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.