TITLE: Chronicles of St. Denis

DATE: 1364-1372

AUTHOR: unknown

DESCRIPTION: This world map exemplifies the type of medieval map so often criticized by historians and cartographic scholars of the past for its lack of both geographical knowledge and of a scientific approach to mapmaking.  As some earlier scholars would have lamented - this type of map would be used to illustrate the retardation of the science of mapmaking and of geographical knowledge during Europe’s “Dark Ages”.  A product of the late 14th century, it does not demonstrate any acquaintance with the travels of Marco Polo, the Arab trading activities in the Far East, the Catalan mapmakers’ portolano style with the accurate coastlines and rhumb lines, etc.  However, it this type map that also exemplifies the attraction of the maps from this period.  As the introduction to these monographs points out, this type of map should not be evaluated on the same basis as one would a true cartographic effort that attempts to graphically and accurately display the latest geographical discoveries.  The creator of this map did not have as his intention to portray the entire oikoumene, or known world; nor did he intend this map for navigational purposes or even to locate well-known places for his readers.  Instead this map was intended to illustrate a treatise and to convey a conceptual view of the world.  In my opinion these maps are artistically and aesthetically attractive, and their lack of accuracy only adds to their quaint naiveté that in itself is appealing.

The map itself follows some established traditions such as its circular shape, the circumfluent oceans, the twelve wind directions, the T-O pattern, the orientation with East at the top (Paradise), Jerusalem in the center, etc.  Most major known population centers are shown as castellated towns, including Roma, Athens, Constantinople, Nazareth, Damascus, Babilon, Alexandria, and even one for Africa.  Other place-names displayed include Anglia, Hibernia, Britannia, Hispania, Grecia, Germania, and Hungaria in Europa; Egypt, Ethiopia, Mons Arhalus, Libus in Africa; Gog and Magog enclosed behind a mountain range to the east of Europa; and Mesopotamia, Arabia, Galilea,  Judia Superior in the Middle East and Asia.  Sardinia, Sicily and Cyprus are shown as islands in the Mediterranean Sea.

LOCATIONS: Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte Geneviève, MS. 782, fol. 374v

Library of Congress (Santarem’s Atlas compose de mappemondes. . .)


*Brown, L.A., The Story of Maps, p. 127.

Destombes, Marcel, ed., Mappemondes A.D. 1200-1500. Catalogue prépare par la Commission des Cartes Anciennes de l’Union Géographique Internationale, 50.19.

*Delumeau, Jean, History of Paradise: The Garden of Eden in Myth and Tradition, pp 64-66

*Miller, Konrad, Mappaemundi: Die ältesten Weltkarten, 6 vols., 1895-98, 3:136.

*Kamal, Youssouf, Monumenta cartographica Africae et Aegypti, 5 vols. in 16 parts (Cairo, 1926-51), 4.2:1270.

Uhden, Richard, “Zur Herkunft und Systematik der mittelalterlichen Weltkarten,” Geographishe Zeitschrift 37 (1931), 37.


World Map from the Chronicles of St. Denis, 1364-1372

oriented with East at the top

(Santarem facsimile)