Friday, January 11, 2013

Bünting's Jerusalem (1581)

New York, January 10, 2013

Among the many maps of his Itinerarium Sacra Scripturae, the German theologian Heinrich Bünting includes one depicting the world as a cloverleaf, with Jerusalem in the center and one leaf for each continent, Africa, Asia and Europe.  It is an ingenious variation of the circular world maps prevalent in medieval Europe... except that Bunting published his book in 1581, almost a century after Columbus's travels!  And you know that, because the American continent, Die Neue Welt, is already there, even if almost as an afterthought, on the bottom left corner.

Jerusalem appears as a large, heavily fortified city with Mount Calvary and its three crosses in the foreground.  The map labels a number of cities in each continent and illustrates a few of them.  In Europe only Rome, to the west (left) rivals Jerusalem, if not in position, at least in size.

Mapmakers have to deal with all sorts of questions and conventions.  One of them is orientation.  Unlike medieval maps that were usually drawn with east up, Bünting chooses to have north up, the common orientation for world maps at the time.  He still manages to organize the drawing following the relative location of the continents, with Europe to the west, Asia to the east and Africa to the south.  Another problem when you're drawing a map is what to put in the center.  And when it comes to that, our theologian doesn't hesitate to locate the city of Christ smack in the middle.

My old friend Trinidad (most pertinently!) Campbell reminds me that for Christianity, the cloverleaf simbolizes the Holy Trinity, the unity of three--the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit--into one entity.

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