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Ancient Mapmakers Marked 'Here Be Dragons'

Medieval cartographers (mapmakers) sketched hic sunt dragones (translated "there be dragons") on the edges of their maps. Those three words were used by the medieval cartographer of the famed Lenox Globe (c. 1503-1507) to describe the outer boundaries where knowledge ended and speculation began. After drawing on all of his knowledge, the mapmaker could only write those three provocative words to convey that these areas were at best unexplored, and at worst, perilous.

Yet maps of that era often held another image—Christ. For instance, The Psalter map (c. 1250), so called because it accompanied a copy of the book of Psalms, featured dragons on the bottom, as well as Jesus and the angels at the top. Such a map reminds us of the availability of "true north" as followers of Christ: Yes, there be dragons; but there is also Jesus and the angels. And we can follow him—and find our way.

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