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The Original Placement of the Hereford Map
By Dan Terkla
Imago Mundi: The International Journal for the History of Cartography, Vol. 56:2 (2006)
Abstract: Although antiquarians, historians of cartography, palaeographers and art historians have written about the Hereford mappa mundi for more than three hundred years, we know little about its original placement or use. This paper relies on new masonry and dendrochronological evidence and the system of medieval ecclesiastical preferments to argue that this monumental world map was originally exhibited in 1287 next to the first shrine of St Thomas Cantilupe in Hereford Cathedral’s north transept. It did not function as an altarpiece, therefore, but as part of what I call the Cantilupe pilgrimage complex, a conglomeration of items and images which was for a time one of England’s most popular pilgrimage destinations. In this location, the map would have added to the complex’s attractive power and served as a multi-media pedagogical tool.
Thanks to antiquarians, historians of cartography and, more recently, scholars working in what the late J. Brian Harley might have called the inter-arts disciplines, we know an enormous amount about the Hereford mappa mundi, which has been displayed in Hereford Cathedral since its creation in the late thirteenth century. However, in part because of the dearth of archaeological, dendrochronological and documentary evidence,we have had no firmly grounded theories about the map’s original placement or its function as the centrepiece of an elaborate triptych. The assessment of new as well as old evidence offered here is intended as a contribution toward a solution to this problem.
Four different types of evidence allow me to contend that the map was originally displayed in the Cathedral’s north transept next to the shrine of Thomas Cantilupe, Bishop of Hereford (1275–1282), and that there it was part of what I call the Cantilupe pilgrimage complex: (1) dendrochronological dating of the map’s original oak backboard by Dr Ian Tyers of the University of Sheffield in January 2004; (2) the records of ecclesiastical preferments that benefited Hereford churchmen Richard Swinfield and Richard de Bello; (3)palaeographical work done on the map by Malcolm Parkes and Nigel Morgan; and, no less important, (4) masonry evidence that I noted in Hereford Cathedral’s north transept during the ‘Hereford and Other Mappamundi’ conference, held at Hereford Cathedral in 1999. Taken together, these different categories of evidence support parallel if inchoate placement theories advanced by Marcia Kupfer, Valerie I. J. Flint and Naomi Reed Kline and incorporate work done by Martin Bailey and Scott Westrem. I hope my theory will also generate a fresh discussion about the map’s use in situ, lead to a reconsideration of the power of the places in which it has been displayed and put an end to the long-standing argument that the map, as the central element of a triptych, functioned as an altarpiece in Hereford Cathedral.