The Mapparium is a three storey tall globe made of colorful stained glass. The globe was made in 1935 and features the entire map of the world made up of colorful glass panels. The original architect, Chester Lindsay Churchill wanted the glass panels to be replaceable, but despite ongoing debate the map still represents the world as it was in 1935. A glass walkway cuts straight through the diameter of the globe, allowing visitors to look at the earth’s continents from the inside out. As a result, the Mapparium is the only place in the world where one can observe the earth’s layout without distortion.
Backstory and Context
Currently part of the Mary Baker Eddy Museum, the Mapparium was originally commissioned in 1908 by Mary Baker Eddy. Eddy, known for her ideas connecting science and christianity, culminated her thoughts into her greatest work, Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures published in 1875. Four years later in 1879, Eddy founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, or simply, Christian Science.
Eddy went on to establish the Christian Science Publishing Society in 1898. The building devoted to the Publishing Society was designed by Chester Lindsay Churchill, the same architect who would suggest the building of the Mapparium. In 1908 Eddy established the Christian Science Monitor, an international weekly paper published under the Christian Publishing House.
After visiting the New York Daily News where a 12 foot globe lay in the lobby, Churchill thought the addition of the Mapparium would express the international character of the Monitor, just as the globe in the lobby of the New York Daily News had promoted their international perspective. The Christian Science Monitor is otherwise considered secular, aside from one article in each issue relating to Christianity.
Construction on the Mapparium began in 1932 and was finished three years later. It opened to the public on May 31st 1935. The entire project cost $35,000, and the natural borders then in place, still exist on the map today.
Churchill had expected that the world’s boundaries would change overtime, and his original design had accounted for this with replaceable panels. During the 20th century there was much debate over whether the panels should be redone to represent how borders have changed. The last conversation was held in the 1960’s when it was decided the Mapparium was a historical object and should stay the way it was originally constructed.
Over the past two decades there have been renovations to the Mapparium. The original light bulbs were replaced with 206 LED fixtures. The new lights now rest on panels that can produce up to 16 million colors and their energy efficiency will allow them to last for many years. A light show is recreated for each tour, lighting up portions of the globe for the presentation.
The hard glass panels that make up the globe, force sound to bounce off the walls with very little absorption. This means what is said in the middle of the globe can come across as very loud, and the closer you get to the edge the further sound travels around the side of the globe and whispers can be heard clearly from the opposite side of the sphere.
The Mapparium is kept clean with a rotating mechanical arm, allowing workers to clean every panel creating a rather dazzling effect.