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News Report on the Medieval World Maps Exhibition in Hereford
by Margaret Johnson

World Class Exhibition Opens at Hereford Cathedral

Click for the Mappa Mundi c.1290 from Hereford (Herefs)This summer (1999) in Hereford, for the first time ever, nearly all the significant medieval mappae mundi from across Europe are displayed together in one place. This uniquely important exhibition offers an insight into the world of knights, monarchy and the religious order from the period once referred to as the 'Dark Ages' to the Renaissance in both Britain and mainland Europe. The fragment of the 'Duchy of Cornwall' map, generously loaned by the Prince of Wales, has never before been on public display.

Sited in the award-winning new library building, which was designed for this very purpose, the exhibition is the result of many years of planning and eighteen months of preparation by the project team, led by Dominic Harbour. Interactive audio-visual displays, containing over 200 hours of animated and text-based information and illustrated wallboards, alongside displays of contemporary artefacts bring the world of the map-maker and his patron to life.

The Chained Library, Hereford CathedralAlso housed in the same building is the magnificent chained library, dating from the time when a book was said to be as valuable as a farm and so had to be secured, sometimes with as many as three locks. The books were always placed on the shelf with their spines to the back, so that the chain would not become tangled when they were taken down. There are displays where visitors can learn about the chained library and even a seat at which they can see for themselves how it was used.

The New Cathedral Library, HerefordTo gain full benefit from this exceptional exhibition, a conference has been called from Sunday 27 June to Thursday 1 July 1999, with 60 candidates from 13 countries. Many notable academics from all areas of medieval studies will meet to discuss the history and significance of the Hereford mappa mundi and its relationship to the other maps in the exhibition. The Mappa Mundi Trust has, since its creation, enjoyed considerable support from the local community and in recognition of the interest taken by the general public, 150 tickets for the Wednesday sessions have been made available to a wider audience. They were sold out within days!

A Rare Chance to see Medieval MapsFor those of us not fortunate enough to have obtained a ticket, conference papers will be published next year. Perhaps the most exciting event of the whole conference will be the opportunity on Monday for participants to view the Hereford mappa close up and out of its case. It takes six people two hours to remove it from its case, so this is normally done only once a year to ensure that it is kept clean. This is the first time this century that academics have been allowed such close scrutiny.

Hereford Cathedral in the Wye ValleyIn the heart of the Wye Valley, with Dore Abbey and the magical Tintern not far away, there are ample opportunities in the vicinity to put the monastic view illustrated by the map and its fellows into context. Special evening visits for groups have proved particularly popular, as the exhibition is at its most atmospheric after dark. The purpose of the Mappa Mundi Trust is to ensure the preservation, promotion and research of the map and the chained library. To this end, they have taken great care to ensure that the exhibition is staged to the highest international standards, including security and environmental controls.

The Medieval World Map ExhibitionThe Hereford mappa mundi, thought by some to have been used in the promotion of the cult of St Thomas Cantilupe, is now the only complete large-scale wall map of its period and is drawn on a single vast animal skin. The Ebstorf map, originally created on thirty animal skins and tragically destroyed by allied bombing in 1943, and the Duchy of Cornwall map would both originally have been larger. There are some fifteen maps in total available for examination at the exhibition.

It has taken a long time for this exceptional collection to be brought together and it could be longer still before it is seen again. For anyone with an interest in the medieval world, this is an opportunity not to be missed.

Mappae Mundi 1999: The Medieval World Maps Exhibition
at Hereford Cathedral
is open 7 days a week 29th June - 1st October 1999

Monday - Saturday 10 am - 4.15 pm
Sunday 11 am - 3.15 pm

Adults 4.00
Concessionary (Senior, UB40, Child) 3.00

Special prices are available for family groups and school parties are always welcome. Poster packs are available on request.

Ring the Exhibition Office on 01432 359880 for Party Bookings and exclusive evening visits.

A Comparative Study of Medieval World Maps


Photographs reproduced by kind permission of the Dean and Chapter of Hereford Cathedral and the Mappa Mundi Trustees (Mappa Mundi, Library, Cathedral and Ebstorf copy) and the Duchy of Cornwall (DofC map fragment).

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