The Holy Land from Mer des Hystoires. c.1544
Old map of the Holy Land, from "Mers des Hystoires".
Woodcut map printed from 2 woodblocks on 2 sheets, joined.
Cartographer: Burchard of Mt. Sion, 1491 (c1536).
Size: 31 x 44cm (12.1 x 17.2 inches)
Verso text: French
Condition: Left and right margins repaired with minor reinstatements.
Condition Rating: C
References: Nebenzahl, 20; Laor, 440.
From: Mer des Hystoires. Paris, c. 1544.
First published in 1475. In 1491, new slightly reduced woodblocks were cut in Lyons for the "Mer des Hystoires", a French translation of the "Rudimentum Novitiorum". Later published in Paris from 1517 until 1555. Very rare.
Nebenzahl: "The first regional map of the Holy Land ever printed is also the first based on an important lost delineation of Burchard of Mt. Sion, the thirteenth-century Dominican from Magdeburg whose account and map of his pilgrimage were widely known throughout late medieval and early renaissance Europe.
Lucas Brandis published the map in the Rudimentum Novitiorum, an encyclopedia structured on medieval Christian theology. He condensed the Bible and the history of the popes and rulers of Europe and added the best geographical description of the Holy Land, Burchard's Prologus. To publish his compendium, Brandis used printing, that new art dedicated "by the special grace of God to the redemption of the faithful."
Burchard's account appears in its entirely in the third section of the work, following the map of Palestine. Drawn to the Holy Land by the same devout desire that drew countless other pelgrims, he also brought to the pilgrimage a keen eye for observation and an enlightened approach to geography.
After 1280, Burchard returned to Magdeburg and described his ten-year stay in a short letter accompanied by a map. The manuscript was circulated, and its popularity led to the publication of the corrected and longer Prologus. Nearly one hundred manuscripts of Burchard's account have survived; his map has not. The loss is all the greater since, according to the Rudimentum Novitiorum, the map was innovative and important.
In his text, Burchard divided Syria and Palestine by the four points of the compass and gave distances between the primary cities. The land was subdivided into the directions of the Twelve Winds. Distances were reasonably accurate and given in leagues (one league equaled an hour's march on foot). Thus he was the first to survey the Holy Land using both distance and direction.
The lost manuscript map was probably centered on Acre, the Crusader port and city best known to Latin Christendom in the late Middle Ages. The Holy Land was organized into three traditional territories: Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. Burchard believed that the Jordan River flowed south beyond the Dead Sea and disappeared in the desert, and that the river Kishon flowed from the Mediterranean near Mt. Carmel into the Sea of Galilee. Like such tenth-century Islamic mapmakers as Istakhri, he connected Lebanon Mountains with other mountains east of Jordan to form a chain stretching south or southeast.
Cartographers such as Sanuto and Vesconte, Wey, Capodilista, and Breitenbach cite Burchard's text extensively and repeat the errors of his lost map. All of the later travelers depict a strange, interconnected system of rivers west of the Sea of Galilee. The rivers branch, pass under the mountains, and flow back into themselves in a pattern that is at odds with the actual configuration. Furthermore, all incorrectly locate Corazim on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee, east of the Jordan across the river from Capernaeum. In fact, as Jerome long before had indicated, Corazim is west of the Jordan and inland from Capernaeum, which is on the northwest shore of the lake. The error first appears in Burchard's text.
In the Rudimentum Novitiorum, Lucas Brandis prefaced the Prologus with his own woodcut version of Burchard's map. There is every indication that Brandis was the artist responsible, though the work is not signed. Clearly, Brandis took an intense personal interest in the speedy progress of the work. Arriving in Lübeck to set up his press in the fall of 1474, he was able to offer the bulky, profusely illustrated two-volume folio for sale as early as August 5, 1475. His maps were the first ever printed, two years before the first edition of Ptolemy's atlas appeared. Isidore of Seville's Encyclopaedia has been published in 1472, but its small geographical diagram is more like a cosmographical illustration than a full-fledged map.
In Brandis's map, east is at the top and Jerusalem is the most prominent city; Acre is second in significance. Distances are given from Acre to other cities. The entire Holy Land appears as a network of linked mountains from Mt. Lebanon to Mt. Sinai. The name of each geographical feature is inserted atop a stylized hill. Around the outer edge Brandis included eight "wind boys", or personifications of the winds, to indicate the compass directions by which Burchard organized his account.
There are ships in the Mediterranean, and the spires of Sodom and Gomorrah are visible breaking the surface of the Dead Sea. At Mt. Sinai are the Burning Bush and Moses receiving the Tablets of the Law, and on Calvary the Curcifixion."