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The man who mapped the world.

Posted in Notebook

By Joannes Lamare
Mercator was born in 1512 in Rupelmonde, a small port near Antwerp, Belgium. He received his education at the University of Louvain. After graduating, he studied the teachings of Aristotle, and before long, he was troubled by his inability to reconcile the views of Aristotle with the teachings of the Bible.  Since he did not want to become a philosopher, Mercator gave up further university studies. However, his quest and his zeal to find evidence to uphold the Biblical creation account occupied his mind for the rest of his life.
In 1534, Mercator began to study mathematics, astronomy and geography under the mathematician Gemma Frisius. Furthermore, he may have learned the art of engraving from Casper Van der Heyden, an engraver and globe maker. At the beginning of the 16th century, cartographers used heavy Gothic or black-letter, type which limit the space available for written information on maps. However, Mercator adopted a new style of cursive writing from Italy called italic, which proved to be useful in globe making.
In 1536, Mercator worked as an graver with Frisius and Van der Heyden in the production of a terrestrial globe. Mercator’s beautiful cursive writing contributed to the success of the project. Nicholas Crane, a modern biographer of Mercator, writes that while another cartographer “had managed to fit fifty American locations onto a wall-map as wide as a man was tall, Mercator reduced sixty into a sphere whose diameter was two hand spans”
By 1537, Mercator made his first “solo production” a map of the Holy land, which he made to contribute to a “better understanding of the two Testaments”. In the 16th century, maps of the Holy Land were hopelessly inaccurate, some with fewer than 30 names while many of them were in the wrong location. Mercator’s map identified more than 400 places!! Amazing!! Further, it showed the route followed by the Israelites through the desert after the Exodus. Due to the accuracy, Mercator’s may was much admired by his contemporaries. Encouraged by the success, Mercator published a world may in 1538. Before that time, mapmakers knew very little about North America and called it as the Unknown Distant Land. Although the geographical name “America” already existed. Mercator was the first to apply that name to both North and South America.
Mercator lived at a time when the world’s oceans were being explored and many new lands were being discovered. Sailors passed on contradictory information, making the task of mapmaking almost impossible as cartographers had to fill in the gaps. Nevertheless, in 1541, Mercator achieved his goal of making “a more complete globe than been done so far.
In 1569, Mercator published a list of the most important historical events from the creation onwards (according to what was inscribed in the Bible) – the first part of his synthesis known as the Chronologia. His aim was to help his readers understand their place in time and history.
In the years that followed, Mercator devoted much of his time to drawing and engraving the plates of his new geography. In 1590, Mercator suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed in the left side and he was unable to speak, making it extremely difficult for him to continue his work. He was however very determined to continue on with his work and was not satisfied to leave it incomplete.  He died in 1594 at a ripe old age of 82. Mercator’s son Rumold completed five of his father’s unfinished maps. The complete collections of Mercator’s maps were published in 1595. It was the very first collection of maps and bore the FIRST ATLAS.
Mercator’s ATLAS contained a study of the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, in which the authenticity of God’s Word was defended in the face of opposition from philosophers. Mercator called this study “the goal of all my labor”.
N enlarged edition of the atlas, published by Jodocus Hondius in 1606, was printed in many languages and became the best seller.  Abraham Ortelius, a 16th century cartographer, praised Mercator as the “greatest geographer of our day.” More recently, writer Nicholas Crane described Mercator as “the Man who mapped the planet”
Mercator’s legacy is still part of our daily lives. For instance, whenever we consult an atlas or switch on a Global Positioning System, we are benefitting from the labors of Mercator, a remarkable man who all his life sought his time and place in God’s creation.


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