Tag Archives: Tarasque

Manuscript Road Trip: Mappa Mundi Wisconsinianae

The Flight into Egypt, Walter Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The Flight into Egypt, Walter Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

The state of Wisconsin holds several surprises for medieval manuscript aficionados, the first of which is Marquette University, a Jesuit college in Milwaukee. The Rare Book Library is home to a set of twelve handwritten antiphonals produced in 1562 for the Spanish abbey of the Order of San Jerónimo in Alcala la Real in the Archdiocese of Granada.

Greene Antiphonal, detail (Marquette University)

Greene Antiphonal, detail (Marquette University)

The choirbooks were apparently saved from a rioting mob near a monastery in Burgos Las Huelgas in 1931, after which they were acquired by Milwaukee native Colonel Howard M. Greene who gave them to Marquette in 1942. The antiphonals are typically Spanish in style, displaying fine penwork initials with border elements reminiscent of Islamic tiling, the result of the mingling of Christian and Muslim influences on the Iberian peninsula.

Click to see where we've been...

Click to see where we’ve been…

The Haggerty Museum at Marquette owns several leaves and manuscripts, including a lovely Book of Hours illustrated with a rare image of St. Martha taming the ferocious dragon-like Tarasque. According to the legend as related by Jacobus de Voragine in his collection of Saints’ lives, the Legenda Aurea, St. Martha, her brother Lazarus and her sister Mary Magdalene took to the Mediterranean after the Crucifixion, living out their lives in France. William Caxton’s 1464 translation picks up the story along the banks of the Rhone: “There was that time upon the river of Rhone, in a certain wood between Arles and Avignon, a great dragon, half beast and half fish, greater than an ox, longer than an horse, having teeth sharp as a sword, and horned on either side, head like a lion, tail like a serpent, and defended him with two wings on either side, and could not be beaten with cast of stones ne with other armour, and was as strong as twelve lions or bears; which dragon lay hiding and lurking in the river, and perished them that passed by and drowned ships. 

St. Martha and the Tarasque (Book of Hours, France, 1460-80) (Haggerty Museum of Art, Acc. 854.19)

St. Martha and the Tarasque (Book of Hours, France, 1460-80) (Haggerty Museum of Art, Acc. 854.19)

To whom Martha, at the prayer of the people, came into the wood, and found him eating a man. And she cast on him holy water, and showed to him the cross, which anon was overcome, and standing still as a sheep, she bound him with her own girdle, and then he was slain with spears and glaives of the people. The dragon was called of them that dwelled in the country Tarasconus, whereof, in remembrance of him that place is called Tarasconus…” (The Golden Legend (William Caxton, 1464), IV:64) In the Haggerty miniature (at right), St. Martha gazes sternly at the Tarasque, her girdle looped around its neck. The legs and feet of its victim can still be seen dangling from its maw. In the background is the turreted and eponymous city of Tarascon, fifteen miles south of Avignon in southeast France.

Here there be dragons…

The Leardo Map, 1452

The Leardo Map, 1452

No trip to Milwaukee would be complete without a stop at The American Geographical Society Library at the University of Wisconsin (I’m not kidding). This important collection of historic maps and atlases is home to one of the nation’s great treasures, a mappa mundi from the year 1452 known as The Leardo Map, named for the Venetian mapmaker Giovanni Leardo. Hand-drawn world maps are exceedingly rare, and the level of detail on the Leardo Map is particularly noteworthy. The map – measuring only 60 x 73 cm –  depicts the world within ten calendrical and astronomical  circles and an all-encompassing ocean, with numerous cities, mountains, inland seas and waterways identified by their Italian names. As is typical of maps of this period, it is oriented with east at the top (where we find the Terrestrial Paradise of Adam and Eve), Jerusalem at the center. The map has been digitized here in high-resolution; if you tip your head to the left, so that north is at the top, you will be able to orient yourself by easily identifying the Mediterranean, the Italian peninsula, and the Black Sea, among other features. Here’s an excerpt from a 1906 description published in the Bulletin of the American Geographical Society (vol. 38, pp. 365-368): The legend begins with a reference to the Creator and the Passion, and then gives the diameter of the earth, ‘according to the excellent astrologer and geometrician Macrobius,’ as 6,857 miles, which happens to be not far from the actual measurement of 6,876 nautical miles… Leardo then gives the diameter of the Moon, of Mercury, Venus, Mars, the Sun, and Saturn, as well as that of the universe and the crystal sphere; all wholly fanciful. The innermost of the ten circles shows Easter Day for 95 years, beginning with 1452. The second circle marks the months of the year, with the signs of the zodiac. The third circle gives the phases of the moon, according to the cycle of 19 years, distinguished by 19 letters of the alphabet. The fourth circle is that of the days of the months. The fifth circle is that of the hours. The sixth circle is that of the points of the hours; each hour being divided into 1080 points, or instants. The seventh circle gives the dominical letter. The eighth circle gives the length of the days throughout the year, and in the ninth the variation from day to day is marked. The tenth circle contains the name of the titular saint for each day of the year.

Noah's Ark on Mt. Ararat, Jerusalem, and Mt. Sinai (Leardo Map, detail)

Noah’s Ark on Mt. Ararat, Jerusalem, and Mt. Sinai (Leardo Map, detail)

Alexander encounters the Blemmyae (from the 'Talbot Shrewsbury book', Rouen, 1444) (British Library, MS Royal 15 E VI , f. 21v)

Alexander encounters the blemmyae (from the ‘Talbot Shrewsbury book’, Rouen, 1444) (British Library, MS Royal 15 E VI , f. 21v)

Leardo, like others of his time, finds place in his map for the legends current in the Middle Ages. Almost under his Terrestrial Paradise are three inscriptions: Here they eat human flesh; and to the left: Desert where there are many griffins; and on the right: The Thirty Days’ Desert (possibly the Desert of Gobi)….south of Ethiopia we find the empire of Prester John [a legendary Christian king] and these two inscriptions: Here are four-footed animals with human faces [i.e. centaurs]; and Here are men with faces in their breasts.” [i.e. blemmyae, pictured above in a miniature from a manuscript in the British Library]

“Here there be dragons,” indeed!

After you’ve finished exploring the Leardo Map, take I-94 westbound and meet me in Minnesota.



Filed under Medieval Manuscripts