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The medieval road map by Matthew Paris

· An itinerary from London to the Holy Land ·

Space is as important as time and cartography has the same value as chronology. Matthew Parish, a historian and chronicler but also a gifted artist and cartographer in 13th-century England, was active in the Benedictine Abbey of St Albans. Matthew thought it appropriate to  equip his historical chronicles with an illustrated itinerary from London to the Holy Places.

The journey from Londinium to Terram Sanctam is a medieval road map, a long strip of illustrated maps and images of towns sewn together in a sequence. The itinerary includes the most important European cities and the major pilgrimage destinations of Christendom, Rome and Jerusalem. This enigmatic cartographical document has attracted the attention of many historians and scholars who have suggested a great variety of interpretations. Hans-Eberhard Hilpert has associated the itinerary with the Crusade of 1242 by Richard, Count of Cornwall; Suzanne Lewis studied Matthew's maps as illustrations of his historical writings; Daniel K. Conolly insisted on the “interactive” aspect of the itinerary, which he supposed was conceived to enable the Benedictine monks of St Albans to experience the pilgrimage to the Holy Land in their imagination, without abandoning their abbey.

In Italy, Salvatore Sansone has contributed his interpretatin of the itinerary illustrated by Matthew Paris. According to Sansone, the itinerary was not only the depiction of a journey, either real or imaginary, nor the mere product of a monastic spirituality closed to the outside world. He believes that  Matthew Parish was closely associatged the English crown, and that his itinerary, in addition to visualizing the theme of the pilgrimage reflected the political situation in England at that time.

Katharine Breen, an expert in medieval English literature, considered Paris's maps in the context of his research into the medieval concept of habitus. In her opinion the adoption. between 1150 and 1400,  of the vulgar tongues to promote a habitus of Christian virtue must have played a crucial ;role in the formation of a secular and national public of  readers. In this context Matthew Paris would have used the ideal of the crusade in order to conceive of a specific secular habitus of Christian virtue that might be accessible to all. Hence for Breen, the map of Palestine was not the destination of the journey. The reader would indeed have been encouraged to orient his spirit to the place of Christ's passion but the Holy City would only have been a general reference point and not a true and proper pilgrimage destination. Breen considers that the authentic, final destination of the entire cartographical sequence of the journey would have been the map of the British Isles. England itself, portrayed as a “place” then became the authentic Holy Land, in the sense of a Christian nation where all were to live virtuously.




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 24, 2020