Ebstorf Map

October 7, 2006

In recent studies, the above map, called the “Ebstorf Map” has come to my attention. In this conception of the world, the earth is made of the physical body of Jesus Christ. His head is at the east, the direction of the rising sun and paradise. His arms stretch north to south. His navel is Jerusalem, the center of the world.

To be sure, this is hardly an inclusive worldview. In fact, the very conceptualization behind this map was one that was used in colonial ventures around the globe. But this map is engrossing. The body of Christ is an image that is reproduced in so many ways: as bread, as church, as people. And here it is as the world itself. It’s an exalted, cosmological, totalizing statement about the person of Jesus. The positionality of the body points beyond the earth to the arrangement of the heavens. The center-point in Jerusalem ties history to myth, geography to belief.

The place I found this map was in a critique of the way European worldviews–such as the Ebsdorf Map–were deployed in colonial takeovers of other views. The book is by Walter D. Mignolo and is called The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality, & Colonization (Michigan, 1995, 2003). The text of the book is turgid and overwrought, but the pictures are great. Placed side by side this map were Amerindian mappings of their own worldviews. Mignolo makes the point that European cosmologies, though clearly dominant, were not able to erase other ones. These disparate worldviews persist in co-existing, a concept that Mignolo unhelpfully terms “the denial of the denial of coevalness.” Sheesh.

This Ebstorf Map may have contributed to colonial atrocities, and for that I am sorry, and probably complicit. But I love this worldview. I am filled with joy to recast my existence as one where I walk upon the very body of the Savior. When the sun rises, it is over his blessed countenance, and when it sets, I can be sure that he has carried me through the day. When I put my hands in earth, I am like Thomas placing my doubting fingers in his side. When I go to my final rest and return to dust, I will rejoin him, my brother, in his very self. And while I travel, I travel in distances concentric and centripetal from the central story of the gospel. The eucharistic prayer ends with such an idea: “in Christ, through Christ, with Christ, all glory and honor are yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever. Amen.”

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