Cider Musings

The Hereford Mappa Mundi and Apples

A mappa mundi is a medieval European map of the world. The name  derives from the Latin words mappa (cloth or chart) and mundus (world). The cloth is usually vellum and these maps are an interesting blend of Latin and other ancient sources seen through the lens of Christianity. They became increasingly complex until superseded by maps of navigation. To modern eyes, mappae mundi  look primitive and inaccurate. However, mappae mundi were never meant to be used as navigational charts. Rather, they were schematic and were meant to illustrate classical knowledge and Christian themes.

They conformed to a system. The Hereford mappa is a T-O tripartite map.


The larger mappae mundi have the space and detail to illustrate  concepts, such as the cardinal directions, distant lands, history, mythology, flora, fauna and exotic races. So more an encyclopedia than map. They were used by clerics to base talks on. The Hereford mappa Mundi is the largest extant one in existence now. Thousands have been lost through time. Even the Hereford Cathedral's was proposed for sale!

The Hereford mappa Mundi, was probably completed between 1285 and 1295 as there is ( unusually)  a reference to its authorship, in a note on the map “Let all who have this history, Or shall hear or read or see it, Pray to Jesus in His Divinity, To have pity on Richard of Haldingham and Lafford, Who has made and planned it, To whom joy in heaven be granted.”  Haldingham and Lafford  are in Lincolnshire (now Holdingham and Sleaford ), and this Richard has been identified as Richard de Bello, prebend of Lafford in Lincoln Cathedral about the year 1283, who later became an official of the Bishop of Hereford. It is usually thought that this was made in Lincoln Cathedral and gifted to Hereford given the origin of Richard ( who might actually have been father and son) and the magnificence of Lincoln Cathedral on the mappa! But recent analysis suggests it was made in Hereford. As obvious this is not a realistic map of the world but does contain all the known lands centred around Jerusalem. 

One fascinating feature that also could support this is that apple trees are referenced on the map. Apples of course being well known in Herefordshire and rarer in Lincolnshire.

It was certainly used a lot in Hereford Cathedral as the image of the cathedral has been nearly wiped away presumably by clerics pointing to it repeatedly.

Back to the apples. In the Asia  segment there is a small image of 2 people and an apple tree. One seems to be beating the tree with a pole , one collecting the fallen apples. Richard was illustrating the mythical tribe in  that lived at the source of the Ganges.

“oman Gangis fontem qui acolunt solo vivunt odore pomorum silvestrium;qui si fetorem senserint, statim moriuntur”

Which translates as

“The Gangines  who feed on the fountain live only by the smell of wild apples; if they smell the stench, they die immediately”

This derives from older stories probably of the Roman geographer Solinus who wrote in De mirabilibus mundi ("On the Wonders of the World")

“I remember the fountain of the Ganges, who live only by the scent of wild apples; who, if they smell the stench, die immediately”. It is thought the ‘stench’ actually refers to altitude sickness.

I suspect Richard couldnt resist referencing the Gangines given the numerous apple orchards around him! 

A lovely apple story contained in this old and now unique artefact. Sadly an even larger mappa mundi the Ebstorf Map was destroyed in the Allied bombing of Hannover.

Thanks to an article by Apples and People for alerting me to this fascinating story, sadly when I was there in Hereford a few years ago viewing the mappa I was not aware of the connection.