Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mappa Mundi from Evesham Abbey, ca. 1390-1415

Notice several features in the map above which are different from modern maps:

As was typical for mappae mundi, this map is oriented to the East instead of the North
Paradise was usually located at the far corner of the world, however, (various maps represented Paradise differently but) this map presents “Earthly Paradise” in an inset box that distinguishes it somewhat from the rest of the map.  The map maker wanted to convey the theological message that Paradise was on earth yet humans no longer had access to it.
Relative distances and shapes of land masses are not accurately represented
Jerusalem is the center of the world
Many major cities and other features are not included.

The Evesham world map, now owned by the College of Arms in London, was almost certainly commissioned for its prior, Nicholas Herford, in about 1390 and was amended some twenty years later. It probably derives from a lost map accompanying a continuation of Ranulph Higden's popular encyclopedia, the Polychronicon (originally composed between about 1320 and 1360), that was also created in Evesham at that time.

Where the large thirteenth-century world maps such as the Hereford and Ebstorf and even the simple map that Higden selected to accompany his Polychronicon, are universalist in nature, the Evesham world map is Anglocentric, reflecting the mentality of England during the Hundred Year's War with France.

Within the traditional geographical and spiritual framework, the preoccupation with the universal, ancient, religious and mythical which had dominated the earlier large world maps has yielded primacy to the illustration of the contemporary kingdom of England and of English patriotism in its territorial, dynastic and commercial aspects.

The Evesham map thus challenges further the traditional but misguided view of the immutability over the centuries of the medieval mappamundi.

Bibliographic note

    Based on a paper read at 14th International Conference on the History of Cartography, Uppsala and Stockholm, 14 to 19 June 1991.
    Also published as: The Evesham World Map: A Late Medieval English View of God and the World. In: Imago Mundi 47 (1995) pp. 13–33.

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