The Ebstorf Map: tradition and contents of a medieval picture of the world
By G. Pischke
History of Geo and Space Sciences, Vol.5 (2014)
Abstract: The Ebstorf Map, the largest medieval map of the world whose original has been lost, is not only a geographical map. In the Middle Ages, a map contained mystic, historical and religious motifs. Of central importance is Jesus Christ, who, in the Ebstorf Map, is part of the earth. The Ebstorf Map contains the knowledge of the time of its creation; it can be used for example as an atlas, as a chronicle of the world, or as an illustrated Bible.
Origin: The original of this mappa mundi from the 13th century AD, measuring 3.58 by 3.56 m (= 12.74 m2), was discovered around 1830 at the convent of Ebstorf (Germany, Lower Saxony, in the Lüneburger Heide region) and named after it. The map was created in this monastery, which was first founded as a convent of canons around 1160 and soon after, around 1190, refounded as a convent for Benedictine nuns (Dose, 2012). Opinions differ not only concerning the exact time or time period of its creation, but also concerning its authorship, patronage and ultimate purpose.
Rediscovery, first publication, loss, and reproduction: After the rediscovery of the map an unknown hand cut out pieces from the top right-hand corner; parts missing on the left are due to damage done by mice during storage. Thus the map is incomplete (Fig. 1). The original consisted of 30 single pieces of sheepskin parchment that had been sewn together and rolled up. In 1834 it was taken to the Vaterländisches Archiv in Hanover and later added to the map collection of the Historischer Verein für Niedersachsen there, which was founded in 1835. In 1838 the first measures to preserve the map were taken, in 1888 at the Königliches Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin it was taken apart, cleaned, smoothed and stretched. Then it was kept in single pieces put into frames in a chest of drawers at the Hauptstaatsarchiv in Hanover.
See also: Ten Beautiful Medieval Maps