TITLE: Maps of Matthew Paris: Palestine

DATE:  ca. 1250 A.D.

AUTHOR:  Matthew Paris (1195-1259)

DESCRIPTION: In the 12th and early 13th century, the monastery of St. Albans in England possessed what may be called an historical school, or institute, which was then the chief center of English narrative history or chronicle, and with a different environment might have become the nucleus of a great university.  Among the writers of this school, the greatest was a Benedictine monk Matthew Paris, whose three chief works contain various maps and plans unsurpassed in European medieval geography, before the rise of the portolani [nautical charts].  Thus, in the Historia Major, or Cronica Majora, we have the so-called Itinerary to the Holy Land, or Stationes a Londinio ad Hierosolymam, as well as a mappamundi, a map of Palestine, and the first of Matthew’s four maps of England.  Again, in the Historia Minor, or Historia Anglorum, there is another form of the Palestine Itinerary, the second and third maps of England, and the Situs Britanniae.  Lastly, in the History of St. Albans, a portion of the supposed Pilgrim-road, as far as southern Italy, is given in another shape, together with the Schema Britanniae.

    The principal types of regional and local maps in the Middle Ages were itinerary maps, maps of regions like England or Palestine, city plans, and, especially from the very late Middle Ages, maps of disputed lands or boundaries of properties. Most of these maps appear to have belonged to separate traditions, although the extensive corpus of maps in Matthew Paris’s chronicles, combining as it does multiple map types, suggests the degree to which a graphically inclined author might be familiar with and able to deploy images from all the known categories of maps, in addition to other types of drawings and diagrams.

Written itineraries were well known in the Middle Ages and were apparently used both as travelers’ aids and for armchair travel, often for the purpose of either actual or mental pilgrimage. Only two maps structured as itineraries survive, the more elaborate of which is the Peutinger map (Book I, #120). A 12th or early 13th century copy of a Late Antique original, the map has usually been studied for what it can tell us of ancient cartography or of the interest in the ancient world on the part of the 15th century German humanists who rediscovered it. It is, however, extremely important to remember the commitment of time and resources involved in producing the medieval copy: the question then arises of what this map meant to the society that found the human and financial resources to copy it. It has been plausibly explained in the context of the strong interest in the classical world that we have already seen influencing the toponyms of later medieval world maps; however, more research should be done to elucidate the importance and the influence of this map.

The other significant extant example of an itinerary map is the one that appears in various redactions in manuscripts of Paris’s Chronica majora. The map shows the route from England to Apulia, marking each day’s journey and prominent topographic features like mountains and rivers. Suited to its location in a chronicle, the map serves a historical purpose in demonstrating the route of a well-known contemporary diplomatic expedition, Richard of Cornwall’s expedition to Sicily in 1253 as the claimant to the crown, although the map contains information drawn from multiple journeys and routes.

In addition to these surviving examples of itinerary maps, the significance of the itinerary — especially the written or narrated itinerary—is demonstrated by the frequency with which itineraries served as at least one source for other types of maps. For example, some of the information on the Hereford world map (#226) was based on an itinerary that may show a route familiar to English traders in France. For example, the Hereford map incorporates an itinerary through France and possibly one in Germany. Paris’ map of Palestine draws on the kind of information about the length of the journey from city to city that would normally be found in an itinerary as an indication of scale for the map. Even more substantial is the role played by itineraries in the creation of regional maps. These interconnections are especially striking in the rich cartographic production of Matthew Paris.

Paris created a number of regional maps of England and Palestine, as well as two historical maps representing features of early Britain. In at least three of these maps, he drew heavily on itineraries and routes. Of the historical maps, one is a sketch showing the location of four pre-Roman roads in Britain. 

Matthew Paris, therefore, appears as the author of six geographical designs; a world-map, in two slightly different forms; a map of England, in four variants; a purely conventional sketch of the Heptarchy, in the form of a Rose des Vents; a plan, or schema, of the Roman roads of the same country; a ‘routier’ to Apulia from the English Court; and a map of Palestine, which tradition has wrongly joined with the former, to make a Pilgrim Itinerary from London to Jerusalem.

The Situs and Schema Britanniae are works of extremely slight interest to most scholars of this period; but it may be remarked that the latter, which deals with the four chief Roman roads of England (Ermine St., Watling St., Icknield St. and the Fosse Way), makes them intersect at Dunstable, has a peculiar orientation, with West at the top.

