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Five great medieval buildings in context – five online talks by John McNeill

posted on 04/10/21


Medieval buildings remain major navigation marks in many European towns and cities – dramatic architectural statements which, notwithstanding their original and varied individual functions, retain their capacity to impress.

This series of talks takes advantage of the phenomenon to examine five churches from the perspective of their origin, history and aesthetic character. The emphasis will be on the architecture, but the status of medieval buildings as repositories of imagery will not be neglected, nor their rhetorical power to make claims on behalf of their creators.

They take place every Thursday from 2nd December to 13th January (excluding 23rd and 30th December) at 4.30pm (GMT) and, including Q&A, will probably last just under an hour. They are available for viewing for eight weeks after the last episode is streamed (10th March 2022).

Register for the webinar series for £65

Frequently asked questions

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An electronic invoice will be sent to your e-mail address 1–3 working days after you have completed our registration form. Payment can be made online using AMEX, Apple Pay, Google Pay, MasterCard or Visa.

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Please contact us specifying how many subscriptions you would like and who they are for (we require their full name and e-mail address). We will invoice you directly, and after we have received your payment we will release the webinar joining instructions to your friend(s) or family member(s).

Can I purchase a single episode?

No, unfortunately not. The series must be purchased in full.

How do I join the webinar?

An e-mail confirmation will be sent to you after you have paid for your subscription, which includes your unique link for joining the webinar. Reminder e-mails will be sent to you one day and one hour before each event. We recommend that you download the Zoom software in advance of the first webinar.

Can I watch the live broadcast(s) on more than one device?

Only one device can be connected to the live broadcast(s) at any one time. If you wish to purchase a second subscription, please contact us.

What happens if I am unable to attend the live broadcast(s)? 

A recording will be uploaded to a dedicated webpage approximately two hours after the live broadcast. For copyright reasons, these recordings cannot be made available indefinitely; access is granted for eight weeks after the final live broadcast of the series.

The talks

1. Cappella Palatina, Palermo (Sicily) (2nd December 2021)

The cappella palatina is the most spectacular royal chapel to have come down to us from the 12th century. Begun while Roger II was king of Sicily and probably completed under his son, the chapel was designed to embody an ideal of Christian kingship – relating the southern Italian monarchy to both King David and Christ. Not only that, the imagery appealed to Latin, Greek and Arabic speakers in what seems to have been a carefully planned and politically sophisticated programme. Where did the artists capable of producing such imagery come from, and what propelled the monarchy into making ambitious trans-Mediterranean claims?

2. Bourges Cathedral (Berry) (9th December 2021)

As an architectural experience, Bourges Cathedral rests in a very select league indeed. The first giant of French Gothic architecture to take shape in central France, the overall design owed much to Notre-Dame in Paris. Like Paris, Bourges also redeployed elements of its Romanesque predecessor, though when it came to creating a series of story-telling windows the cathedral set a new standard. Unlike most of its contemporaries, the stained glass that illuminates Bourges’s radiating chapels is positioned above low window sills, creating the most accessible and intimate of all 13th-century glazing schemes.

3. Beauchamp Chapel, Warwick (Warwickshire) (16th December 2021)

Built at spectacular expense in accordance with the will of Richard Beauchamp, 13th earl of Warwick and captain of the English forces in Normandy at the time of his death, the Beauchamp chapel is the most lavishly appointed 15th-century funerary chapel in England. It was fitted out by London-based craftsmen, though within a distinctively regional architectural frame – a classic example of a building intended to surpass all precedents and expectations.

4. Tomar del Cristo (Portugal) (6th January 2022)

Sited well to the north of the river Tagus, Tomar was developed on a huge scale to act as the headquarters for the order of Knights Templar in Portugal. A colossal castle was created on high ground above the town, with a church and a set conventual buildings at its heart. The church survives from this early period, laid out in 1160 with a circular sanctuary and short rectangular nave, while around it were built a record-breaking seven cloisters and courtyards – the latter mostly created after 1312 when the site was refashioned as the seat of Portugal’s royal Ordem del Cristo. Heaven for anyone interested in cloister design.

5. Ely Cathedral (Cambridgeshire) (13th January 2022)

Founded as a monastery for women in the 7th century and taking Etheldreda as its first abbess, Ely was raised to the status of cathedral in 1109, by which date work had already started on the existing church. The current cathedral reflects an expansion of the Anglo-Norman church, initiated to the east by a splendid new eastern shrine area created under Bishop Hugh Northwold (1229-54). Most famously, however, the core of the church was reconstructed following the collapse of the crossing tower in 1322, turning the cathedral into as much a showcase for the Decorated as for the Romanesque.


Register for the webinar series for £65


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