An Archaeology of Sensory Experience: Pilgrimage in the Medieval Church, c.1170-c.1550.

WELLS, EMMA, JANE (2013) An Archaeology of Sensory Experience: Pilgrimage in the Medieval Church, c.1170-c.1550. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

Using a methodological framework built upon principles of recent socio-anthropological and archaeological analyses on the sensory culture of the past, this thesis provides an original interdisciplinary socio-sensual approach to illustrate how the medieval ‘pilgrimage experience’ was socially constructed for and by three separate participatory groups – royalty, laity and a parochial society – at four English cult churches. The tapestry of evidence used is woven together to create invented narratives from past visitors, highlighting the differences in perception and lived experience, in opposition to studies which have provided only impersonal analyses of structures as revealed through archaeological excavation. Thus far, studies have failed to consider how developments – whether initiated by the church, external patrons or visitors’ needs – transformed the physical aesthetic of church space and how this affected the experience of the medieval pilgrim. This thesis seeks to remedy this deficiency. Not only does it mark a departure from the ‘traditional’ practice of buildings archaeology, but the principal original contribution of this work is that the conclusions provide a fresh understanding of how and why the churches were built for and around the inherent cults and, accordingly, how pilgrims – of all statuses – developed and manipulated the decorative and architectural schemes of such buildings for their own needs and ideological agendas.

The research considers a church building not only as a complete sensory structure, but also how its construction was intended to impact/encourage devotion towards the resident cults as a continuation of ritualised practices: for example, how specific materials were chosen for their tactile qualities, shrines for their ability to allow bodily engagement with the holy, or galleries added for amplification. Significant research questions include: Were experiences created to suit different social groups and, if so, how did they impact on the archaeological record of the church building? Did the common layman have some influence on how cult churches were built and embellished? What imprint did these transient and ephemeral visitors leave? And, most importantly, how did pilgrims experience the cult churches and associated infrastructures them differently?