Matthew’s so-called Itinerary from London to the Holy Land, which has been reckoned with his map of Palestine, is not really a connected whole; it is the result of combining two different works, a pictorial representation of the route between London and Apulia (in southern Italy), and a sketch of the Holy Land.  In the former, a pictorial itinerary of the route from London to southern Italy, with legends in old French and Latin, delineates vividly towns and principal topographic features, the chief stations or halting-places are indicated in sections of the route, beginning at the North, the chief rivers and mountains of the journey also appearing.  In the sketch of the Holy Land, we have a map of Palestine, with the East at the top, in the ordinary ecclesiastical manner. The connection of the two is simply in the fact that both are by the same author, Matthew Paris; that they are of almost the same date; and that each is written in Old French intermixed with Latin.  These Itineraries are a straight forward series of vertical strips showing the successive staging points by tiny thumbnail sketches, some based upon the places’ actual appearance; between the staging points are notes of the distances in terms of day’s journeys, and for part of the way alternative routes are shown.

        Matthew Paris’s maps of Palestine are best described as maps not so much of the Holy Land as of the Crusader kingdom, especially since a plan of the city of Acre, the principal port of the kingdom, dominates the coastline. In many ways they continue the itinerary from England to Sicily (Otranto in Apulia was a common point of embarkation for Acre). P.D.A. Harvey has suggested that the maps of England and the Holy Land might be seen as enlargements of the end points of the itinerary. Paris’s goal in creating the maps seems to have been to provide a “visualization of all the important political and military sites mentioned in his chronicles of the Crusades.”

The Itinerary to Apulia is not, therefore, part of a pilgrim’s guide to the Holy Land; but rather appears to be a political sketch, with the following history (from Beazley). “On St. Martin’s Day, 1252, one Master Albert, a Papal notary, appeared at the English Court, and offered to Earl Richard of Cornwall the Kingdom of Apulia, on behalf of Pope Innocent IV, titular overlord of that realm.  The Earl himself looked on the gift as a ‘dominion in the moon’; but his brother, King Henry III, and the whole English Court party, were eager to accept the offer; and this Itinerary was probably composed during the abortive negotiations on the matter, with the view of informing and fomenting English ambitions as directed on southern Italy.  This is confirmed by the fact that the Itinerary proper reaches only to Rome; at this point it assumes a new character, and portrays the Norman lands of Pouille, or Apulia, in considerable detail, enumerating all the greater towns.” 

The historical background is all recorded in the long inscription or legend over Pouille.  Another inscription at Trapes or Trapani in Sicily tells how Earl Richard called here on his return from a Crusade.  No list of stations is given from southern Italy to the Holy Land, and it is fairly clear that none was intended.

    Matthew’s sketch of Palestine, so often connected with the Itinerary just mentioned, is in some of its more general aspects parallel to the smaller Jerome map (i.e., both have the North at the top, Palestine in the middle, and Egypt on the right, #215C); but in their details there is a great difference.  For Jerome uses ancient names throughout, while the English chronicler inserts many indications of 13th century nomenclature and history; such as the fortress enclosures of the Templars, the Teutonic Knights, the Pisan and Genoese merchants and other western corporations in Acre; or the dwelling of the Old Man of the Mountain, or Chief of the Assassins, ‘far towards the north’.  This is accompanied by some vague indications of roads, which, taken together with the camel picture, points to a commercial object in this design.  In this last respect, both the Palestine and Itinerary stand as possible models for a later English cartographer and his road strip maps, John Ogilby, in the late 17th century (#601, #602, #603, #604).

The text of this map of Palestine is, in fact, closely related to various Intineraries of the period of Latin domination in Syria, such as Les pelerinages pour aller en Jerusalem, Les chemins et les pelerinages de la Terre Sainte, or La deuice des chemins de Babiloine (viz. Babylon of Egypt).  The first of these is of 1231, the second of 1265, the third of 1289-1291, but it is probable that earlier redactions of the last two already existed in Matthew’s time, and were used by him.

Matthew Paris’s Chronica majora is housed in three manuscripts: Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MSS 26 and 16 (hereafter CCCC 26 and CCCC 16); and London, British Library MS Royal 14 C.viii. CCCC 26 contains the annals from creation to 1188, CCCC 16 from 1189 to 1253, and Royal 14 C.viii from 1254 to 1259, when Matthew died. I will concentrate on the maps appended to the beginning of the first volume, though similar maps appear at the start of all three volumes, suggesting their great importance to Matthew’s conception of the Chronica, his major work. Daniel Connolly in his book The Maps of Matthew Paris: Medieval Journeys through Space, Time and Liturgy writes that Matthew began the Chronica majora “as a fairly strict copy up to about 1235, of Roger Wendover’s Flores historiarum [Flowers of History]. In 1240, or soon after, Matthew started writing, covering the material from 1235 and continuing to the middle of 1258, at which time another hand takes over.” These maps, along with the marginal images throughout the Chronica, have been securely attributed to Matthew himself and, according to Suzanne Lewis in her The Art of Matthew Paris in the Chronica Majora “may be regarded in large part as original conceptions and inventions,” rather than derivatives of traditional models. The maps, in particular, are startling in their originality and aberrancy. CCCC 26 opens, following the flyleaves reused from a manuscript of canon law, with a series of linked maps running from folio i recto through iv recto (the lowercase Roman numerals indicate the status of these folios as prefatory). It is possible – and quite instructive – to page through the full run of the itinerary maps, and the rest of the manuscript, at the Parker Library on the Web site (http://parkerweb.stanford.edu/parker/actions/manuscript_description_long_display.do?ms_no=26). Itinerary Map from London to Bouveis, Cambridge, Corpus Christi College Library, MS 26, f.ir.

