Maps Exhibition Development – Part 4: Medieval Mappaemundi

Humber Museums Partnership - Maps Exhibition Development  – Part 4: Medieval Mappaemundi

About the project

Planning is continuing for our next temporary exhibition at North Lincolnshire Museum. The exhibition will display maps from the museum’s collection and show the different ways maps have been used and created.

This blog will focus on Medieval world maps or mappaemundi. Unfortunately, North Lincolnshire Museum is not lucky enough to have any of these maps in the collection. They are rare with only a handful surviving today. However, they are an important part of the history of cartography and can help us understand more modern maps.

Mappaemundi were not designed for use in navigation, they were largely symbolic designed for display. Most of these types of map were drawn or have connections to England.

Mappaemundi were based on a T & O structure. They are circular in shape, the ‘O’, and the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa are divided by oceans in a T shape. They are orientated to have East at the top of the map, normally with Jerusalem at the centre.

T&O map, from the first printed version of Isidore’s Etymologiae, 1742

Most mappaemundi were created by and for monasteries and are filled with religious symbolism. They often visually tell the story of Christianity. They show the world as God’s creation and allow the viewer to place themselves within it. For example, the Ebstorf mappaemundi is drawn on the body of Christ. At the top is his head, the sides his hands and the bottom his feet.

A reproduction of the Ebstorf Map, with East at the top

The Hereford Mappa Mundi dates from c1300. It is the largest known medieval world map and is displayed at Hereford Cathedral

Medieval mappaemundi show us the power of maps to communicate and help form identities. Mappaemundi expressed the understanding and identities of medieval England. How people saw the world and their place within it. This is true of all maps, even modern maps created for navigational purposes are expressions of a certain world-view.

Exhibition planning continues, so check back here for updates.