Behind the Stacks: “At a single view” – Shimeall’s A Complete Ecclesiastical Chart

Close-up of the 15th and 16th century sections in Shimeall’s A Complete Ecclesiastical Chart, showing proximity of the advent of printing and the Reformation

One of the joys of my job as Collections Services Assistant is the ability to browse the closed stacks where we store our rare books and special collections. One item I happened to find recently was too large and unwieldy to simply peek at, and since there’s no telling when some reader will next request this item for it to see the light of day, I brought it down to our conference room to spread it out and admire the scale and detail of this chart.

Full view of the 3.5 feet wide circular chart

 

Created by Richard Cunningham Shimeall in 1833, and revised at the latest in 1853, this item may be best described by listing its full title:

A COMPLETE ECCLESIASTICAL CHART, From the earliest Records, SACRED AND PROFANE, DOWN TO THE PRESENT DAY; SHOWING ITS CONNECTION WITH CIVIL HISTORY AND PROPHECY: And exhibiting at a single view, the IDENTITY AND PERPETUITY of the CHURCH, IN HER ADVERSE AND PROSPEROUS STATES, UNDER THE Mosaic and Christian Dispensations, And embracing a detailed account of the Political Events, External History, Internal Government, Religious Observances, and growing corruptions of the Church; and of the REFORMATION: AND EMBRACING THE NAMES OF REMARKABLE PERSONS; Viz. Bishops, Popes, Martyrs, Writers, Doctors, Philosophers, Emperors, &c. And a general survey of Doctrines, Sects, Councils, and Prevailing Philosophy; The comparative Rise, Revolutions, and Fall, of the PRINCIPAL EMPIRES IN THE WORLD, And a complete Nucleus to the FULFILMENT OF PROPHECY OF THE WHOLE.

Section of chart showing figures and events of the “Æra of the Jewish Church”

In the accompanying key to the chart (also available in digitized form), Shimeall describes how the chart is to be read and how he has used shapes, colors, and placement to indicate the changing size or influence of the Church in relation to civil and political events.

Data visualization, 19th century-style: section of chart showing the “Æra of the Christian Church” and the use of widths of color bands to show comparative social forces in time.

Truly a feast of type, decoration, and illustration, the chart was engraved and printed by Samuel Styles of New York. Imagine composing and proofing for this job!

Close-up of the 1st century section, showing a box that seems to have been mistakenly left blank

Calling the chart his “Great Circle,” Shimeall chose the circular shape to “serve as an intimation of [the Church of the living God’s] final recovery to a state of eternal peace and glory.”

Close-up of vignette in the 19th century section, depicting an angel and a broken hourglass, seeming to herald the “Prelude to the close of time.”

The Burke Library’s copies of the key to the chart come with pages of contemporary testimonials and reviews, and many of the reviewers express the sentiment that they could not do justice to the exhaustive detail of the chart and recommend that the work be viewed in person. And indeed, we welcome and invite you to view this or other rare books held by the Burke Library.  To learn more about visiting our library or to make an appointment please visit our website.

1 thought on “Behind the Stacks: “At a single view” – Shimeall’s A Complete Ecclesiastical Chart

  1. Pingback: Behind the Stacks: You had me at “charts” | The Burke Library Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.