Book of the world, map of the world

Places and peoples known or rumoured to exist appear on world maps made during the Middle Ages. Scholars conclude that large mappaemundi such as those from Hereford (c.1280) and Ebstorf cathedrals (c.1300), and the tiny Psalter Map (c.1260), found in a small book of psalms for private devotion, were in effect compilations of theology, history and empirical knowledge, on the theme of salvation, for contemplation of the overarching meaning of the sites of original sin, redemption and judgement. They might serve a public or private teaching function.[59] Maps therefore parallel Bartholomew’s textual image of the world: as a repertoire of places and peoples found within the mental horizons of the thirteenth-century Christian west; as a store of exemplary histories and legends; as an ordered hierarchical image of the cosmos; and as an object of contemplation for the Christian peregrinus. As David Woodward notes, the term mappamundi, or ‘map of the world’, could be used in the Middle Ages in an additional metaphorical sense, or to describe a purely textual account of the world.[60] A textual account of the world is precisely what Bartholomew builds as he takes us from Book 8 on the cosmos to Book 18 on land creatures. Margriet Hoogvliet argues that although many extant maps occur in world book texts, they are not simply illustrative or interchangeable but complementary: the name mappamundi belongs rightly to both; and the strong association between maps and texts ‘can provide us with some clues for a reconstruction of the spiritual meaning of the medieval maps of the world’.[61] It seems reasonable to suppose that, conversely, our awareness of the forms, content and function of the maps can help us reconstruct the spiritual meanings underlying the properties of things amassed by Bartholomew from his sources.

Early ‘Properties’ manuscripts do not contain drawn maps but, from their presence in some of Bartholomew's main patristic sources, it seems reasonable to conclude that the compiler would have been familiar with earlier examples of the tradition.[62] Many of the imago mundi texts contain maps, the Imago Mundi of Henry of Mainz (floruit 1098–1156) being seen as a prototypical example from the twelfth century.[63] Each map is different but, since the maps were graphic representations of historical, geographical and exegetical knowledge, each map-maker had to find ways of encoding within the orthodox scheme, or imago mundi, far more information than could be fully depicted or described in the space available. The density of the maps, like that of ‘Properties’, suggests that a good deal of imaginative re-creation was expected on the part of both viewers and readers. Within this group, the English Psalter Map is most nearly contemporaneous with ‘Properties’ and comparable as a book for individual devotional reading (Figure 3).[64] Whether a map was made for public or private use, it was normal to depict the theme of Judgement in the area immediately inside the frame or edge of the page. In the Psalter map recto, the iconography of the Last Judgement is limited to the figure of Christ, but the dragons below could be reminders of the power of Satan to destroy faith — and on the verso of the map Christ’s feet rest firmly upon them (Figure 4).[65] The Psalter map depicts earth as a circle within the rectangular page.

Divine and eternal beings, God and his angels, occupy the space outside the circle of the earth and within the rectangular frame. Books 1 to 4 of ‘Properties’ provide the conceptual framework for the whole work, as the rectangular frame or page does for the Christian cosmos depicted in the map. Bartholomew places God (Book 1) and the angels — good and bad — (Book 2) in the dominant position at the head of the work. Books 1 and 2 correspond to the area outside the circle of the world but within the rectangular frame of the map, embracing and dominating the sublunar world.

Book 3 presents the human soul at the start of its journey through the world and towards God. Book 4, on the four elements and four humours, is consistent with the symbolism of the number four embedded in mappaemundi and tetradic diagrams.[66] Book 4 can also be seen as the centre of a group of seven Books; between the first three Books that deal with the divine, and Books 5, 6, and 7 that deal with the corporeal aspects of the world.

In Book 8, Bartholomew describes the world at the centre of the spheres and furthest from heaven of all the heavenly bodies.[67] Books 9, 10 and 11 can be likened to the first or outer circle of the map, where the motion of the sublunary world creates the flow of time (Book 9) and the vicissitudes of temperature (Book 10) and winds (Book 11) that we experience.

Figure 3: The Psalter Map, British Library Additional Ms 28681, f.9 recto. Circa 1260.Figure 3: The Psalter Map, British Library Additional Ms 28681, f.9 recto. Circa 1260.

The map is a miniature occurring in a Book of Psalms, but it is thought that it could be a copy of larger-scale maps commissioned by Henry III for the walls of Westminster Abbey. Used by permission of the British Library.

Figure 4: The Psalter Map, British Library Additional Ms 28681, f.9 verso. Circa 1260.Figure 4: The Psalter Map, British Library Additional Ms 28681, f.9 verso. Circa 1260.

The features depicted on the map, and the places listed on its reverse side, represent the basic repertoire of a mappaemundi of 1100–1300 and coincide closely with those named in ‘Properties’ Books 13, 14 and 15. Used by permission of the British Library.

