The 700-year-old Mappa Mundi to get an early spring clean

First published in News

THE world-famous Mappa Mundi will be out of sight for the first three weeks of the new year while it is given some much deserved TLC.

Hereford Cathedral will close its renowned Mappa Mundi and chained library exhibition tomorrow (Monday December 31) so Dr Christopher Clarkson, a leading expert on the care and conservation of works on paper and parchment, can get up close and personal with the map.

As the Mappa Mundi Trust’s conservation consultant, Dr Clarkson will spend two days on a meticulous examination of the Mappa’s condition, comparing his readings and measurements with data collected on previous visits.

It’s vital work. If stresses and strains are developing, or the image is deteriorating, the trust needs to know to take highly specialist action as soon as possible.

Everything decays over time, but the trust tries to minimise this by maintaining the Mappa in stable climate conditions.

Drawn on a single skin of parchment, the Mappa is vulnerable to rapid changes in relative humidity.

Hereford Times: Mappa Mundi - detail showing British Isles on their side, with Scotland on the left and South of England on the right. Many cities and landmarks can be identified, while Hereford features as a small town.


Details of the Mappa Mundi showing British Isles on their side, with Scotland on the left and South of England on the right. Hereford features as a small town.

In particular, the skin becomes more brittle on cold, dry days.

So the trust places its trust in a state-of-the-art climate control system, which maintains the Cathedral’s treasures all year round at a temperature of between 16 and 18C.

Dr Clarkson sees the Mappa as an old friend, the feelings for which he outlines at

His first report on the Mappa Mundi – The Hereford Map: the first annual condition report – is found in the book The Hereford world map: medieval world maps and their context, published by the British Library in 2006 and available from the cathedral shop.

The Mappa Mundi and chained library exhibition will reopen on January 24. The library reading room follows a few days later on January 29.

By then, a new temporary exhibition running until June will have taken books and manuscripts from the Cathedral’s collections to tell the story of how title pages came about soon after the invention of printing, tracing their development through to the 20th century.

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