Itinerary Map from London to Bouveis, Cambridge, Corpus Christi College Library, MS 26, f.ir.

    The first several folios are each divided into two vertical columns. These contain images of cities, connected by clearly marked roads inscribed journee [a day’s journey]. Each column, then, represents a segment of the voyage from London, at the base of the first column of folio i r, through Sienna, at the top of the final column of the itinerary on f. iii r.  Beyond Sienna, the columns end and the space of the maps opens up. (see below) There is, though, some transition from the orderly paths at the beginning of the itinerary to the trackless expanses of territory on the final folios. The first columns contain cities connected by clearly marked paths; these are followed by columns with cities still arranged in clearly linear fashion, but without the marked paths. Then, the linearity ends, and we are left with images that are more conventionally “map-like” in their appearance.

Map of the Holy Land, Cambridge, Corpus Christi College Library, MS 16, f. iii v-iv r.

Matthew’s little red lines become roads, inches become miles, vignettes become cities to be traversed by the viewers of his manuscripts. This mode of associating travel’s “micro” with its “macro,” as it were, was of increasing significance in the 13th century, when pavement labyrinths were either first used in European churches or were newly popular. As Connolly argues:

[T]he labyrinth at Chartres, I submit, was constructed in response to the recent loss of Jerusalem to Muslim forces in 1187. And by presenting its audiences with a richly meaningful image of the city of Jerusalem – one whose centrality in the nave mimicked that city’s centrality in the world and whose fundamental geometry signaled a cosmic architecture – this pavement triggered associations with the city, both in its earthly and historic instance and with its future, heavenly instantiation, and it did so as it invited its audiences to perform an imagined pilgrimage to this sacred center.

With the actual city lost to travelers, labyrinths created a space for virtual travel, much in the same way as Matthew’s maps do. Labyrinths allowed church visitors to travel short distances in the densely confined knots of their paths, while simultaneously travelling to the very “center” of the world, emphatically emphasized by their symmetrical forms.

The maps Matthew’s manuscripts contain, even the “linear” itinerary pages like the one that opens CCCC 26, are not as straightforward as they at first appear. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are filled with problems, and become “very muddled and confusing,” with cities that are “misplaced” or appear twice. These “errors” might or might not be caught by the viewer. There is, though, a more substantive manner in which the itineraries break down their apparent linearity: they “fork” from the very start, with two paths diverging from London. As Dan Connolly writes, “the main or central route took the monk through the major political and ecclesiastical cities of south England and France ... The peripheral routes ... [show] major religious centers, most often with Benedictine houses.” Connolly asserts that “by constricting the landscape to such a tight path, Matthew effectively compressed vision toward the upper edge of the codex, the only point of relief to the confined passage,” and yet the forking paths seem, at first, to allow for a less restrained experience than this implies. We are able to choose our path to the Holy Land – should we, leaving London, travel via the main route, Le Chemin a Rouescestre [the Road to Rochester] or the side route, le chemin ver la costere et la mer [the road toward the coast and the sea]? Once in the Holy Land (CCCC 16), we are free to choose any routes we desire, as the roads themselves disappear (up until the very end, as will be discussed below). 

These labyrinthine maps of Matthew Paris are quite different from those of his contemporaries in important respects. The well-known Psalter Map, for example, is a typical mappamundi, displaying the entire ecumene, that is, the inhabitable world, as known to 13th century English cartographers (#223). It is worth mentioning that the Psalter Map is only a few inches tall, and that the whole codex fits comfortably in the hand, unlike Matthew’s larger, more cumbersome (and ever-expanding) volume. Still, the Psalter Map remains a strong point of comparison for two reasons: first, it was made within perhaps a dozen years of Matthew’s maps. Second, unlike some mappaemundi, including Hereford (#226) and Ebstorf (#224), the Psalter Map was not freestanding. Rather, it was, like Matthew’s maps, part of a manuscript. The Psalter Map is one of two that form a sort of series, like Matthew’s maps, with one more geographical and one more linear, text replacing itinerary but no less clearly directional and effacing of actual geographic arrangement. Indeed, before the late-13th century insertion of additional prefatory miniatures, it was positioned before its text as a sort of frontispiece, as are Matthew’s, and was also one of a series of maps. The Psalter Map, like medieval labyrinths, is emphatically centered on Jerusalem – following a new 13th century trend – and around its circumference, we find points of great interest. Connolly in his “At the Center of the World,” argues that “the centered display of the Holy City was not a dominant tradition in medieval cartography until the 13th century and was occasioned ... by the recent loss of Jerusalem.”

