A mappa mundi

A_Mappi Mundi _Hereford_Cathedral_at_NEHGS
The Society’s copy of the Mappa Mundi. Photo by Dani Torres

The Society has, hanging on its walls, a reproduction of the famous thirteenth-century Hereford Mappa Mundi, the original of which is in the collection of Hereford Cathedral in the west of England. A mappa mundi – from Medieval Latin mappa (cloth or chart) and mundi (of the world) – is any medieval European map of the world.  Approximately 1,100 of these maps are known to exist today, of which the Hereford Cathedral version is the largest. In fact, it’s the largest medieval map in the world.

The Hereford Cathedral window, once at Hampton Court and now at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Photo by Curt DiCamillo

There is a connection between Hereford Cathedral and Boston, the home of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. A medieval stained glass window from the Cathedral has been, since 1924, in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, a short distance from NEHGS headquarters.

The window, made circa 1420–35 in England and considered the finest medieval stained glass in America, was once part of a larger window that probably displayed all twelve Apostles and the Pietà. (Today, the window shows eight of the Apostles.) Above the Apostles’ heads are long scrolls with Latin inscriptions from the Apostles’ Creed. All but one has his name on the dais below his feet. As a result of twenty-first-century conservation of the window, scholar Madeline Caviness has been able to pinpoint the window’s original location – in the west wall of the south transept of Hereford Cathedral.

Hereford_Cathedral_Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License CC-BY-SA 3.0
Hereford Cathedral. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License CC-BY-SA 3.0. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

It was very likely removed from the Cathedral in the 1640s to prevent Parliamentarians from destroying its papist imagery during the English Civil War. The window was installed in the Chapel at Hampton Court, a nearby country house, after the Restoration, and was completely in place by 1683. (It was likely at this point that the window was cut down in size, losing four of the Apostles, to enable it to fit into the Chapel.) Caviness attributes the glass painting to John Thornton of Coventry, the artist responsible for the Great East Window in York Minster.

Hampton Court. Engraving from Neale’s Views of Seats (1830). Courtesy of Curt DiCamillo

Often called “Herefordshire’s fairy tale castle,” Hampton Court is a country house located near Hereford in the West Midlands of England. It’s one of the largest medieval manor houses in Britain, complete with turrets and battlements. It is not the famous Hampton Court Palace, which is many miles away in London!

Sir Rowland Lenthall was given a license to crenellate at Hampton Court in 1435, and it was he who built the quadrangular, partly-fortified manor house. The Coningsby family purchased the estate in 1510. (Disraeli later used the family surname for the hero of his famous 1844 novel, Coningsby.) During the eighteenth century, Thomas, 1st Earl Coningsby, regularized the fifteenth-century façade and engaged George London to lay out the gardens. The estate remained in the Earl’s family and, in 1781, passed into the possession of George Capel-Coningsby, Viscount Malden, later 5th Earl of Essex, a grandson of Lady Frances (Coningsby) Hanbury-Williams.

PD_Disraeli_as_Young_Man_Francis Grant_1852
Benjamin Disraeli, novelist and politician, later Prime Minister and 1st Earl of Beaconsfield. Portrait by Francis Grant. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

John Arkwright, grandson of industrialist Sir Richard Arkwright, inventor of the spinning frame, purchased Hampton Court in 1810; the Arkwright family lived here until 1912, when they sold to a Mrs. Burrell. In 1924 Mrs. Burrell sold the house to Robert Devereux, 16th Viscount Hereford (the premier viscount of England); the Herefords made their seat here until 1972, when they sold Hampton Court to Capt. The Hon. Philip Smith. In 1975 the house was sold again, this time to George Hughes, who lovingly restored it, inside and out. In January 2016, Hampton Court was listed for sale for £12 million and was described as part of a 935-acre property with 26 bedrooms and 25 bathrooms.

J.M.W. Turner visited Hampton Court in 1795 and produced important watercolors and pencil sketches of the house and grounds. Two of the Turner watercolors are today in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven. The state bed from Hampton Court, made circa 1698 for the 1st Baron (and Earl) Coningsby, is now in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; it was at Hampton Court until 1925. A settee with a scrolling foliage pattern, originally made in England for Hampton Court, 1690–1700, is today in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

About Curt DiCamillo

Curt DiCamillo, internationally recognized authority on English country houses and the decorative arts, joined NEHGS in February 2016 as our first Curator of Special Collections. A longtime member of NEHGS, Curt has led highly successful heritage tours for us to England and Scotland, lectured extensively in the United States and abroad, and taught classes on British culture and art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Curt was previously Executive Director of The National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA, where he successfully raised more than $7 million and initiated many innovative programs. As Curator of Special Collections at NEHGS, Curt will provide strategic direction and expert guidance for organizing and exhibiting our extensive collection of family history-related artifacts and fine arts.

9 thoughts on “A mappa mundi

  1. Such an interesting story but lacks the crucial information of how the windows came to Boston. Who sold (or gave?) the windows? Who bought them? Why was Boston chosen to receive them? Or, if there is some reason for withholding the England-to-America part of the history just say so. It’s frustrating to read a fascinating report like this but then left wondering about the key point.

    1. The MFA website has a detailed description of the window and lists its provenance, to wit: “1420, most probably commisioned for the Hereford Catheral; about 1435, transferred to the Chapel of Hampton Court, Herefordshire; 1924, bought by Wilfred Drake and Grosvenor Thomas, London; 1925, sold by Drake and Thomas to the MFA for $94000. (Accession date: June 4, 1925)”

    2. Dear Harriet, Many thanks for your comments. I didn’t purposely withhold the story of the window’s journey to Boston; it just wasn’t the central point of the story. As Tom Burgess has very kindly mentioned, this kind of information is usually available on the website of major museums, as was the case here. (There are instances, however, when the provenance is sealed at the request of the donor). In the case of the MFA’s window, it was sold for the oldest and most common of reasons — because the family who owned Hampton Court needed the money.

  2. Thanks Curt for an interesting post – I think you touched on the key point quite well, when you state – “A medieval stained glass window from the Cathedral has been, since 1924, in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, a short distance from NEHGS headquarters.” You allow for anyone wishing more information on the subject the resources to attend to it. Nicely done.

  3. This is not related to the current article, my apologies. However, is it possible for us to get an article about using and how to write about the calendar changes from Julian to Gregorian. It can be very complicated to understand, but once understood, it is even more difficult to include the definition/explanation of those changes in writing your family history. Any articles will help many of us. Thanks

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