The Hereford Mappa Mundi

The Hereford Mappa Mundi

Image photographed from the book’The Hereford Mappa Mundi’ by Gabriel Alington

Hereford Cathedral is home to the famous Hereford Mappa Mundi which is a rare example of a medieval European map of the world.

In the 1990s the Cathedral needed to raise money for essential restoration and it was decided that one of its treasures needed to be sold.  The Hereford Mappa Mundi was controversially put up for auction.  Fortunately a generous donation was received that allowed the map to remain in its rightful place at Hereford Cathedral.  The donation specifically allowed the construction of a building to house both the map and a rare example of a ‘chained library’ part of which was previously displayed within the Cathedral.

Mappa Mundi literally means ‘map of the world’.  The Hereford map was created by Richard of Haldingham or Lafford (which is near Lincolnshire) and is thought to be dated between 1290 and 1310.  It was drawn on a single calf skin which measures 5 feett 2 inches high by 4 feet 4 inches wide.  At one time the Mappa Mundi was the middle panel, a part of a 10 foot triptych.  The only panel remaining today is the one that housed the Mappa Mundi.

When first created the colours on the map would have been vibrant but over the years the map has faded.  Due to the geographical contents of the map it is thought to be a copy of an earlier map created in Lincoln with adjustments to show towns and landmarks ‘local’ to Hereford.  The Hereford map is the only known complete wall map of the world to have survived from the middle ages.

The map is laid out in a T shape showing the continents of Asia, Europe and Africa.  This type of map is known as a tripartite map.  The T shape is thought to represent the crucifixion.

The contents of the map are an encyclopedic study of the world from a Christian perspective.  The map is full of history, legend, wonders of nature, mythical creatures as well as biblical stories and themes.  The whole of God’s creation (past and present) is depicted within a geographic frame.  The double bordered circular frame with Jerusalem at its centre separates the spiritual world from the living world.

Above the circle and surrounded in clouds is Christ sitting in judgement over the world and what is beyond.  To his right the righteous are waiting to enter paradise and to his left hand sinners are being cast into the jaws of a terrifying beast.  The outer band of the circle names the cardinal points and the inner band the winds of classical authority, namely north, south, east and west.

1 thought on “The Hereford Mappa Mundi

  1. Such an amazing historic treasury Cherry. I especially love the top title, …showing people and beats…

    I am glad the donation allowed this map to stay where it belonged so you could share it here with us today 🙂
    November 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnyes – Far Away In The Sunshine

    Thank you so very much. History was taught (I think badly) as dates and battles and little more when I was at school. So, I opted out. As I grow older, I am discovering how much more is encapsulated under the dry term ‘history’ and am sorry for all that I have missed.
    Loved the map and the lesson – and am grateful that the mappa mundi did not have to be sold.
    November 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSoosie

    one of the joys of reading this in the morning is that i am always delighted, surprised, inspired, taught, and/or astonished.

    this morning is no exception. i was education and intrigued by a map about which i knew nothing. wonderful post!

    November 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHoney

    I think what’s most amazing that even as far back as the 1200’s – there was a sense of a ‘world’….a place and space greater and beyond where those who created this map were living. Incredible that this map still exists! Thanks – as always – Cherry!!!
    November 20, 2013 | Registered CommenterMarcie

    So enjoy learning from my V&V sisters! I’ve never been one for pursuing history, but I so enjoy getting the snippets here! Thanks Cherry!
    November 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGotham Girl Aka Robin

    Fascinating as I love old maps…they teach us so much about the history, culture and thoughts of the time
    November 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDonna@Gardens Eye View

    I’m glad for all the someones who thought so save and preserve
    such things for those of us in the future.
    Wondering now if our words and images
    will have wing enough to speak to generations
    in the future.
    Though provoking….thank you Cherry,
    November 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Richardson

    Those old maps are so interesting. Following how the knowledge of the world and its geography has developed over the centuries is quite exciting. The medieval maps are also so beautiful. Thank you for sharing this one with us.
    November 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarola

    So many things to be grateful for from this post, Cherry. I was thinking about my mom throughout, who was a history major in undergraduate school. She would eat this up!
    November 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGinnie

    Who knew that a map could be a work of art?! Thanks for sharing this!
    November 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaery Rose

    It’s interesting to see how people living hundreds of years ago perceived their belonging to the world and such a map is surely a valuable piece of historical evidence. Putting up the map for auction must have been quite surprising as well as the helpful donation.
    November 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPetra

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