Religionis Catholicae Avstrali Americae implantatae descripiio geographica

Dublin Core


Religionis Catholicae Avstrali Americae implantatae descripiio geographica


South America


Religionis Catholicae Australi Americae Implantatae Descriptio Geographica was created around 1703 by Heinrich Scherer, a Jesuit priest and a professor of Hebrew, Mathematics and Ethics. It was likely created in Munich, Germany shortly after his preparation of the 180 maps to later compose his Atlas Novus and depicts the spread of the Catholic faith in South America. Half of the work is comprised of the continent projected and outlined in a way resembling common maps used today. Large water masses such as rivers and lakes are reproduced and labelled, often not very accurately, but far less liberally than the mountains and trees that appear to have been used more as an aesthetic filler than as a reference. Major regions and cities, along with lesser areas made relevant by symbols, are also labelled. In a size equal to that of South America, the remaining half of the work presents the crucified Christ and, at the foot of his cross, indigenous people worshipping him.


Heinrich Scherer






Luisa Ruiz


Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License


Full-sized digital item can be found in McMaster's Digital Archive at:


printed map; 22 x 35 cm, on sheet 28 x 37 cm








South America

Still Image Item Type Metadata

Original Format

Printed map

Physical Dimensions

22 x 35 cm, on sheet 28 x 37 cm

Contributor's Research

In the Lloyd Reeds Map Collection I spotted seven other maps of South America with portrayals of the continent's indigenous people. Of the five created before Scherer’s 1703 map, four depict the indigenous people as violent and unlike the Europeans and three even explicitly illustrate or label them as cannibals. In the three maps where the indigenous people are not connected to acts of violence, they are nonetheless “othered” through the stark contrast between their skin colour and attire (or lack thereof) and that of the European explorers. Scherer’s Religionis Catholicae Australi Americae Implantatae Descriptio Geographica differs greatly from these in the presence of decorative feathers, unloaded arrows, and less opulent and concealing attire being the only indicators of the figures surrounding Christ being indigenous. An explanation for this departure from the time’s typical portrayal of South America’s indigenous can be found in an examination of the purpose for which the map was created.

Although statements regarding the impetus for or use of this specific cartographic work do not exist or at least are not available, its title, legend, and cartographer provide sufficient information to reveal its purpose. Translated from Latin, the title means “Geographic Diagram of the Catholic Faith's Settlement of South America.” That the map sought to primarily represent the spread of the Catholic faith is conveyed through the legend and what it includes: archdioceses, dioceses, places with Catholic rulers, places where the faith was spread but was afterwards rooted out, established missions, temporary missions, and areas frequented and developed by missionaries. In light of the cartographer’s background, this makes sense. Not only was Scherer a priest, but more specifically he was a Jesuit.

Prior to Scherer, cartography in Europe in the 1600s saw a rise in imagery (“Scherer Maps”). Introduced and popularized by Dutch cartographers, the page and geography borders of maps began to be embellished with icons, objects, and figures that encapsulated the commerce and trade prized at the time and the perceptions of self and foreigners shaped by those ideologies (“Scherer Maps”). While such imagery, in the form of ships and sea monsters, is present in the map of our study, it is overshadowed by the inarguably larger religious imagery of the Christ on the cross with the new faithful around him.

For the handiwork of a Jesuit, this is not a surprise. A religious order formed over a century before Scherer joined it, the Jesuits held then as they do now the objective of spreading the faith to unchristian lands and of its fortification in Christian ones (“Society of Jesus”). Before Scherer’s cartographic works, the Jesuits had been traversing the world for more than a century and a half; with over 230 priests and missionaries in Asia, 600 in North America, and 2200 in South America (“History of the Jesuits”), the necessity of detailed maps illustrating areas to be sustained and those to be invested in requires little explanation. That the glorious and classical imagery reflecting the Roman and Ancient Greek empires would be replaced for the most part by Church or Christ-centered artwork is equally understandable considering the objective of the Jesuits: to spread the Catholic faith.

In light of this, it makes sense that the indigenous people be depicted in worship of Christ, for this after all is the goal of the Jesuits. Around Jesus and above the worshipers are the words from Revelations 5.9: “You died, Lord Jesus, and you redeemed us--from every tribe, tongue, people and nation--in your blood.” Either to assure those back in Europe of the progress being made in South America or to allow the words of scripture to instil hope and patience if missions’ realities were grimmer, it is possible that maps such as Scherer’s took on the task of encouraging persistence for “the greater glory of God,” as the Jesuit motto goes. If, as the Dutch cartography of the previous century had been for nations’ pursuit of commerce and trade, Scherer’s cartography was to capture the Catholic Church’s endeavour to “go and make disciples of all nations” (New International Version, Mt. 28.19), then his imagery needed to teach a different perception of the indigenous people, one that would allow for fruits. The care the Jesuits took not to emphasize the difference between those in South America and Europe may have thus sprung from regarding the indigenous people of South America not as the other but as another “tribe, tongue, people and nation” to be redeemed by the crucified and risen Christ.

Works Cited

“Catholic Encyclopedia: History of the Jesuits Before the 1773 Suppression.” New Advent. Kevin Knight, n.d. Web. 25 Feb 2016.

Holy Bible, New International Version. Biblica Inc., 2011. Web. 25 Feb 2016.

“Catholic Encyclopedia: The Society of Jesus.” New Advent. Kevin Knight, n.d. Web. 25 Feb 2016.

“Scherer Maps.” Cartographic Images. Henry Davis Consulting,1996. Web. 25 Feb 2016."


Heinrich Scherer, “Religionis Catholicae Avstrali Americae implantatae descripiio geographica,” Omeka Testbed, accessed July 21, 2018,