Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Medieval Christianity Cosmos

Almost all of us are familiar with the zodiac and the cosmos according to the ancient Western civilizations and maybe even the Chinese zodiac. And while I was well aware of Christian cosmetology I never knew about any Christian efforts to completely co-opt the constellations and zodiac.

That is until I was given the chance to go on a private tour of the Library of Congress' Map Collection (very poor online version). During the tour I saw an atlas which depicted the heavens in the most vivid color with saints, angels, and Noah's Ark included.

I forgot the title of the atlas and thought my new found knowledge was lost. But because of the power of Google I can now tell you the title of the book was the Harmonia Macrocosmica, which was created by Andreas Cellarius. Some of the book can be viewed here. Another work of Christian cosmetology was Coelum Stellatum Christianum by Julius Schiller. A complete copy of the atlas can be found here with the maps starting here and a complete sky map here.

The efforts to Christianize the heavens have failed, or so many think. Anyone who points out the constellation of Orion believes this. However, in some places including South America, Orion is named after the three Mary’s of the New Testament. The reason is religious geography. These two efforts to baptize the stars were made in the 1600s, well after the Protestant reformation and Church of England split. Traditional Catholic areas like South America would adopt these heavenly ideas, the Protestant countries would ignore them as being the work of "Papists," and areas hit by the Renaissance would have favored the classical depiction and forgot about the Christian efforts during the Age of Enlightenment.

Maps and atlases are always an interesting way to view not only their depictions but also the world in which the works were created.

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