Maps In History: The Psalter Map

Modern interactive maps can be pretty boring – lines of blue and yellow, with street names, road names, and barely decipherable icons representing “Points of Interest” and tourist spots. However, maps haven’t always been that way. Throughout history, many cartographers have managed to turn their maps into works of art; sometimes of more artistic value than geographical value.
One such example is the Psalter Map – one of the few surviving examples of what is known as a medieval Mappa Mundi. This map is an illustrated map of the known world. It’s very small – barely 10cm across, and it was drawn on animal skin. The map, and the book that it was bound into, is now preserved in the British Library, and has managed to survive for many centuries whilst remaining in incredibly good condition.
The map shows the world as a round disc, with just three land masses on it. Those land masses are Asia, Europe, and “East”. Unlike the modern convention of placing Northern territories at the top of the map, the mapper placed “East” at the top, in keeping with the religious convention of the time.
Geography is a factor in this map, however the dominating factors are biblical belief, and myths and legends. Prominent features of the map include the Red Sea and Jerusalem. Christ stands above the disc, holding an orb in his hand. Some other features of this map are highlighted using gold-leaf paint.
It is not known who created this map. Some historians believe that the map is based on another map which was owned by Henry III, and was hung in his bedroom in Westminster Palace. Henry III’s map predates this one by 50 years, and it’s hard to confirm if someone saw that map and used it as inspiration to create another one.

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