Creatures of air, the subject of Book 12, are the ‘ornaments’ of that element.[68] At another level, Book 12 is a list of distinctiones into which the symbolic significance of individual birds could be read by those versed in them. It also serves to deepen and expand on the idea of the soul on its journey, and even (like the crane, the swift and the homing pigeon) to symbolise the viewer as peregrinus in the world and in the book.[69]

Book 13 on the element of water can be compared to the area on the mappaemundi where bodies of water and rivers are predominant features, with the Nile and the Mediterranean separating the world into its three divisions. In this Book, Bartholomew includes the rivers Nile and Danube; and the four rivers that come out of Paradise — Physon (or Ganges), Gyon, Tigris and Euphrates. These, with the rivers Dorix and Jordan, each have a chapter in Book 13. Here, he describes their passage from Paradise in the East, into the Red Sea, through Mesopotamia, Babylon and Armenia; the Jordan flows through Palestine, past Jericho and into the Dead Sea. The rivers Albana and Pharphar flow through Syria and Damascus; the river Gazan flows into the Red Sea; and Chebar, with its sedges and willows, is where God’s people sat down and wept by the waters of Babylon. The Dead Sea, Lake Tiberias and Genesar ‘pond’ each have a chapter. The Mediterranean has a chapter, De mari magno, in which Bartholomew draws a verbal map of the coastline and the countries of its margins, including a paragraph on the Red Sea and its environs.[70] A characteristic feature of contemporary maps is the Ocean that rings the world, dotted with islands, named and unnamed. Bartholomew refers to ‘the waters which surround the sides of the earth’ at the start of Book 8 on the cosmos. As we have seen, he describes properties of the ocean in general in the chapter De mari in Book 13; and the properties of the island in general, as well as known and rumoured islands such as the Cyclades, Ireland and Thule, in Book 15 on provinces and peoples.[71]

Books 14 and 15 treat the land features of the maps; the mountains, valleys, islands and provinces. In Book 14, the chapter that follows De terra is De monte, dealing with mountains, the salient feature of the earth's surface, and also caverns, caves and deserts. Bartholomew's list of mountains encompasses those shown on the maps that were the scene of scriptural events and a goal of pilgrims. Among these are Mounts Ararat, Bethel, Golgatha, Hebron, Carmel, Lebanon, Moria, Nebo, Oreb, Sinai, Syon and Ziph.[72] He also includes some mountains important in classical writings, such as Mount Olympus. Having dealt with important specifics on the map of the world, both Christian and pagan, Bartholomew treats the properties of general features that result from the lumpy surface of the earth, namely hills and valleys, hollows and caves.[73]

In Book 15 Bartholomew starts with the division of the world among Noah’s three sons according to the Gloss on Genesis and other patristic sources, and graphically represented in tri-partite (‘T-O’) medieval maps.[74] In the Psalter map and others of this group, the division of the world into three is implicit in the vertical and horizontal divisions made by the Mediterranean Sea and the river Nile. In the chapter on Armenia, he mentions that this is where the Ark came to rest, having already referred to the legend of the Ark’s inaccessible remains in the chapter on Mount Ararat in Book 14.[75]

Other key places we find on maps are the earthly Paradise, Jerusalem and Babylon. Bartholomew describes the earthly Paradise as ‘a place in the east’, but he then draws on scriptural and legendary sources, including the story of Alexander’s journey to Paradise.[76] Bartholomew presents the properties of Jerusalem in De Iudea: ‘In the centre of Judea is the city of Jerusalem, as if it were the navel of all this country and land, and it is rich with all kinds of richness.’[77] In his chapters on Babylon and Chaldea, Bartholomew includes the gathering of giants after the flood and the building of the Tower of Babel; the drama of Semiramis, the rise and fall of the Assyrians, and the foundation of Rome; the captivity of the Jews under Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon’s destruction by the Medes and the Persians under Darius. He describes the fertility and richness of the Mesopotamian region and the contrast after its destruction: ‘[T]he place that Babylon was in is desert and contains nothing but monsters.’[78]

Book 6, on life, death and tasks, is one site for meditation on the theme of our mortality. Book 9 is another. In Book 9, on time, Bartholomew had already pointed to Babylon as the city representing the heathen and false homeland that entraps us in this earthly life. In the chapter on the church’s feast of Septuagesima, he says that the 70 days before Easter signify the 70 years in which the children of Israel were enslaved in Babylon, but also prefigure ‘the time of our life while it is subject to sin or pain’. At Easter, ‘alleluya’ is sung to celebrate the release of mankind from the slavery of sin by Christ’s passion, even though hardship and pain persist, ‘as the people of Israel made joy and mirth because they were coming into Jerusalem, but nevertheless they suffered sorely from the hardness of the way’.[79] Here, Bartholomew brings to the surface the idea of this life as a journey towards the true homeland or patria in which we each play the role of traveller. Like the Children of Israel, we should rejoice that we are on the way home but remain somewhat sad at the thought of our enslavement. In Book 15, the topics of Paradise and of Babylon, as named places on the world map, offer another point of entry into this principal theme. Books 16, 17 and 18 treat (only partially alphabetically) the properties of and distinctions between things of earth — namely rocks and gems, plants, and creatures with legs — maintaining the dual focus on the earth as both delightful vineyard and place of toil and travail.

