Mercator Day takes place on 5 March and celebrates the anniversary of the birth of Flemish mathematician, geographer, cartographer and philosopher; Gerardus Mercator. He was born on 5 March 1512 into a Catholic family at a time when Martin Luther’s Protestantism was gaining in popularity
Mercator was one of the founders of the Netherlandish school of cartography and is widely considered as the most notable figure of the school in its golden age (approximately 1570s–1670s). In his own day he was the world’s most famous geographer but, in addition, he had interests in theology, philosophy, history, mathematics and geomagnetism as well as being an accomplished engraver, calligrapher and maker of globes and scientific instruments.
Mercator travelled little and his knowledge of geography came from his library of over one thousand books and maps, from his visitors and from his vast correspondence (in six languages) with other scholars, statesmen, travellers, merchants and seamen. Mercator’s early maps were in large formats suitable for wall mounting however he also produced over 100 new regional maps in a smaller format suitable for binding into his Atlas of 1595. This was the first appearance of the word Atlas in a geographical context but Mercator used it as a neologism for a treatise (Cosmologia) on the creation, history and description of the universe, not simply a collection of maps. He chose the word as a commemoration of the Titan Atlas, “King of Mauretania”, whom he considered to be the first great geographer.
Mercator also wrote on geography, philosophy, chronology and theology. All of the wall maps were engraved with copious text on the region concerned. As an example the famous world map of 1569 is inscribed with over 5000 words in fifteen legends. The 1595 Atlas has about 120 pages of maps and illustrated title pages but a greater number of pages are devoted to his account of the creation of the universe and descriptions of all the countries portrayed. His table of chronology ran to some 400 pages fixing the dates (from the time of creation) of earthly dynasties, major political and military events, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and eclipses. He also wrote on the gospels and the old testament.
For sixty years Mercator’s terrestrial and celestial globes were considered to be the finest in the world, and they were sold in such great numbers that there are many surviving examples. This was a substantial enterprise involving making the spheres, printing the gores, building substantial stands, packing and distributing all over Europe. He was also renowned for his scientific instruments, particularly his astrolabes and astronomical rings used to study the geometry of astronomy and astrology. He became renowned for creating the Mercator Projection in 1569, a world map based on a new projection which represented sailing courses of constant bearing (rhumb lines) as straight lines—an innovation that is still employed in nautical charts. He also made astrolabes, astronomical rings, and terrestrial and celestial globes
Mercator was a devout Christian and although He never declared himself as a Lutheran he was clearly sympathetic and he was accused of heresy (Lutheranye). He spent six months in prison but he emerged unscathed. This period of persecution is probably the major factor in his move from Catholic Leuven (Louvain) to a more tolerant Duisburg where he lived for the last thirty years of his life until he sadly died on 2 December 1594. Mercator’s friend and first biographer, Walter Ghim, described him as sober in his behaviour, yet cheerful and witty in company, and never more happy than in debate with other scholars, but above all he was pious and studious until his dying days.
More Events, International and aNational Holdays happening March 5
St. Piran’s Day
Cinco de Marcho
Multiple Personality Day
National Absinthe Day
National Cheese Doodle Day