Magnus, Olaus

Olaus Magnus was born in 1490 in Linköping, Östergötland, and died in 1557 in Rome, Italy. At the end of his life he became the last Catholic archbishop of Uppsala—but only in name. He assumed this post “in absentia” while living in Rome, many years after the rise of Protestantism in Sweden and after the conflicts connected with the Sweden’s emerging political and religious independence had driven him out of the country, first to Danzig in Poland in 1526 and then to Rome in 1537. The would-be church dignitary had plenty to occupy him during his exile. In his younger years (1518/19) he had explored remote parts of Sweden, Norway and Lapland during a long missionary voyage—as an assistant to a Roman seller of indulgences. Now, as a more or less unemployed cleric and an ardent scholar, he decided to inform, in words and pictures, a fascinated audience about the wild and wondrous north of Europe, about its landscape and wildlife, the lives of its inhabitants and its legends. At the time, much of the European public knew less about this region than they did about Africa. Magnus began by drawing his famous “ Carta marina  ,” which was printed in Venice in 1539. It was the first map to be produced of northern Europe showing Scandinavia with a considerable degree of geographical accuracy. He went on to compile his monumental, richly illustrated “Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus” (A Description of the Northern Peoples), which was published in Latin in Rome in 1555.