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Observations placeholder

Hereford mappa mundi



Type of Spiritual Experience


The Hereford Mappa Mundi is derives from the T and O pattern, and dates to ca. 1300. It is currently on display in Hereford Cathedral in England.

Its role as a spiritual map can be shown by its shape, the profusion of spiritual beings around its circumference, the use of numerous islands in the sea around the edge, the use of numerous familiar symbols for palaces, cities, castles and so on.

Official web site description
At the top of the map is depicted Christ in Majesty sitting at the Day of Judgement. To His Right and Left angels summon the blessed and turn away the unrepentant. At His Feet the Blessed Virgin intercedes for those who have shown devotion to her. Among the chosen is shown a king wearing a crown and a bishop with his mitre. Behind them come supplicants on their knees in prayer.

Drawn on a single sheet of vellum, it measures 158 cm by 133 cm. The writing is in black ink, with additional red and gold, and blue or green for water [with the Red Sea coloured red].  Mountain ranges were indicated by scalloped designs and towns by walls and towers.
It is primarily a map of the Christian, Biblical spiritual world [though not exlusively as it also contains sites from Greek myth].  Jerusalem is drawn at the centre of the circle, East – as one would expect -  is on top, showing the Garden of Eden in a circle at the edge of the world.

Official web site description
The map was based on the writings of Orosius, a scholar of the fifth century AD and a pupil of Saint Augustine, who wrote a great work to confute the pagans. The seventh book of the Ormesta, as it was known, contained a description of the world and the Mappa Mundi was intended to illustrate this "summa", or compendium of knowledge. This is indicated by the title in the right hand corner, "Descriptio Orosii de Ornesta [Ormesta] Mundi Sicut Ostenditur", which translated means Orosius' History of the World. This in turn relied on earlier writings, including the Bible and those of the Roman historian Pliny.

The map is also based on traditional accounts and earlier maps such as the one of the Beatus of Liébana codex, and is very similar to the Ebstorf map, the Psalter world map, and the Sawley map; it does not correspond to the geographical knowledge of the 1300s. Note, for example, that the Caspian Sea  connects to the encircling Ocean (upper left). This is in spite of William of Rubruk's having reported it to be landlocked in 1255, i.e. several decades before the map's creation.  There are other signs that this is not an ordinary map……..

Official web site description
Superimposed on the geographical elements can be seen drawings and descriptions illustrating man's history and the marvels of the natural world. The map contains descriptions of many of the imagined inhabitants of distant lands, such as the Phanesii who are represented as having huge ears in which they wrapped themselves against the cold. In other respects, the map is quite accurate. It shows the source of the River Oxus, an important landmark since classical times, situated correctly near Samarkand. However, it is shown flowing into the Caspian rather than the Aral Sea.. India is described lavishly as having "5000 cities", providing images of a land of fabulous wealth and diversity. Here, a multitude of mythological races, beasts and amazing phenomena jostle for space and we are indebted to the cartographer for finding enough room for his drawing of the Sciapod, an extraordinary being who sheltered himself from the heat of the sun with his single enormous foot. Hereford appears in the map alongside the River Wye, its location marked by a drawing of the Cathedral.

Some of the important spiritual centres marked on the map – centres of souls presumably visited, include

  • At the centre of the map: Jerusalem, above it: the crucifix.
  •  Paradise, surrounded by a wall and a ring of fire.
  • The Ganges and its delta.
  • The fabulous Island of Taphana
  • Rivers Indus and Tigris.
  • The Caspian Sea, the land of Gog and Magog
  • Babylon and the Euphrates.
  • The Red Sea (painted in Red).
  • Noah's Ark.
  • The Dead Sea, Sodom and Gomorrah, with River Jordan, coming from Sea of Galiliee; above: Lot's wife.
  • The Azov Sea with Rivers Don and Dnjepr; above: the Golden Fleece.
  • Oversized delta of the Nile with Alexandria's Lighthouse.
  • The legendary Norwegian Gansmir, with his skis and ski pole.
  • Greece with Mt. Olympus, Athens, and Corinth
  • Misplaced Crete with Minotaur's circular labyrinth.
  • The Adriatic Sea; Italy with Rome, honoured by a popular hexameter: Roma caput mundi tenet orbis frena rotundi [Rome, the head, holds the reins of the world].
  • The Straits of Gibraltar (the Pillars of Hercules).

From the official web site
To the modern mind much of the content seems so wildly fanciful that it is difficult to believe that the same people who created the vast stone cathedrals, abbeys and castles of the medieval period, should have been persuaded so easily by the map's incredible claims. We may be wrong in imagining that the users of such maps were so impressionable. The map's limited value as a geographical tool was more than compensated for by its worth as a means of instructing the largely illiterate laity.

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Map of the Egg

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