A Brief Personal Essay on Maps
I have a love affair with maps. It started in childhood when we lived in Petersburg, Virginia for a few years. As a third grader, I studied the maps of my home area during the Civil War. A couple years later, as a Boy Scout and living near the coast of North Carolina, I began to draw maps. I drew woods behind our home along with favorite camping areas. There were also the creeks and the islands around me. Gradually, I moved into larger maps and imagined trips to far flung places in the world. I have boxes of maps covering highways, railroads, topographical and geological maps.
While it doesn’t compare to traveling and exploring, I spend hours poring over maps. They tell us a lot about our world. I prefer that maps that cover a wide view of the landscape instead of strip maps, which just show the area traveling.
Most of the maps used when I hiked the Appalachian Trail were strips. I often found myself wanting to know what was just off the map. At night, I might look at distant cities lights below and wonder what city, but it was off your map.
The same is true with the old American Automobile Association’s TripTik maps. They were fine for showing you what was on the roads you intended travel. But what if you decided to take a detour? Of course, they also had state maps that provided such detail.
My favorite maps are the old 7.5- and 15-minute quadrangle topographical maps. When hiking out West, I often used such maps. Standing on one peak, I could pick out the other peaks. With such maps and a good view of the terrain, I would orient myself without even pulling out a compass.
The sad future for maps
Sadly, maps are going out of style. We now navigate more and more by GPS and google or Apple maps. The electronic version, seen on a 3 inch screen, makes the old TripTiks seem full of detail. I also find it much harder to dream using an electronic gadget. The linear strips of maps focus us just on where we are at and where we are going. We fail to see ourselves in the world. These medieval maps remind us that world is complex when we add the spiritual realm. I ordered the book. When it arrived, I skipped over other books on my TBR pile to delved into Deam’s medieval world.
Lisa Deam, A World Transformed: Exploring the Spirituality of Medieval Maps
(Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2015), 142 pages including notes, drawings and photos.
Lisa Deam has a PhD in art history. Torn between the study of art and religion, she found a way to blend the two with medieval maps. These old maps are not the equivalent of the gas station maps I grew up studying. Such maps were works of art. Most of these maps centered the world by placing Jerusalem, the locale of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection, in the middle. Everything else in the world flowed there, including the three known continents of the pre-enlightened world.
Some of these ancient maps also had Christ behind the world, with his hands and feet holding the world up. Often the edges of the maps contained monsters and were scary places. But with Christ’s hands and feet the medieval travelers were reminded they were not alone when travelling. God’s protection was present.
These maps also contained a lot of information. Of course, some of the monsters were fantastical, but the map contained bits of history beyond what happened in Jerusalem. Interestingly, one of the themes were the conquests of Alexander the Great. Of course, one studying such a map in the 1300s would have no idea or first-hand knowledge of these places where Alexander or even Jesus walked.
The Hereford Map, produced around the year 1300, receives the most attention from Dean. This four-foot map resides in the cathedral has great detail. She also spends time with the Ebstorf Map and a small “Psalter Map.” Unlike the other two, the Psalter map was designed for private devotion.
Dean does not set out to write a history of cartography. Instead, we’re taken into the world of the era and invited to think of how their worldview and beliefs were seen through these maps. In addition, questions at the end of each chapter invites us to contemplate about our own lives and worldview in relation to God. While the book contains much new knowledge of maps in the 13th and 14th Centuries, it’s really written as a devotional guide.
I enjoyed reading this book. I only wish it included a 4-foot square copy of the Hereford Map that I could have spent lots of time poring over as I read the book. It does include a small version of the map and a few large, detailed sections of the map for the reader to see with their own eyes what the author is describing. I recommend this book.