About the project


Modern society treasures the heritage of medieval cathedrals and churches. Through them, the imprint of medieval religion continues to be made visible. Equally valued are the surviving manuscripts, artefacts and music of medieval worship. However, we are rarely able to connect the buildings with the texts, artefacts and music, let alone comprehend how they were used in rituals.

This project makes that connection by investigating the experience of medieval worship in the cathedrals and churches for which it was intended through re-enactments of rituals. With the input and synthesis of knowledge and skills from different disciplines, scholarly and applied, we shall transform medieval texts, spaces and objects into the complicated, gestural and highly sensory experience of medieval worship - engaging sight, sound, smell and touch. Through live encounters, audio-visual recordings, publications, and online resources and interpretation, we will enable specialist and non-specialist, Christian and non-Christian, to engage with the buildings, and to understand their nature, function, ordering and use.

Worship affected and involved every level of medieval society, yet we still know little about how exactly it was conducted and experienced. Only through re-enactment is it possible to analyse and evaluate the experiences of the distinct social groups engaged with that worship: clergy, assistants, musicians and lay people. So far as we can, we have to strip off post-medieval and post-Christian assumptions, and take account of the spirituality of the time. Such practice-led investigation has to be rooted in scholarly research of the texts to establish the content and conduct of the rituals, and of the architectural, social, cultural and religious contexts in which they were used.

The research falls into three phases: (a) investigation of texts to establish norms of ritual practice and local details, issues of musical performance practice, ritual analysis of buildings, and social and cultural contextualisation; (b) preparation of editions, reconstruction of artefacts, and direction of the historical re-enactments; (c) observation, analysis and interpretation of the experience of the re-enactments, testing the validity of such an applied research process for historical understanding and assessing its transferability to other manifestations of religion and its social context. This involves a research team and supporting research group with expertise in liturgy, musicology, architectural, social, cultural and church history, ethnomusicology, practical theology, and anthropology and sociology of religion - as well as clergy, musicians and craftspeople.

The re-enactments of the rituals will be set in two contrasting medieval buildings: the great cathedral of Salisbury, a building specifically shaped and designed for these rituals; and the modest parish church of St Teilo reconstructed as it was in about 1520 at St Fagans: National History Museum of Wales – one of thousands of churches to which Salisbury rituals were adapted. Salisbury offers the original ritual space (albeit partly changed), clergy and musical resource, an education team and visitor outreach. St Teilo's provides a newly re-constructed medieval interior, museum staff engaged in the study and interpretation of earlier buildings and their social context, education and outreach. Both settings enable public access to the re-enactments.

Isolated and partial re-enactments of medieval worship have proved revealing, but this project can be far more systematic, comprehensive and of long-lasting value, generating edited texts, audio-visual recordings, and scholarly interpretation and contextualisation of the experience. It will provide a template for future research. The outcomes will be disseminated among scholars, educators and students, to church and charitable bodies who use and care for medieval cathedrals and churches, those who fund their upkeep, and the wider public.

Our main research questions

1. What was the experience of late medieval worship for all who participated, and how can we use surviving texts, buildings and artefacts to investigate that experience through ritual re-enactments, informed by current scholarship and research-led observation and analysis?

2. How can such observation and analysis of ritual re-enactments develop our understanding of extant buildings, artefacts and texts?

3. How can modern experiences of medieval cathedrals and churches, sacred artefacts and music – either in Christian worship or non-Christian cultural encounter – be

  • evaluated by these research processes, and
  • enhanced by outcomes of historical investigation and ritual re-enactments?

4. What methods do we use and what parameters and criteria do we set to:

  • establish the practice and context of late medieval worship,
  • prepare and undertake the re-enactments,
  • observe, analyse and interpret them, and compare them with modern worship in medieval spaces, and
  • test the validity of re-enactment as a research tool in and between different disciplines?

Our Aims and Objectives

The project’s main overall objective is to complete a programme of research of the highest standard, measurable by its outcomes, that:

  • contributes significantly to knowledge, understanding and research resources related to religion and society in general, late medieval ritual and its religious, social and cultural contexts in particular, and the identified theme and broader aims of the Religion and Society programme;
  • explores, tests and validates new approaches to and methods of investigation and interpretation through applied and practice-led research with interdisciplinary collaboration between scholars in the fields of liturgy, musicology, architectural, social, cultural and church history, ethnomusicology, practical theology, and anthropology and sociology of religion, and by engagement with clergy, musicians and craftspeople as practitioners;
  • expands the research experience, methodology and knowledge base of the investigators, early-career research fellow and PhD student through their interaction and interdisciplinary collaboration;
  • directly involves third-sector partners, engaging some of the researched in the research process;
  • offers value beyond money to the supporting institutions (AHRC, Bangor University, Oxford University, St Fagans: National History Museum, Salisbury Cathedral), and to all the unpaid researchers and participants involved;
  • is well-managed throughout, delivers the outcomes on schedule, and establishes the bases for long-term academic and wider impact;
  • benefits society through the outcomes by enabling better understanding of the nature and use of medieval cathedrals and churches;
  • offers opportunities for public engagement at key moments in the project and on a continuing basis after the project.