (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996) and Westrem, The Hereford Map, p. xxi-xxv and nn. 18-28, as well as the commentary to §6-15 and the bibliography for secondary sources (p. lii-lvii).
3 Some scholarly studies treat as “conventional” a map of the world placed in the context of a scene with Jesus Christ. In fact, such a juxtaposition is known from only five mappaemundi: the Hereford Map, the Ebstorf Map (see n. 4, below), the Psalter Map (London, British Library, MS Additional 28681, fol. 9r), the very fragmentary Duchy of Cornwall Map. (London, Duchy of Cornwall Office), and the Lambeth Map (London, Lambeth Palace Library, MS 371, fol. 9v). All four date from between approximately 1240 and 1300. The only published notice of the Lambeth Map is in my essay “Geography and Travel,” A Companion to Chaucer. Ed. Peter Brown (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000), p. 195-217 (at p. 206-09 and Fig. 12.1). Other exemplars combining theological design and geography may of course be lost.
4 For bibliographical information on these and other (including lost) cartographical exemplars, see Westrem, The Hereford Map, p. xv-xvii and nn. 3-7.
5 On Flint’s article, see n. 2, above. Barber and Harvey’s edited volume of essays based on lectures delivered at Hereford Cathedral (27 June-1 July 1999), The Hereford Mappa Mundi: Proceedings of the Mappa Mundi Conference, 1999, is forthcoming from the British Library. On the Map’s origins, its frame, and usage, see Westrem, The Hereford Map, p. xix-xxv and nn. 12-30. The conservator Christopher Clarkson drew my attention to the gouge in the Map’s former frame.
6 My work on the Map has been much advanced by the great generosity of the Dean and Chapter of Hereford and the Hereford Mappa Mundi Trust; Canon John Tiller, Chancellor and Master of the Library; Joan Williams, Librarian; and (especially) Dominic Harbour, Education and Marketing Manager (formerly Curator or Keeper) at the Cathedral. I am grateful for the Dean and Chapter’s permission to reprint here images of the Map made from transparencies produced in January 2001 by Gordon W. Taylor, MBE, LRPS, FIBMS.
7 Some details about the vellum come from a presentation (for Cathedral staff) on 10 January 2001 by Wim Visscher of William Cowley Parchment Works in England. The Map was intricately mounted to a wooden frame in 1948, and it has since been impossible to ascertain whether the Map’s thickness at the edges is constant and if there is any text or design on the reverse (hair) side. Parkes and Morgan presented a “technical survey” of the Map at the Hereford Mappa Mundi Conference, and their findings (based on dated manuscripts and datable imagery from 1290s) are being published in the proceedings volume by Barber and Harvey (see n. 5, above). See also Westrem, The Hereford Map, p. xviii-xix and n. 10.
8 I am writing an article on the usage of a figure with concentric circles to represent a sphere before the landmark publication in 1435 of Leone Battista Alberti’s De pictura, in which the technique of perspectival design was linked to a theory advocating painting as an imitation of reality (Filippo Brunelleschi had employed this technique in executing architectural views of Florence on two panels around 1420. A locus classicus in design terms for the medieval point of view is in Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies, in a summary coverage of geometrical figures, the text of which is written in such a way as to require a diagrammatic representation (III.xii); many surviving manuscripts (which total in the hundreds) show an exact correspondence between the sketch of a sphere here (two concentric circles) and the outline of the world in a mappamundi often drawn near the beginning of Isidore’s discussion of geography (XIV.ii).
9 Flint, “The Hereford Map,” p. 23 (see n. 2, above).
10 For bibliographical information for editions and translations of the source texts, see Westrem, The Hereford Map, p. xxviii-xxxvii and nn. 43-59.
11 More detailed analysis of these data can be found in my “Lessons from Legends on the Hereford Mappa Mundi,” Hereford Mappa Mundi Conference proceedings volume being edited by Barber and Harvey (see n. 5, above). Treating islands separately from the earth’s three “parts” follows the organizational style adopted by Isidore of Seville, Honorius Augustodunensis, and other medieval geographical authorities.
12 For example, in the Garden of Eden, at the top of the earth’s circle, the Four Rivers of Paradise are identified as they are named in Genesis 2:11-14. These four legends (§66-69) are included among the 23 that relate principally to “Concepts/Ideas/Names Associated with Biblical/Christian History” in Asia; they are numbered among the seven secondary references to “Names of Rivers” in Asia. Similarly three legends in Asia that identify regions visited or conquered by Alexander the Great (§62, 86, 115) are counted among the six “Concepts/Ideas/Names Associated with ‘Secular’ History” in Asia and, secondarily, among the six “Names of Land Areas.”
