The next map in our series of Ancient Maps was created much closer to the time when maps began to be more commonplace in Western Europe. Dating to the late medieval period, it is known as the Hereford Mappa Mundi, and its home is the great cathedral of Hereford, England. The map is one of the most important and largest of its kind, measuring 1.59 x 1.34 metres (5’2” by 4’4”) on a single sheet of vellum. It is believed to have been created in or around the year 1300 CE and depicts the history, geography and destiny of humanity as it was understood in Christian Europe in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.
The geographical material is confined to a circle measuring 52 inches in diameter. Jerusalem is depicted as the centre of the world, reflecting the thinking of the medieval church. East is at the top, reflecting the belief that the second coming of Christ would occur there. The British Isles are depicted in the bottom left of the map. The inhabited part of the world as it was known then, roughly equivalent to Europe, Asia and North Africa, is all mapped within a Christian framework.
The map contains drawings of the history of mankind as perceived by the church in the late medieval period, along with myriad marvels of nature. Over five hundred drawings on the map depict more than 400 cities and towns, a number of representations of flora and fauna, along with some unusual appearing, mystical creatures. Also included are images of various peoples of the world, fifteen Biblical events and a number of images from classical mythology. Other points of interest include the site of the crucifixion, the Tower of Babel, and the Garden of Eden — not to mention the locations of the Golden Fleece and Mount Olympus.
The map maker’s name is on the map - ‘Richard of Haldingham or Lafford’, also known as Richard de la Battayle, a well-known ecclesiastic who represented himself on the map astride a horse, attended by his page and greyhounds.
The image below is a simple modern representation of the Hereford Mappa Mundi to facilitate orientation, and identification of its geographic details.
The map is considered the most important extant thirteenth-century pictorial manuscript of English manufacture, and is well worth a trip to Hereford Cathedral to view it in person, along with the myriad other treasures housed in the Cathedral.