Magellan’s itinerary, the Jesuits, and the centre around the North Pole

Scherer's world map (c.1700), centred on the North Pole, detail

“While the map is never the reality, in such ways it helps to create a different reality. Once embedded in the published text the lines on the map acquire an authority that may be hard to dislodge.”

(J. B. Harley, Deconstructing the Map)

The Ship Victoria's Journey, a map by Heinrich Sceher, c. 1700, in the Atlas Novus collection

The Ship Victoria’s Journey, a map by Heinrich Scherer, c. 1700, in the Atlas Novus collection

This map shows the circumnavigation journey of the ship Victoria of Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition, from and to Sevilla, thus the first ship ever to circumnavigate the Planet (1519-1522 CE).

Heinrich Scherer, the cartographer (1628-1704) was from Bavaria and close to the ruling House of Bavaria. He was a deeply religious Catholic (He was a Jesuit), in a century when most cartographers and mappers were from Protestant Netherlands. Scherer embedded  his maps with religious symbolism of his Faith, a practice quite common that time. He was a professor of Mathematics and Hebrew, and was true to his scientific principles in his maps. But, apparently, he conceived geography in a rather original way: his maps show it as the study, analysis and representation of [human-constructed] space. Thus he embedded his convictions in his maps without necessarily betraying his scientific knowledge.

On his map we can read: “Repræsentatio geographica itineris maritimi navis Victoriæ in qua ex personis CCXXXVII finita navigatione rediere tantum XVIII quæ solo indusio tectæ et faces accensas manibus præferentes in basilica hispalensi se voto exsolverunt VII Sept. ann. MDXXII”. Representation of the journey the ship of Magellan, Victoria, made between 1518 and 1522.

We can analyse some features of the map before speaking of its projection, centred on the North Pole:

 1-The “parts of the World” are clear and distinct by their colours. California is still represented as an isle, and the now-Australia was “New Holland” by that time.

2-The effect of Europe’s maritime Great Discoveries is clear: the world map is adorned with a representation of the ship Victoria, to the left. It is the only remaining ship from Magellan’s Armada de Molucca that sailed from Seville in 1519 in search of a westward route to the Spice Islands. On the right, the few expedition survivors (18 out of the original 237) are shown making their way to the Santa Marea de la Victoria church in Seville, where they went to give thanks for their safe return. The title cartouche includes the date of their return, September 7, 1522. Fol. A

The North Pole as a centre and the Jesuit Mission

The choice of a north polar projection is quite interesting: the world is centred on its “empty heart” on the North Pole. In this map the North Pole is not the “margin” but the very centre of the Globe. Such a projection was and is still rarely used, as it is centred on an “empty” part of the Earth. But we can find the reasons why Scherer chose it:

First, this projection can show circumnavigation journeys: In a “traditional” projection there would be a rupture and discontinuity between the Americas and Asia, through the Pacific Ocean. Thus the Victoria’s journey would seem cut into two. But in a north polar projection the journey itinerary is more or less “circular” and more tue to the journey’s “circumnavigating” mission.

But there might be a deeper and more important reason: Heinrich Scherer was a Jesuit and his weltanschauung was shaped by Jesuit ideas and doctrines. And we think that there was a religious “jesuitic” reason for his map. Here is another very similar map of his atlas, Societas Iesu Per universum mundum diffusa Praedicat Christi Evangelium, a map showing Jesuit presence in the world and the Jesuit diffusion of Christian message. On lower left Ignatius de Loyola is teaching, and on lower right Francis Xavier is preaching in Asia, while on upper right Andrés de Oviedo, Latin patriarch of Ethiopia, is declaring the Faith; a very religious map…

Society of Jesus in the world, map by Heinrich Scherer, c.1703

Society of Jesus in the world, map by Heinrich Scherer, c.1703

And the north polar projection is convenient for the map: the Jesuit missionary work is on the “periphery” of our Planet. Europe’s new worlds which came out of the Great Discoveries, hence “peripheries”, were the terrain of Jesuit work [1]. Of course, Jesuits worked a lot on Europe: but in our map the outcome of the Great Discoveries is the most important feature. The centre is the North Pole as it is the only only which permits us to view all the world “on the same side” of Europe. The Jesuits (and thus the Good Word) are present all around the world, near the centre (in Europe) and on the periphery, as we can see in Latin America, Asia and Africa. The Jesuit presence around the whole Globe is thanks to the European Age of Discovery and the circumnavigation of the Planet: we can see causality between the two maps.

In other terms such projection makes the second map a natural reason of the first and “glorifies” the Jesuit Mission around the world. This Mission is, of a geographical point of view, a result of the Magellan’s cicumnavigating journey.

The centre, again, is what we construct and what we perceive as centre. Space is not only about geometry, it is also about geography: constructed tridimensional extent. In representations the centre is sometimes chosen to justify the periphery, and this map is an example of this choice.



[1] The work on the periphery is still very important in the Jesuit thought. For example, we can find a great reference to it in the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium: “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel.” The work “out of one’s comfort zone” is still a cornerstone of Jesuit Mission. For example, we see it today in the life and work of Father Frans van der Lugt (1938-2014) who refused to leave his parish in Homs, Syria, taken into the atrocities of civil war, and was killed by armed men.

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