In Book 19, Bartholomew returns to the overarching idea of the divine framework that holds the world; the rectangle signifies the universal church and the firmness of the faithful person:

For the form of the quadrangle is the most stable and firm, and it signifies the utmost stability of the universal church and the firmness of the faithful soul, as much in spiritual strength as in knowledge and doctrine; and since it is length, breadth, height and depth it embraces all things holy.[80]

This description of a fundamental, universally enclosing form is consistent with the rectangular frames of the Psalter and most other maps, within which God and his angels dominate and surround the round world within.[81]

To sum up this chapter: stories of travellers such as Odysseus, Noah and Alexander the Great, encoded on medieval maps and alluded to in ‘Properties’, were an effective — and affective — means of teaching Christian doctrine and preparing students for missionary work. Bartholomew’s images of the land, the seas and the traveller are consistent with his role as a Franciscan lector in a frontier area. They draw attention to exotic peoples and places in a positive spirit; encourage reflection on historical events recorded in the Bible that prefigure personal and world salvation; and embody the idea of the reader’s own life as a pilgrimage. The glosses indicate that the properties of land and the sea could signify, for near-contemporary clerical readers, the spiritual growth and nurture provided by the church, and spiritual dangers of the world. Special dangers could serve as warnings against worldly perils that could only be survived with divine help and moral strength. This commentary, and our awareness of the literary device of integumentum, suggests that Bartholomew’s stories about non-Christian places, peoples and adventurers were justified as entertaining and engaging vehicles for Christian teaching.

The narrative devices that link and cross-cut the sequence of Books add to its effectiveness as a teaching and learning tool and help us to form a picture of the mental horizons of the compiler and his students. ‘Properties’ can give us a clue to the freight of meaning potentially available to the reader of such an outwardly expository text. That is not to say, of course, that the encoded meanings are fully recoverable by historians. We can at least deduce from ‘Properties’ something of the depth and intricacy of an intellectual system that patterned the world qualitatively rather than quantitatively, in an effort to impose order on the intractable diversity of things and their properties within a balanced and providential whole. Bartholomew's sustained, overarching themes of pilgrimage and salvation show us something of the meaning, for medieval people, of the concept of imago mundi.

[59] See Edson, pp.111–7 and Fig.6.3, p.114, for a discussion of the Hereford map as an image of the world ‘strictly disciplined and subdued in the service of a greater world order’. For recent analyses of the Hereford map as a teaching tool, see Westrem, 2001. See also Woodward, 1987; also Klingender, p.247, on the mappamundi in the Montecassino ms of Hrabanus Maurus’ De Universo. Whitfield says (p.14): ‘In constructing a world map, the essential principle was to adhere to a tradition. This is not to say that the medieval world map remained static and repetitive; on the contrary the extant maps show a multitude of variations. But the structure remains the same, and the variations are elaborations from literary and religious sources, not geographical developments.’ Edson, pp.145–63, explores the spiritual function of maps with reference to the variations they display on a basic repertoire of forms and content.

[60] Woodward, 1987, p.287; see Westrem, pp.xxxiv–vii, on the recently-discovered Expositio mappe mundi and its relation to the Hereford map as an explanatory text.

[61] Hoogvliet, pp.63–4.

[62] Déstombes, p.189: The Wolfenbüttel codex Helmst. 442 (fourteenth century) contains ‘Properties’, a Chronica Mundi, a map of Palestine and a world map, suggesting that the compiler of this codex associated ‘Properties’ with the history and geography of the physical world. Thanks to Julie Hotchin for information on this codex.

[63] Edson, pp.11–3, and Woodward, 1987, pp.291–313, trace changes and elaborations on the earliest examples from late-Roman and early patristic manuscripts, the so-called T-O maps, showing the tripartite division of the world, Asia, Europe and Africa, between the three sons of Noah. See Woodward, 1987, p.312, on the confused identities of Henry of Mainz and Honorius of Autun; and pp.334–42 on the significance of Noah in the development and symbolism of the maps.

[64] On the Psalter Map (c.1250), see Déstombes, pp.168–70; Whitfield, pp.18–9; Woodward, 1987, pp.327–50; <>. Déstombes, loc.cit., describes this map in detail and notes its affinities with the Ebstorf and Hereford maps. He refers to the work of Konrad Miller, who transcribed all the names on the Psalter map in Die ältesten Weltkarten vol III (1895).

