Visit to Hereford Cathedral to view the Mappa Mundi

As a prelude to visiting the Cathedral we watched a film presented by Stephen Fry about the Gutenburg Press….

Johannes Gutenberg was born in Mainz, Germany in 1400. At that time all books were written by hand on velum and he recognised the need for a more efficient process. There were vineyards in the locality and so he probably based his design for a printing press on those that were used for extracting the juice from grapes. He also had to derive a letter set to go with it. By coincidence paper was being developed at the same time, to replace velum, which made the press viable.

After seeing the film we went to visit the Mappa Mundi permanent display in the grounds of Hereford Cathedral. Before this we were privileged to view old books in the library above the exhibition area, which has a collection of ancient books that were written by monks and nuns and then embellished with special characters by specialists. These characters indicated the beginning of new chapters (gospels).

hand-written-book
A hand-written, embellished book of Psalms with side notes

In the middle ages most written works belonged and were produced by the church. Therefore, they had power through knowledge. Furthermore they were written in Latin which was the universal language at that time. The printed book opened up the path to knowledge to more unprivileged people.

william-morris-book
An early printed book by William Morris

The Mappa Mundi was the largest map to be produced on a single piece of velum in about 1300. It described that world as it was known at that time.

Part of the exhibition included the chained library, where the books were secured because of their value.

chained-library

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