Where is our Hell?

Where is our Hell?

A study of direction in worlds-in-the-world concepts


This presentation is inspired by the Danish professor Martin Zerlang’s concept of cities-in-the-city (Danish: byer-i-byen), focussing on how to recreate ‘overcomable’ space in large cities. This is achieved by creating a smaller version (scale reduction) within a well-defined section of a city, albeit retaining full city functionality within the sub-city section.

This presentation argues that similar concepts are also found outside urban areas. Here, the world is recreated (nearly always in part only) in miniature, in what is best termed: worlds-in-the-world. Similar traits, such as Scale reduction, are visible with worlds-in-the-world expressions but differ in displaying a clear centre-periphery opposition, the rule of thumb being that the most important/desired feature or concept is always at the centre and the least important/desired is at the periphery.

Worlds-in-the-world concepts are manifested in various ways, particularly in ancient world maps of the so-called Jerusalem-style, where the map is ordered according to a general position in relation to the centre of the world, Jerusalem. In such a map, the Mediterranean is a very central feature, owing not only to its proximity to Jerusalem but also to its being an ancient cultural hotspot and the hub of the spread of Christianity to the rest of the world. Scandinavia and Britain, on the other hand, loom on the outskirts together with monsters and ogres, owing to their distance from Jerusalem, as well as to their low importance in the Christian world conceptualisation.

Jerusalem-style map examples are also found much later in time, and this presentation focusses on a group of maps from Western Denmark drawn in connection with an antiquarian survey in the period 1625-1642. A number of these maps are prime examples of worlds-in-the-world expressions, where the local church is at the centre, with settlements situated in a general direction in relation to the church, the more important ones usually closer than the less important ones.

Place-names also occasionally display the same kind of centre-periphery worlds-in-the-world conceptualisations, particularly with names either transferred from a cosmological setting, such as place-names in Hølled, Høllet, Helledi, etc., which derive from Old Danish hælwīti ‘Hell’, or from the world itself, such as Siberien ‘Siberia�������������������������������������������������������, which are virtually always found on the outskirts of the parish, near the border to the next parish. This strongly implies that the parish is seen as a ‘world’ of its own, the church being the centre and the least desired areas, Hell and Siberia, on the periphery, away from the centre. Interestingly, centre-periphery conceptualisation seems to be more important than compass direction, as these name types are found throughout Denmark but there is no special regard paid to direction. For instance, there is no decidedly easterly location to Siberia names.



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