According to the columnist Simon Jenkins (Our fixation with maths doesn't add up):

When the medieval church banned geography as an offence against the Bible, what had been the queen of the sciences never recovered.

I find the statement very surprising (and I fall short).

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    @DanRomik, Jenkins is saying that the geography had been the queen of the sciences. Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 7:29
  • This would be the same person who was skeptical about COVID-19 in 2020, admitted "I was wrong, or I think I was," and then wrote another article in 2022 trying to backtrack somewhat to his previous position? No, I suspect that he does not see the use of a best-fit line.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 22:47
  • Yes, I don't see how anyone could take this columnist seriously. He hails the introduction of a "radical new syllabus" in 2006 that introduced topics like global warming, but apparently does not realize just how relevant best-fit lines and curves are to this. He wrote books on architecture, but apparently thinks that he shouldn't have learned what the area of a circle was in school. Apparently the area of a circle is not relevant for geography on a globe, either.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 22:53
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    He apparently cares about income inequality, but seemingly does not understand why children should be able to calculate the median. He also starts off the article by talking about his inability to calculate simple mathematical quantities like the mode, which is rather like someone who cannot locate their own country on a map asking what the point of geography is, anyway. At least if a mathematician had written this article, I might have looked at it twice, because I would assume that they would have responses for the common assertions that these mathematical tools are useful.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 22:56

1 Answer 1


No, the Catholic Church didn't ban geography (which I'm presuming is what the statement means by "medieval church"). E.g. after Magellan's trip, the Holy Roman Emperor (and Spanish King) gifted a map to the Pope, which is still in the Vatican's archives. Such an act would have been impossible if geography was banned by the Church. There's also a Vatican Gallery of Maps from the same century, albeit these are limited to Italy.

The are some late 19th century quotes [mis]attributed to Magellan, trying to paint him as a fighter against [prior] Church canon, but there's no real/earlier evidence he said such things. There were some early middle ages [Greek] Christian cartographers like Indicopleustes, who complained that a spherical earth conception is Pagan, but this concern apparently didn't carry much water in later medieval times, especially in "the West". According to one study most of the medieval Christian "flat earthers" belonged to the Antiochian patriarchate.

If one sticks to a more English-centric view, which I'm guessing is what Jenkins might be more concerned with, I suppose a valid criticism is that some (or even many) medieval maps like the one in the Hereford Cathedral were combining real geographical knowledge with Christian canon elements:

Makers of mappae mundi tried to include all their geographic knowledge, but they also used myths and religious dogma. They included the Garden of Eden and Paradise as well as real cities such as Paris and Antioch. They filled unknown regions with monsters, imaginary countries, legendary kings, and bizarre races of humans.

But since Jenkins himself wrote books about the churches (and cathedrals) of England, he's almost certainly aware of these maps.

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    I wouldn't call Magellan "medieval", he was born in 1480.
    – hdhondt
    Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 9:54
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    @Magellanwas as medieval or as modern as someone wants him to be, since there is no agreement on when the middle ages ended and modern era began. Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 21:02
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    Well, bear in mind that Jenkins admits in the article that he literally cannot calculate the area of a circle, but still feels himself qualified to write about architecture (which involves quite a bit more geometry than that). It would not be surprising if he had a few more lagunae in his knowledge thereof. Perhaps he should stick to writing articles criticizing Truss, which he seems to be moderately skilled at.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 23:04
  • There's a very nice 15th Century globe on display at El Escorial in Spain. It's remarkable for what's missing: the Americas. Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 18:11
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    @AndrewLazarus Oscar Wilde: "America had often been discovered before Columbus, but it had always been hushed up."
    – RedSonja
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 14:39

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