Digging through some boxes I found my old copy of Gunnar Thompson’s The Friar’s Map of Ancient America (1996), which I bought in 1997 at the gift shop at America’s Stonehenge (Mystery Hill) in New Hampshire—that collection of colonial cold cellars and foundations that generations have passed off as megalithic architecture. The pages are still reasonably white, but the cover has faded from its original electric orange to a dull rust.
The book purports to demonstrate that the world map created by Albertin de Virga (c. 1414) actually depicts North America (as the blob to the northwest of Europe) and South America (as the island southeast of Asia) in the image below. (Note that southern Africa is marked as the site of the Garden of Eden!) The original map vanished into the private hands of an unnamed collector in the 1930s, and all that remains are photographs taken of it shortly before it disappeared.
The misidentification arose because of the summary of the Inventio Fortunae preserved in Jacobus Cnoyen’s Itinerarium. The summary stated (apparently) that a Franciscan friar gave an astrolabe to a Norwegian settler on an Atlantic island. Hence the confusion with the astrolabe-using Carmeline monk, Nicholas of Lynn. Of course Cnoyen’s text is now lost, too, and with it the summary.
All that remains of the Inventio Fortunae is contained in a single letter sent from Gerardus Mercator to John Dee in 1577 and a legend on Mercator’s 1569 polar map.
Here is Mercator’s map text:
we have taken [the Arctic geography] from the Itinerium of Jacobus Cnoyen of the Hague, who makes some citations from the Gesta of Arthur of Britain; however, the greater and most important part he learned from a certain priest at the court of the king of Norway in 1364. He was descended in the fifth generation from those whom Arthur had sent to inhabit these lands, and he related that in the year 1360 a certain Minorite, an Englishman from Oxford, a mathematician, went to those islands; and leaving them, advanced still farther by magic arts and mapped out all and measured them by an astrolabe in practically the subjoined figure, as we have learned from Jacobus. The four canals there pictured he said flow with such current to the inner whirlpool, that if vessels once enter they cannot be driven back by wind. (trans. Fite & Freedman, A Book of Old Maps)
Here is Mercator’s letter to John Dee, from, I believe, the 1956 translation by E. G. R. Taylor:
In the midst of the four countries is a Whirlpool into which there empty these four Indrawing Seas which divide the North. And the water rushes round and descends into the earth just as if one were pouring it through a filter funnel. It is 4 degrees wide on every side of the Pole, that is to say eight degrees altogther. Except that right under the Pole there lies a bare rock in the midst of the Sea. Its circumference is almost 33 French miles, and it is all of magnetic stone. And is as high as the clouds, so the Priest said, who had received the astrolabe from this Minorite in exchange for a Testament. And the Minorite himself had heard that one can see all round it from the Sea, and that it is black and glistening. And nothing grows thereon, for there is not so much as a handful of soil on it.
The southern island he identifies as Peru is believed to be the result of De Virga conflating Marco Polo’s description of Japan and Java. (He uses Marco Polo’s geographic terminology extensively throughout the map.)
The long and short of it is that what is known about the Inventio Fortunae tells us that the book describes the known geography of Greenland before including imaginary details about the Arctic drawn from Classical sources. In this, it is not significantly different from its contemporary, the Travels of Sir John Mandeville, another fictional work incorporating real fragments amidst outright fabrication and fantasy. There is no evidence that the Inventio Fortunae contained any information about North or South America. This is entirely modern speculation derived from a speculative interpretation of the (implied) lands separating the four seas that surround the magnetic mountain.
So, given the lack of any other details matching what is known about Inventio Fortunae, which in turn was not written by Nicholas of Lynn, there is no reason to suspect that Albertin de Virga used imaginary details about America from the Inventio Fortunae to depict those continents on his world map.
Thus, Gunnar Thompson's claim that Nicholas of Lynn voyaged to America in 1360, wrote the Inventio Fortunae, and inspired Albertin de Virga's world map of 1414 is false on every claim.