On the Psalter Map, beginning at the top and proceeding clockwise, we encounter the Garden of Eden, the Red Sea, a band of monstrous peoples, Britain, and the gates in the Caucus Mountains, retaining the hordes of Gog and Magog. Wonders of this sort are not incidental to the function of medieval maps like the Psalter; rather, they are essential components thereof, supplying a necessary antipode to a central Jerusalem, rooted in biblical and patristic texts. In essence, the center is presented as sacred and the margins as problematic, potent, and potentially monstrous, but also thereby seductive and attractive. While Iain Macleod Higgins (Defining the Earth’s Center) is correct that “the viewer of a circular map can never quite lose sight of a well-marked center, since the very shape of the map keeps one’s gaze circling around it,” by the same logic, we cannot lose sight of the periphery for long, and the visual attention given to the monstrous peoples of the South, as well as the other peripheral points of interest, keep pulling the gaze back. We find similar arrangements of center and periphery on the Hereford and Ebstorf Maps. On the peripheries of both maps, we see the Garden of Eden, the Red Sea, a plethora of monstrous peoples, and the hordes of Gog and Magog (feasting in bloody cannibalism, on the Ebstorf and also, perhaps, on the Hereford). At the center of each is Jerusalem, marking the umbilicus mundi.

Matthew was not immune to the common medieval interest – monastic and secular – in marvels like the monstrous peoples of Africa and Asia, reflected not only by their presence on the Psalter, Hereford and Ebstorf maps, but also by their near ubiquity in texts and images of all types. Matthew represented marvels known from monster cycles like the Marvels of the East and the Liber monstrorum, and from contemporary narratives about cultural others like the “Tartars” – a medieval Christian term for the Mongols – but also from personal observation, such as the elephant given by Louis IX to Henry III, which appears as one of the prefatory images appended to CCCC 16. Matthew writes, “[w]e believe that this was the only elephant ever seen in England, or even in the countries this side of the Alps; thus people flocked to see the novel sight.” He also represented distant and feared horrors, like the cannibal rapist “Tartars” who appear in the margins of CCCC 16. Matthew managed through his texts, marginal illustrations and maps, to bring the whole of the world and its history, from Creation to the present, from sacred Jerusalem to the monstrous elephant, to himself and his monastic brethren.

Just as audiences flocked to see Henry III’s elephant, they may also flocked to see some of the world maps, such as the Hereford Map, likely displayed in Hereford Cathedral as part of a pilgrimage route dedicated to Bishop Thomas Cantilupe, who died in 1283. As Dan Terkla writes in “The Original Placement of the Hereford Mappa Mundi,” Imago Mundi, vol. 56/2, “Cantilupe’s relics made Hereford Cathedral an immensely popular destination for 13th and 14th century pilgrims.” While they presumably came to see and worship before the bishop’s tomb, once there, they would have been confronted with the large-format map. In contrast, “[t]he main audience for [Matthew’s] maps doubtless was the brethren at St. Albans,” though it, too, was likely of interest to St. Albans’ many visitors.  As Connolly writes, “The Chronica majora, and the maps that prefaced it, may well have been made available to the kings or other nobles, who could have seen them during their numerous visits to this most important abbey.” In this way, too, Matthew drew the world to him.

While monsters and marvels played an important role on mappaemundi like the Psalter, Hereford and Ebstorf, their role on Matthew’s maps is strongly curtailed. They are wholly absent from the itinerary maps, and appear in a limited scope on the Holy Land maps – CCCC 16). This may result from the shift from counterpunctual arrangement of sacred center and monstrous margins on the Psalter, Ebstorf and Hereford maps, among others, to the less clearly structured arrangement of Matthew’s maps. Unlike these other maps, Matthew’s maps of the Holy Land de-center Jerusalem and, since it is not replaced with anything else, they do not have a clearly defined umbilicus. Since they fill bifolial openings, their centers lie in the folios’ gutters. In CCCC 26, the center would be just east of (that is, above) the crenellated wall of Acre. Jerusalem – so ardently central on the Psalter Map – is shunted off to the right by Matthew. He adds an inscription referring to Jerusalem as “the midpoint of the world,” which seems visually contradicted by his map, whereas such an inscription would have been redundant on the Psalter Map.