[65] Hassig, p.50, concludes that the dragon was ‘bestiary devil par excellence’, citing (p.246 n.20) the iconography of the dragon in Apocalypse illustrations.

[66] Sears, Elizabeth, The Ages of Man: Medieval Interpretations of the Life Cycle, Princeton University Press, 1986, pp.16-20; Woodward, 1987, pp.335-6.

[67] DrP, Bk 8, cap i Quid sit mundus, pp.367–72.

[68] DrP, Bk 12, preamble, p.507: Ad ornatum autem aeris, pertinent aves et volatilia, ut dicit Beda.

[69] Klingender, pp.402–51, discusses and illustrates the abundant use of birds to signify human souls in Apocalypse and other manuscripts. On the use of moralised birds as a teaching tool, see Clark, Willene B., “The illustrated medieval aviary and the lay-brotherhood”, Gesta XXI (1982): 63–74. Cf. DrP, cap xv De grue, pp.534–5; cap xxi De hirundine, pp.539–40; cap vi De columba, pp.524–7.

[70] DrP, Bk 13, pp.569–75.

[71] DrP, Bk 8, cap i Quid sit Mundus, p.368: Aqua quae terrae latera circumcingit; Bk 15, cap lxxxii, De insula in Salo sita, pp.667—668.

[72] DrP, Bk 14, pp.596–616.

[73] While general at one level, these may have had a specific application to Franciscan readers. BA stresses the emotional responses to the mountain top and to the dark place as shelter or as danger. The chapter on the mountain (DrP, Bk 14, cap ii De monte, pp.595–6) concludes with a description of the valley as refuge for hunted animals that come down from the heights. Against this the glossator had written Nota quod religio est refugium peccatorum. The glosses against the passage describing the light on the mountain tops include Nota de contemplativis, Nota de exemplis bonis, Nota contra superbos (Meyer, 1988, pp.246–8). They are consistent with the recorded significance of wilderness, mountains and caves for the early Franciscans seeking casual shelters, and especially of Francis's reported sojourns on Monte Verna: see R Brooke, 1970, pp.337, 341.

[74] DrP, Bk 15, cap i De Orbe, p.624; Woodward, pp.301–2 and passim.

[75] DrP, Bk 15, cap v De Armenia, p.626: Et dicitur Ararath mons, in quo Archa Noae post diluvium requievit; Bk 14, cap.iii De Ararath, pp.596–7: Ararath mons est Armeniae altissimus, in quo archa post diluvium requievit, ut dicit Isidor & usque hodie lignorum archae vestigia in eiusdem montis vertice adhuc apparent.

[76] DrP, Bk 15, cap cxii De paradiso, pp.680–3. Bartholomew may have drawn on the Jewish story of Alexander’s journey to Paradise found in the Iter Alexandri ad Paradisum which, it has been argued, was known widely in northern Europe in the Middle Ages: see Bunt, p.11. Lascelles, Mary, “Alexander and the earthly Paradise in mediaeval English writings”, Medium Aevum 5 (1936): 31–47; 79–104; 173–88, demonstrates that the story of Alexander in Paradise was familiar to medieval English writers. Greetham, 1980, discusses Bartholomew’s sources for and treatment of the properties of Paradise.

[77] DrP, Bk 15, cap lxxvi De Iudea, pp.663–4. Author’s paraphrase.

[78] DrP, Bk 15, cap xxii De Babylonia, pp.635–6; cap xxxiii De Chaldea, pp.640–1: Locus autem ubi quondam fuit Babylon, est desertus, et nihil continet nisi bestias monstrosas.

[79] DrP, Bk 9, cap xxvii De Septuagesima, p.459: In his autem 70 annis captivitatis babylonicae praefigurabatur totum tempus vitae nostrae, quam diu culpae subdimur atque poenae. The number 70, as the allotted span of life, has its own cluster of associations, including the parable of the vineyard: Sears, 1986, pp.80-1. Landini (pp.24–5) notes that the passage in Luke 10:1–5, taken to denote the number of workers to be sent forth into the field, was one of the Gospel texts upon which Francis reputedly founded his Order.

[80] Bk 19, cap cxvii De numero quaternario, p.1223: Forma autem quadrangula maxime stabilis est atque firma, et ideo maxime stabilitatem signat universalis ecclesie et firmitatem fidelis anime tam in virtutibus quam in scientia et doctrina, que comprehendit cum omnibus sanctis que sit longitudo, latitudo, sublimitas, et profundum.

[81] The large Hereford map’s upper edge is peaked, which strictly speaking makes it a rectangle surmounted by a triangle containing a circle.