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Mapping the Religious Landscape of Early Modern Europe

Mapping the Religious Landscape of Early Modern Europe

Ephraim Pagitt, Christianography, or The Description of the multitude and sundry sorts of Christians in the world, not subject to the Pope, 3rd edition (London: J[ohn] Okes for Matthew Costerden, 1640)

Canterbury Cathedral Library W/C-3-45

Ephraim Pagitt, baptized on the 28th of May 1574, made a rather precocious foray into the world of print at the tender age of eleven, when he translated Ludwig Lavater’s sermons on Ruth from Latin into English. This polyglot prodigy was educated at Oxford and installed as the parson of St Edmund the King on Lombard Street in the City of London in 1601. Pagitt devoted his long life to the service of St Edmund’s and to the acquisition of knowledge of foreign lands and tongues, a fact that is directly related to the book and image being explored here.

After a fifty year hiatus Pagitt re-entered the world of publication with Christianographie in 1635; the book proved popular and two further editions were published in 1636 and the third edition 1640, which this month’s image is drawn from. The book’s stated purpose is to describe all of Christianity in its various forms and to challenge the assumed supremacy of Roman Catholicism and the Pope in particular. Anti-Roman Catholic polemic was by no means a new phenomenon, as indeed Pagitt himself tells us in the book’s dedication to Francis White, the Bishop of Ely. Where Pagitt was perhaps innovative was in his approach, combining geographical descriptions of countries, regions and continents with explorations of doctrinal and liturgical practices peculiar to the various branches of Christianity and the national churches.

This third edition contains a second dedication due to the fact that Francis White had died in 1638. The new dedication was to none other than Charles I, and it contains a fascinating passage further outlining Pagitt’s purpose. He writes:

as Columbus the great Navigator presented his discoverie of the West Indies unto our King Henry the seventh, and afterwards to the Emperour Charles the fift: So I doe most humbly present this my discovery at Your Majesties feete, it being a worke too great for me to perfect, by reason of my age and want of meanes. What I have begunne and poynted at onely, Your Royall Majesty (having many famous learned men at Your command) may perfect and consummate

(sigs. A3rv)

Pagitt reimagines the role of author as the role of explorer and he navigates through Christianography with the help of travel narratives, histories, anti-Papal polemics, the writings of the church fathers, and – of course – maps.

Canterbury Cathedral’s copy of Christianography is largely free from hand-written marginalia with just a handful of single word insertions or corrections. However, the real interest in this specific copy is in an owner’s additions to one of the five maps; the map of Europe has been carefully colour-coded to express the owner’s thoughts and understanding.

Before exploring this later colour-coding of the map, we should consider it as it was printed. The map is labelled EUROPA, but what we would consider continental Europe today occupies only half of the available space, with the near East and North Africa occupying the other half. If we focus on the space of continental Europe then we also see that Britain and Ireland are pressing in from the North-West, reducing France to a fraction of its true size. In fact, Britain rivals all the other European countries in terms of area in this map. The legend on the left hand side of the map informs us of the four ‘sorts of Christians’ of Europe: Protestants; Papists; Muscovites; and Greeks, and the map itself is annotated with comments such as ‘protestant’, ‘halfe protes[tant]’, ‘most protest[ant]’ and so on.

It would appear that a previous owner of the book has taken this map legend, the map annotations, and the information contained within Christianography and synthesised it in order to colour-code the map. The Protestant countries have been given an ochre hue, green for the Russian Orthodox Christians, blue-green for the Greek Orthodox Christians under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, and red for the Roman Catholics. The addition of these colours makes the intention of the map and of the book all the more plain to see and shows how powerful a visualisation can be in a book that relies largely on verbal sources for its argument.

The person responsible for the customisation of the map has added further meaning with the paint, the density of the colour representing the degree to which each religion is accepted in each region. The bold block of green signifies the presumed uniformity of belief amongst the Russian Orthodox Christians as does the ochre for Protestant Europe and the red of the Roman Catholic strongholds of Italy and Spain. France is shown to be a country divided by religion, dappled with red and ochre; Poland is also shown to be divided as it is the country where Roman Catholicism meets the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches. The Greek Church at this point in history was largely subsumed by the Ottoman Empire, and so the dappling effect here represents the Greek coexistence with their Muslim rulers. The overall effect created by this map is an echo of Christianography distilled into a single image; here we have a Roman Catholic Church that is visibly fractured and at risk of being consumed by the imposing presences of the Reformed and Orthodox Churches.

Maps are excellent sources of information for historians, and this example is no different. Maps are interpretations of geographical space, open to religious, political, economic and social influences and representative of a particular ideological outlook. This map reflects the concerns of an English population, and an English clergyman in particular, that was fraught with religious tensions and worry over the ongoing conflict that was devastating mainland Europe, the Thirty Years’ War. The alterations made to this map provide us with evidence of the ways in which people engaged with print in the early modern period, how they synthesised and interpreted information, and how they attempted to understand the growing world around them.

Stuart Morrison: MEMS, University of Kent

Editor: Jayne Wackett

Further Reading:

Anthony Milton, Catholic and Reformed (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995)

W. B. Patterson, King James VI and I and the Reunion of Christendom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)

Nicholas Tyacke, Aspects of English Protestantism c. 1530-1700 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001

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