What, then, is central on the CCCC 26 map of the Holy Land? Roughly centered, on either side of the gutter and just above the wall of Acre, are two large blocks of text. Both are of a somewhat marvelous vein: to the left of the gutter, we read of Bedouins, whose description is reminiscent of wonders texts like the Marvels of the East. To the right, more promisingly, we find a passage that begins, in Lewis’s translation, “There are many marvels in the Holy Land, of which [only a few] shall be mentioned.” However, these marvels are, in comparison to the Wonders of the East and other such texts, somewhat anemic. Two are mentioned: the first is an image of the Virgin and Child that oozes medicinal oil that “becomes gummy or like rubber [that] ... is holy and medicinal.” The second is still less impressive – a field of stones shaped like chickpeas, remnants of a rather spiteful apocryphal miracle in which Jesus turns a farmer’s seeds into stones for having been spoken to disrespectfully.

This passage contains an odd erasure. These are not, to my observation, a common feature of the maps, and of course I cannot speculate on the date of this erasure. The erasure comes at a curious point, containing what Lewis reconstructs to mean “only a few.” Without the reconstruction, we have a text that instead reads, “There are many marvels in the Holy Land, of which ... are not to be mentioned.” In this way, the eraser has furthered the work Matthew began, reducing yet further the map’s monstrous or marvelous content. No marvels, it seems, should be mentioned. In a sense, this follows the logic of the mappaemundi discussed above; we appear to have zoomed in on the center of these maps, to focus on the area around Jerusalem, which would necessitate cropping the world’s monstrous fringe. However, if we assume some consistency of geographical space from map to map, Matthew’s expansive map, filling the complete manuscript opening and extending out onto added flaps of vellum, does reach to the margins of the world. At the upper left corner of the foldout flap along the folio’s left edge, as if to ensure the clarity of their separation from the Holy Land, are the peoples of Gog and Magog, visually implied by the wall of the Caspian Mountains, held there until the end of time, when they are to be released to rampage across the face of the earth. The Caspian Mountains, restraining the hordes of Gog and Magog, actually touch the very margins of the world on the Psalter and Ebstorf Maps, and nearly do so on the Hereford Map.

Working inward from the Caspian Mountains toward the center of the map, we find small serpents slithering along the slopes of Mount Ararat, protecting Noah’s Ark from the approach of humans: “The Ark,” we read, is “where no one can approach it on account of the desert and vermin.” This passage strongly recalls one from the Wonders of the East: “Because of the abundance of dragons, no person can easily travel in that land.” Nearby, we see Jonah being spit up by the sea monster, here a crocodile labeled “coco,” on the shores of Nineveh. Further toward the center, and less wildly wondrous, we see a camel, centered on f. iii v, labeled with a rubricated inscription, and given a cushion of negative space as if to ensure that he receives due attention. Indeed, these beasts – fairly ordinary to modern eyes – do appear just above the two- faced people in the Beowulf manuscript’s version of the Wonders of the East. Finally, a text to the lower right of f. iv r forms an opposing pole to the Caspian Mountains and describes Ethiopia in terms familiar from marvels texts and purported travelogues: “there are wild people and monsters ... withered, sun-burnt, black and ugly.” Still, Matthew declined to include an image, like those contained in works like the Marvels of the East in London, British Library, Cotton Tiberius B.v.41.

Matthew also chooses not to dwell in his maps on the horrifying hordes of Gog and Magog, lurking behind the Caspian Mountains, which is surprising, given his millennialism. In contrast, the Ebstorf map, for example, gives us a gory presentation of these cannibal hordes. In the Chronica and contemporary accounts, Gog and Magog are conflated with the two most prominent cultural Others perceived as threats to 13th century ‘Christendom’: Jews and Mongols. Lewis sums up Matthew’s views, characterizing Gog and Magog as “the apocalyptic Mongol hordes ... unleashed beyond the frontiers of civilization as harbingers of the end of the world.” In the Chronica, Matthew quotes a letter from Ivo of Narbonne to Bishop Gerald of Bordeaux describing these “Tartars” in grotesque and horrifying terms and accompanies it by a marginal illustration. Matthew writes, “The old and ugly women were given to the cannibals ... as their daily allowance of food; those who were beautiful were not eaten, but were suffocated by mobs of ravishers in spite of all their cries and lamentations,” and worse. Matthew, who seems to have invented “the most sadistic and offensive passages in Ivo’s letter,” says the Tartars “are inhuman and of the nature of beasts, rather to be called monsters than men, thirsting after and drinking blood, and tearing and devouring the flesh of dogs and human beings.” On Matthew’s map, though, Gog and Magog become “the Jews ... whom God locked up at the request of King Alexander [and] who will go forth on the eve of the Day of Judgment and will massacre all manner of peoples.” In a moment of wildest paranoia, Matthew unites these three groups. Upon hearing that the Mongols – feared by Christians to be the apocalyptic hordes – are making progress toward Europe, he imagines that continental Jews “assembled on a general summons in a secret place, where one of their number who seemed to be the wisest and most influential amongst them” instructs them to undertake a complex plot to smuggle arms to the Mongols, so that they can defeat the Christians. Matthew’s fantasy is not merely xenophobic, but outright eschatological, a vital distinction in the context of the maps of CCCC 26. If the Mongols (or the Jews, or for that matter, the Mongols and Jews, or even the Jewish Mongols) are the hordes of Gog and Magog, then they have already broken out of the gate prophesied to contain them until the apocalypse. This would suggest that End Days were nigh.