13 On the origins of mappaemundi, see G. R. Crone, The World Map by Richard of Haldingham in Hereford Cathedral, circa a.d. 1285. Reproductions of Early Manuscript Maps 3 (London: Royal Geographical Society, 1954), p. 16-17. On navigational charts and portolani dating to the later 1100s (one century earlier than has been generally thought), see Patrick Gautier Dalché. Carte marine et portulan au XIIe siècle: Le Liber de existencia riveriarum et forma maris nostri Mediterranei. Pise, circa 1200. Collection de l’École française de Rome 203 (Rome: École française de Rome, 1995).
14 “Décrire le monde et situer les lieux au XIIe siècle: L’Expositio mappe mundi et la généalogie de la mappemonde de Hereford.” Mélanges de l’École française de Rome. Antiquité-Moyen Âge 112. Rome: École française de Rome, [forthcoming]. The two known copies are Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS lat. 3123 (fols. 126r-131v); and Valenciennes, Bibliothèque Municipale, MS 344 (fols. 52va-56va); both have a German provenance. I am most grateful to M. Gautier Dalché (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and École Pratique des Hautes Études [IVe Section], Paris) for permitting me to use his scrupulous edition of EMM, with a learned introduction, here and in my book.
15 Missing from EMM are Iberia, Britain, and islands in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, where 214 legends are found on the Hereford Map. That these areas were included in the original is strongly suggested by the occasional location of one place “opposite” a city or island in these missing territories.
16 Danubius oritur ab orientali parte Reni fluminis sub quadam ecclesia, et progressus ad orientem, . . . colligens hinc et inde flumina lx cum quibus se in Ponticum sinum vii ostiis precipitat. Quorum xii tantum in mappa ponimus”; Gautier Dalché, “Décrire le monde” (III.137).
17 So closely do the texts correspond that a phrase missing in EMM (I.21) owing to an eye-slip, or homoeoteleutou, can be restored based on the Map’s legend (§141), and a lexical absurdity on the Map (§39) can be corrected using the text of EMM (I.44). More details are found in these passages in Gautier Dalché, “Décrire le monde”; and Westrem, The Hereford Map.
18 According to Beazley, in his comprehensive work, “a bare allusion to the monstrosities of Hereford and Ebstorf should suffice”; The Dawn of Modern Geography (3 vols. London, 1897-1906; rpt. New York: Peter Smith, 1949), p. 3:528. In a similar vein the Map’s earliest serious students, the Anglican clerics W. L. Bevan and H. W. Phillott, wrote that it shows a “rejection of all that savoured of scientific geography, . . . servile adherence to antiquated geographical treatises, . . . anachronism, . . . and the sore lack of all critical and even grammatical accuracy”; Mediæval Geography. An Essay in Illustration of the Hereford Mappa Mundi (London and Hereford, 1873; rpt. Amsterdam: Meridian, 1969), p. 1-2.
19 See n. 15, above.
20 Other explanations for the presence of certain regions and peoples on a Map made in the late 1200s where no such detail is found in a text probably written in the late 1100s include Mongol incursions in central Europe during the mid-thirteenth century, vastly expanded trade (with Europeans dealing directly with east Asians, rather than being forced to operate through Arab intermediaries), a revival and re-direction of evangelistic interest, and the move to compile “scientific” encyclopedias (with the summa as an intellectual goal). Almost nowhere does a Map legend take a moral point of view about human peculiarity; one goes to some length to offer a sensible explanation—known from no other source, including EMM—for the Essedonian habit of eating one’e parents after they die (§212).
21 Zonal theory was first articulated by the Greeks probably by the fifth century B.C. (most likely by Parmenides [fl. 480 B.C.]); Macrobius discussed the issue in his famous Latin Commentary on the Dream of Scipio (c. A.D. 400), a text that was often attended during the Middle Ages by diagrammatic “maps” illustrating the concept. See also David Woodward. “Medieval Mappaemundi.” Cartography in Prehistoric, Ancient, and Medieval Europe and the Mediterranean. Ed. J. B. Harley and David Woodward, vol. 1 of The History of Cartography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), p. 300. On Thomas of Cantimpré, see Liber de natura rerum. Ed. Helmut Boese, (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1973) p. 5, 102-74 (Prol. and Book 4 [“De animalibus quadrupedibus”]).
22 Gautier Dalché, “Décrire le monde,” I.90-128. The passage begins “In Asya minori maritime ciuitates: contra Patmos Eraclea.” A new coastline section (in modern Syria and Lebanon) begins after “Laodicia” with the words “Inde usque ad montem Libanum hee maritime ciuitates” (I.129).
23 The “standard” Latin forms of these place-names and the modern English equivalents are those recorded in the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, ed. Richard J. A. Talbert (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), which I employ throughout my book, but with the caution that in dealing with the manuscript culture of medieval Europe, it is misleading and anachronistic to speak of “standard” or “correct” spellings, especially of geographical words.
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