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The World Map

About the beginning of the fourteenth century, writes A.L. Moir, a prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral completed his ambitious world map, in which geographical information is mixed with historical details and pictures of fantastic legendary monsters.

That observant antiquarian Walter Dingley, wandering around Hereford Cathedral in 1682, noted ‘a map of ye world drawn on vellum by a monk’. It was the old world map still on view in the cathedral, where it has been for over six hundred and fifty years.

It was not drawn by a monk, as Dingley thought, but by a prebendary, who casually reveals his name by including a plea that all who see or hear of the map will pray for his happiness in heaven. This appeal, written in Norman-French and tucked away in a comer, refers to his masterpiece as ‘estoire’. It is, indeed, more concerned with history than with geography.

Richard, prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral in 1276, became prebendary of Hereford Cathedral in 1305. The exact date of the map cannot be established; but it was completed about A.D. 1300. The medieval map-maker was a theologian, philosopher, historian, mythologist, as well as cartographer and calligrapher.

His sources, which ranged from the Bible to bestiaries, included Christian Fathers, pagan philosophers, classical authors, histories, legends, sagas and travellers’ tales. The script was Latin with excursions into Norman-French. The colours were black, for outlines and inscriptions; red, for capital letters and rubrication; blue, for seas, lakes and rivers, with gold leaf for special effects.

The project was an ambitious one, considering that Richard was a cloistered clerk in holy orders, even though he followed conventional designs and transcribed the researches of others. This material, however, he adapted to suit both his own ideas and the dimensions of the map.

Its size alone, 65 inches by 54 inches, makes the Hereford map unique. Its only rival was the contemporary German map at Ebstorf, made of sheets of parchment fastened together, and considerably larger, which was destroyed during the last war.

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