Matthew’s maps – from the first legs of the itinerary, branching out from London along two paths, to the (nearly) pathless tracts of the Holy Land – present a range of spatial options to the ocular traveler moving through them. For Matthew and his contemporaries, there existed only one future, and its expected arrival was nearly coincident with his creation of the maps. In his entry for 1250, Matthew famously heralded the impending apocalypse:

Matthew’s Chronicle here ends,

And the Jubilee Year sends

Repose down from the skies;

May repose to him be given,

Here on earth, and in heaven,

When he there shall rise ...

Matthew, here your toils are over,

Stop your pen and labor no more:

Seek not what the future brings;

Another age has other things.

But again, this invites a question: If these maps, which were likely made just after 1250, are millennial, why not populate them with prodigies, with monstrous births heralding doom, with monsters of the sorts found on the Psalter Map, or with images of the people of Gog and Magog, who appear three times on the Hereford Map, once behind their wall and twice already outside of it, released into and upon the world? One response might be that the sorts of monsters found on the Psalter Map and other mappaemundi were seen as normal elements of creation, rather than as portents of the apocalypse. Second, and more importantly, the choice to include or exclude such images might have been predicated on chronology. Lewis describes the period in which Matthew was making his maps as follows:

Not only is the Holy Land to be inexorably lost, despite the valiant efforts of these last Crusaders, but the invasion of Europe itself is threatened by the apocalyptic Mongol hordes, believed to be Gog and Magog unleashed beyond the frontiers of civilization as harbingers of the end of the world.

        This is, indeed, the moment of production for the maps, but this is not the moment (or moments) depicted on the maps, themselves. Returning to Matthew’s off-center image of Jerusalem, we find that the three structures it contains are not as they were at the time of the map’s creation. By 1250, the Crusader kingdom had fallen, and the Khorezmians had sacked Jerusalem. Muslims occupied the Holy Sepulcher, as well as the Temple of Solomon – home of the Knights Templar – and the Temple of the Lord by 1250. Indeed, two of the three sites were originally Muslim structures – the Temple of Solomon was a mosque and the Temple of the Lord was the Dome of the Rock – and they had reverted to Muslim control by the time the maps were made. As Lewis notes, Jerusalem is the “only instance on the Palestine map in which Matthew uses Latin for the descriptions and captions of the city and its landmarks, perhaps ... to underline the present reality that the Holy City no longer existed in its former Christian state and now belonged to the past.” The map, then, does not show Matthew’s present moment. Instead, it presents the period before, but also simultaneously, the period after, the transient, lost glory of the Crusader Kingdom and the immutable glory of the Heavenly Kingdom to come.

Connolly translates jurnee, the repeated inscription on the paths throughout the itineraries, as “one day,” rather than the customary “day’s journey,” perhaps unintentionally conjuring a sense of longing for travel by a cloistered monk – one day, one day – but also for the reclamation of the Holy Land – one day, one day – and, of course, ultimately, the return of Jesus, the end of time, the Last Judgment, and the creation of the Heavenly Jerusalem – one day, one day. The journey may be long – at least 46 days in Lewis’s reckoning – and the path may not be singular or even, further out on the journey, marked at all, but one day, one day, one day, for Matthew and
his monastic audience, one day the reader would at last arrive.

