The Osma Beatus Map: A Medieval and Christian View of the World

The Osma Beatus Map: A Medieval and Christian View of the World (1086)

By Susanna Tavera

World and Global History: Research and Teaching, edited by Seija Jalagin, Susanna Tavera, Andrew Dilley (Pisa, 2011)

Osma Beatus Map

Introduction: This Mappamundi from a manuscript of the commentary on the apocalypse by Beatus of Liébana (c. 800), written in the year 1086 and now preserved in the cathedral-library of Burgo de Osma (province of Soria, Spain), is an exceptional example of the medieval “Beatus Maps”. As D. Woodward writes:


In the millennium that links the ancient and modern worlds, from about the fifth to the fifteenth Century after Christ, there developed a genre of world maps or map-paintings originating in the classical tradition but adopted by the Christian Church. The primary purpose of these mappaemundi, as they are called, was to instruct the faithful about significant events in Christian history rather than to record their precise locations.

These medieval maps represent images of different aspects not only of geographical and historical but also fantastical knowledge of the world. Mappaemundi also had pragmatic uses in medieval societies: they were not used in the direct service of political power but to underline its character as pictorial analogies to medieval historical texts. They offer a clear example of the metaphorical capacity of language and communication that should be explored and linked to the hierarchical world view of Christian western European societies and to its philosophical and didactic purposes.

In spite of their schematic and often pictographic representation of what was believed to be the “Christian earth”, the “Beatus” maps were not independent documents. They were included as brilliant miniatures in manuscript copies which contain and comment the Apocalypse of St. John. In particular, the “Osma Beatus” is one of the 35 surviving copies (26 with miniatures) of the so called Beatus of Liébana, the work of a monk who lived during the 8th century in the monastery of Liébana, Cantabria, or perhaps in that of Sahagún, Castille. Many of the surviving Liébana manuscripts contain Christian world maps and have become a kind of culmination of all Apocalypse manuscripts. As such they are medieval historical documents of prime importance.


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