Matter of Belief: Making ‘Sense’ of the Medieval Pilgrimage Cathedral


The sensory aspects of medieval churches were far from coincidental. Patrons, artists, architects, and worshippers continually explored ways to heighten and create an ultimate devotional experience so that churches could physically and mentally ‘touch’ visitors through reciprocal means. Cult churches, particularly, demanded the movement of visiting pilgrims through establishing certain routes to relics and shrines, creating elaborate games through the art and architecture, and concealing and revealing en route through both two- and three-dimensional outputs. Sensory stimulation via images, sounds, smells, etc. was the means through which this devotion could then be communicated and understood – pilgrims experienced a full-scale ceremony, personal to them. As the building (both inside and out) was the performance space or arena through which this process could evolve, could it be that the creation and management of this sensory pilgrimage experience was paramount to the entire development of the medieval cult church design? If so, were the settings of shrines built for pilgrims and to accommodate the saintly cults? Or, did pilgrims themselves have a role in orchestrating the visual and architectural schemes that supported and housed one of the most important phenomena of the Middle Ages: the cult of saints?


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