        Dutiful walkers of these labyrinths have no alternate paths by which to physically stray. However, their minds might well wander. If those mental wanderings took them to the right destination, they would realize the function of the labyrinths rather than contradict them. By tracing their routes on foot or on their knees, virtual pilgrims would hope to reap spiritual rewards akin to those gained on pilgrimage, effecting peregrinatio in stabilitate – that is, pilgrimage without moving. Evelyn Edson and Connolly have rightly connected this notion to medieval maps. Like medieval labyrinths, Matthew Paris’s maps were not mazes per se, in that there are not alternate routes leading to dead ends: both contain singular paths. Matthew’s paths seem to fork out from London, but ultimately all converge at one geo-chronological endpoint, at a place that is also a time: the Heavenly Jerusalem, at the center of the physical world and simultaneously the end of human history. Like the labyrinths’ single paths, Matthew’s many roads can only guide the viewer toward one destination. Connolly nicely evokes the phenomenological experience of walking a medieval labyrinth:

You first enter the labyrinth, ... moving from West to East, from the cathedral doors towards the altar. Very quickly however, the labyrinth focuses your concentration on the path, else you are likely to stray from it. The path is narrow, and the turns are small and tight, requiring attention and focus. The labyrinth is at first a challenge of some dexterity, and so it also foregrounds your sense of balance and of bodily position relative to it. At the same time, there is a loss of your sense of “place” in the church as orientations are constantly shifting and revolving. Its movements to and fro, back and forth create a regular and somewhat wearying effect that combines with the hypnotic vision of the pavement receding beneath your alternating steps. Awareness of your surrounds diminishes as the labyrinth choreographs your body in space.

The itinerary maps in Matthew’s manuscript provide an inverse experience. Their path from town to town has the appearance of being perpetually straight and direct, but in fact would twist and turn. In walking a labyrinth, virtual pilgrims orient themselves to its shifting orientation; in traversing the itinerary, the world is bent, reorienting itself constantly to our perspective, making the shift to the trackless conclusion, the map of the Holy Land, all the more powerful.

Connolly characterizes the performative experience of walking a labyrinth as “a prolonged, sometimes frustrating process,” but, after all its disorienting divagations, “[a]t the very end of the labyrinth, a straight line appears to lead you directly to the center, to arrive, metaphorically, at the holy city of Jerusalem.” Returning to Matthew’s map of the Holy Land, (CCCC 16) we find that there is a pathway charted on its largely pathless surface, a road marked out like those of the itinerary pages that precede it. Just beneath Jerusalem, inscribed in red and oriented ninety degrees counter-clockwise to the rest of the map, again following our orientation from our bodies, forward, we read le chemin de Iafes a Ierusalem [“the road from Jaffa to Jerusalem”]. Leading up to this is another implied pathway, devers journees de ci geska japhe). There is a second pathway, also rubricated and turned ninety degrees, at the right edge of the map. It reads, Le chemin de laphes a Alisandre. This seems to be a vestige, a latent echo of the itinerary’s multiple paths. The road is “marked at its midpoint by an unidentified fortification, perhaps intended to represent the so-called Castellum Emmaus ... the last halting place for the armies of the First Crusade before proceeding to Jerusalem.” The final destination of the journey mapped out from London forks many times through space, but the end is clear: the Heavenly Jerusalem. Connolly’s understanding of the ways labyrinths guide pedestrians applies equally well to Matthew’s maps; both direct “a viewer’s appreciation of Jerusalem from its earthly guise towards its future, heavenly instantiation.”

Matthew’s maps seem to present a maze of pathways, but like the labyrinths, present a unitary destination. Here we seem to see movements in space as we traverse the paths – initially forking for Matthew, but ultimately as singular on his maps as on the labyrinths. However, since the endpoints on Matthew’s maps and at the centers of the labyrinths are the Heavenly Jerusalem, the motion is as chronological as it is geographical. Matthew’s itinerary maps contain “a complex network of paths or streets.” His Chronica are “bewildering mass[es] of things (material or immaterial).” So too, though, are his maps of the Holy Land, and the mappaemundi. The maps echo and invoke the actual experience of pilgrimage, which – like modern travel – was surely bewildering, disorienting, but also amazing.

In short, images function spatially rather than temporally. This is surely the case, more often than not, but medieval maps are frequently anagogic, pointed a spiritual meaning only to be realized in a heavenly future. That is, while medieval maps are organized spatially, they are in a sense oriented temporally. Yes, they are oriented toward the east, but on several mappaemundi, beyond the east, it is Jesus who rises. The Hereford, Ebstorf, and the Psalter maps are all oriented not only toward Earthly Paradise at their eastern extreme, but beyond it to the creator of that paradise. So, too, while these maps are centered on Jerusalem, this umbilical point presses the viewer to consider the future. Matthew’s maps challenge these dynamics further. Most images function spatially, not linearly, but the itinerary pages present a line or course of travel; a route, much as a text would. They prepare and condition the viewer, raising an expectation that the maps will function in a linear fashion, and thereby convey motion in time as well as space. The final segment of the path – le chemin de Iafes a Ierusalem [the road from Jaffa to Jerusale”] – realizes this expectation. There is a second pathway, also rubricated and turned ninety degrees, at the right edge of the map. It reads, Le chemin de laphes a Alisandre.” This seems to be a vestige, a latent echo of the itinerary’s multiple paths.

