Map of the Route to Jerusalem

Matthew Paris’s Map of the Route to Jerusalem. St Albans, c.1250

This is part of a map of the pilgrimage route from London to Jerusalem drawn by the 13th-century historian Matthew Paris, who was a monk at St Alban’s Abbey. It is one of several manuscripts in his handwriting and with his drawings, and occurs at the beginning of his universal history of the world.

Matthew Paris was a medieval monk and chronicler. He entered the Abbey of St Alban as a monk on 12 January 1217, and was probably born some 17 years earlier. Matthew spent the rest of his life there, apart from visits to the royal court in London, and a year-long mission that took him to an abbey in Norway.

Matthew Paris produced the most important historical writings of the 13th century. His chief work, the ‘Chronica Major’, chronicled events from the creation of the world until 1259, the year he died. For its greater part, the ‘Chronica Major’ is a revision and expansion of an existing chronicle by an earlier St Alban’s monk, called Roger of Wendover. From 1235 onwards, however, it’s the first-hand record of events the author heard about (perhaps from northbound travellers, who would stay at St Alban’s on their first night out of London) or witnessed for himself.

Paris is one of the most engaging of medieval chroniclers. His accounts are detailed and well informed, with lively descriptions of people involved and analysis of the causes and significance of the events recorded. Matthew’s connections made him a well-placed observer of contemporary affairs. He was on personal terms both with the king, Henry III, and his influential brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall. At their courts he must have gained many insights into domestic and foreign politics.

His writings reveal a man of strong opinions who was not afraid to speak his mind. Being befriended and publicly honoured by Henry III on several occasions did not prevent him from being as critical of the king’s lack of prudence in political matters as he was praising of his piety in religion.

This page illustrates the end of the journey, with Jerusalem surrounded by a crenellated wall labelled ‘civitas Ierusalem’ (Jerusalem city). Paris has included within the city three important sites- on the left, a domed structure for the Dome of the Rock, transformed by the Crusaders into the Templum Domini (the temple of the Lord), as it is labelled (although it had already been retaken by the Saracens when this map was made). In the right-hand corner is another mosque that had been turned into a church, the Temple of Solomon, a domed building given to the order of the Knights Templar, who took their name from this structure. The third building is the pilgrimage church of the Holy Sepulchre, represented by a circle in the lower corner.

Matthew Paris was an accomplished artist, providing many expert drawings in the margins of his manuscripts to illustrate the events he described. Among these are the first known views and plans of London. He also produced maps of Great Britain, intended as a complement to his shorter chronicle of English history, which are the earliest surviving maps with such a high level of detail. They stand out in the history of medieval mapmaking as the first attempts to portray the actual physical appearance of the country rather than represent the relationship between places in simple schematic diagrams.

British Library- Jerusalem pilgrimage travel guide