While Matthew’s text might seem, at times to be “incoherent” and “senseless ... an indeterminate heap of contradictory drafts,” his maps are complex, ruminative, and ultimately fixed in their orientation, pointing us toward a single End. The de-centered maps of Matthew, unlike the labyrinths or the Psalter Map and its cognates, do not announce their radial orientation toward Jerusalem. Instead, they challenge the viewer to work though them slowly, meditatively, to explore and wander as we do in life. They become all the more powerful, therefore, when their off-center, deemphasized Jerusalem turns out to be the only and inevitable end.


LOCATION:    Itinerary - British Library, Royal MS. 14.C.vii, fols. 2v

                Palestine - British Library, Royal MS. 14.C.VII, fols. 4v-5

    Itinerary - Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MSS 26 and 16


*Bagrow, L., History of Cartography, Plates XIX, XX.

*Beazley, C., The Dawn of Modern Geography, volume II, pp. 584-590.

*Bricker, C., Landmarks in Mapmaking, p. 105.

*Connolly, Daniel K., The Maps of Matthew Paris: Medieval Journeys through Space, Time and Liturgy. (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2009)

*Destombes, M., Mappemondes: A.D. 1200-1500, 54.1, 54.2.

*Edson, E., Mapping Time and Space, How medieval Mapmakers viewed their World, pp. 121-123.

*Harley, J. B., The History of Cartography, Volume One, pp. 288, 301, 304, 306, 471, 473, 495-96, Figures 18.58, 20.10, Plates 38, 39.

*Harvey, P. D. A., Medieval Maps, pp., 8, 25, 71, 73, 77, 87, Plates 1, 57, 58, 73 (color).

*Lewis, S., The Art of Matthew Paris in the Chronica Majora (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987)

Mittman, A.S., “Forking Paths? Matthew Paris, Jorge Luis Borges, and Maps of the Labyrinth”, Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art & Architecture, Volume IV, Number 1 (2013), pp. 134-160.

*Van Duzer, C., Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps, pp. 32-33.

*Vaughan, R., Matthew Paris, Cambridge University Press, 1958,

Wright, J. K., Geographical Lore at the Time of the Crusades, p. 344.

* illustrated

Matthew Paris’ “Itinerary from Bar-sur-Seine to Troyes” (verso) and
“Itinerary from La-Tour-du-Pin to Chambéry” (recto), circa 1255, 36 x 25cm, 1250

British Library, Royal MS. 14.C.VII

Paris’ Itinerary from London to the Holy Land, c. 1250

Matthew Paris’ Itinerary from London to Chambery in his “Book of Additions”

British Library MS Cotton Nero D.1, fols.183v-184r

Matthew Paris’ Map of Palestine

Jerusalem is the square at the upper right with a much larger Acre occupying the center. The extension of its city walls to the left show the fortifications constructed by St Louis during his crusade in 1252-4. At the upper left is the enclosure in which Alexander confined Gog and Magog, but Matthew notes that they have now emerged in the form of Tartars. 35 x 45 cm. British Library MS Royal 14.C.VII, fols 4v-5v, after 1254.

Chronica Maiora S. Albani of Matthew Paris Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MSS 26

Itinerary from London to Jerusalem with a description in French, similar to one in the Royal MS. 14, C. vii but containing some interesting variations. It occupies seven pages.

Center, bottom is the city of Acre

Chronica Maiora S. Albani of Matthew Paris Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MSS 26

City of Acre

Chronica Maiora S. Albani of Matthew Paris Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MSS 26


Matthew Paris’ Itinerary from Pontremoli to Rome with images of towns, their names, and descriptions of places, with attached pieces, including the city of Rome to the right; from Matthew Paris’ “Historia Anglorum, Chronica majora”, Royal 14 C. VII, f. 4r

Susa to Sardinia

in Matthew Paris’ “Chronica Maiora”

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 26, fol. 2v

Chronica Maiora S. Albani of Matthew Paris Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MSS 26

Beaumont to Chalun in Matthew Paris’ “Chronica Maiora”
Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 26, fol.IV

Mascun to the Alps in Matthew Paris’ “Chronica Maiora”,
Corpus Christi College, MS 26, fol. 2r

The itinerary from London to Italy (London, British Library, MS Royal 14 C VII, f. 2r)

Itinerary From London To Chambery, in Matthew Paris's 'Book Of Additions'