The Experience of Worship in late medieval Cathedral and Parish Church
Submitting InstitutionBangor University
Unit of AssessmentMusic, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Philosophy and Religious Studies: Religion and Religious Studies
Summary of the impact
Direct cultural, historical, religious, creative and musical impact has
been achieved through active participation of five distinct groups in a
major practice-led research project (2009-2013): (i) 18 craftspeople and
artists creating historically-informed artefacts; and (ii) clergy, (iii)
singers, (iv) organists and (v) congregations participating in the
enactment of medieval rituals (footfall over 2500). Impact over a longer
period (2001-13) has been achieved through use of three reconstructed
medieval organs in residencies (c.3-12 months) at cathedrals,
churches and college chapels, with direct musical impact on early
performance practice by choirs and organists. Wider indirect impact is
ongoing through the main project websites.
The most significant phase of the research (`The Experience of Worship'
project, 2009-2013) has been shaped by close collaboration with two
third-sector partners, Salisbury Cathedral and St Fagans: National History
Museum of Wales. The project has investigated the experience of late
medieval worship in two contrasting medieval buildings: the great
cathedral of Salisbury, and the small parish church of St Teilo, relocated
and reconstructed as it was c.1520, at St Fagans Museum. The
project has combined traditional but interdisciplinary scholarship with
applied and practice-led research, using imagination and creativity as
part of the method. People from outside the academy have contributed at
every stage, principally in making artefacts, addressing issues of
performance practice, and inhabiting and reflecting on late medieval
liturgical ritual [3.2, 3.6].
Enabled by a major grant from the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society research
programme [3.1], and led by Prof John Harper (Bangor University,
Chair of Music, 1991-8; Research Professor 1998-) and Dr Sally Harper
(Bangor University, Lecturer, 1991-2001; Senior Lecturer 2001-), the
research (a) investigated and analysed the nature and conduct of late
medieval worship in the cathedrals and churches for which it was intended
and for which they were built; and (b) through enactments of late medieval
rituals, explored and reflected on the sentient, sensory, emotional and
physical experience of worship in the late Middle Ages by each group
present (priests, assistants, musicians, lay people). It has taken into
account (i) post-medieval and post-Christian assumptions and values, (ii)
medieval spirituality and devotion, and (iii) opportunities and
constraints of direct public engagement [3.2, 3.3].
Elements of the research central to impact include (a) investigation of
texts to establish norms of medieval ritual practice (especially medieval
Customaries and rubrics of liturgical books), and ritual analysis of the
buildings [3.3, 3.4]; (b) historically-informed (re)construction
of artefacts and vestments (including a late medieval organ), all for use
within the rituals [3.1, 3.5]; (c) enactment of three medieval
rituals in Salisbury Cathedral (2011) and eight in St Teilo's Church (17
public events, 2010-11), as well as additional enactments in New York,
Bangor Cathedral and St Davids Cathedral (2011-13); (d) processes of
preparatory inculturation, observation, reflection, analysis and
interpretation related to the enactments [3.2, 3.6].
The project has benefited from the outcomes of seven earlier enactments
(John Harper, at Aberdeen, Oxford and Salisbury, 1995-2008), participation
in the AHRC-funded Medieval Liturgy Network (John and Sally Harper,
2009-10, including one enactment), and research into medieval Welsh
liturgy and music, including the 14th-century Bangor Pontifical [3.4].The
scope of its impact has been enhanced by the earlier research initiative
of The Early English Organ Project (1998-2005, a charity funded by
grants from trusts — chair and research director, John Harper) with the
pioneering reconstruction of two late medieval organs based on newly
discovered English medieval organ fragments, and related musicological and
archival investigation of repertory and context [3.5]. Such
instruments are indicative of organs found in British churches and
cathedrals during the late Middle Ages.
References to the research
1. Major grant (AH/H017445/1) from the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society
research programme, phase 3 (programme theme: texts, rituals, spaces and
objects): £398,712 including research studentship, awarded to Prof John
Harper, 1/12/2009 - 30/05/2013.
2. Main project website (http://www.experienceofworship.org.uk/),
incorporating summary accounts of much of the underpinning research:
commentary on investigation and realisation; material and historical
research relating to artefacts; complete and introductory videos of the
enactments, images and descriptions of artefacts, complete and
downloadable performance texts, service booklets, participant diaries and
3. Sarum Customary Online (http://www.sarumcustomary.org.uk/):
a working edition of newly transcribed Latin texts of four medieval
manuscript versions of the Customary from the first and new cathedrals at
Salisbury, with full English translation; also transcripts with English
translation of the widely-used texts of the Customary edited by W. H.
Frere, The Use of Sarum I (1899), complemented by a substantial
contextual introduction to the two cathedrals, the sources, and their
4. Sally Harper, Music in Welsh Culture before 1650: A Study of the
Principal Sources (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007) (submitted to RAE
2008). A copy of this output is available on request.
5. John Harper, `An organ for St Teilo: a Welsh instrument in the
pre-Reformation tradition', Journal of the British Institute of Organ
Studies, 35 (2011), 134-53. A copy of this output is available
6. John Harper, `Liturgy, Music and Theology in the English Choral
Tradition', Christianity and the Disciplines: The Transformation of
the University, ed. Mervyn Davies, Oliver D. Crisp, Gavin D'Costa
& Peter Hampson (London and New York: T&T Clark, 2012), 263-78. A
copy of this output is available on request.
Details of the impact
Applied and practice-led elements (making and enacting) have engendered
immediate impact in new experience and deeper understanding of late
medieval buildings, objects, texts, music and ritual practices, and their
inter-relationships [5.1-3, 5.5, 5.9, 5.10]. Three principal areas
of impact can be identified: (i) engagement with craftspeople and artists
in investigating and making artefacts and vestments, (ii) provision of
unique resource of three historical organs for players and singers to use
in their own buildings during residencies, (iii) active participation of
clergy, singers, musicians, servers, vergers and congregations in the
enactment of medieval rituals.
(i) Impacts on the practice and technical expertise of craftsmen
The 18 craftsmen involved in creating artefacts and vestments, all
working in Britain, collaborated closely with the researchers over 20
months in all, e.g. making and painting of the organs [5.8, 5.11]
over 15 months, and a Pax-board [5.9] over four months, with a
total economic benefit to the craftsmen of £91,726 excluding VAT [5.12].
Impact on craftsmen was further achieved through the project-led challenge
of investigating and making historically-informed ritual objects. New
methods and issues were explored (e.g. practical interpretation of partial
archaeological and iconographical evidence for hanging pyx and all
vestments, techniques of painting on oak board for altar reredos). It
enabled them to acquire and share between them new knowledge and
techniques, and to engage with archaeological, iconographical and
documentary evidence. The combination of interpretation and imagination in
making new objects led them to new questions (e.g. implications for the
height of stools and benches in relation to medieval posture); seeing them
in use enhanced their understanding of the visual effect, ritual meaning
and religious impact of the objects (e.g. the Five Wounds image as altar
painting based on a late medieval carving preserved in Scotland [5.11],
and the Pax-board modelled on a survival found in Essex [5.2, 5.9]).
Funding of reconstructions of two organs based on early 16th-century
fragments (Wetheringsett and Wingfield, Suffolk, 2001, 2002) and a third
`new' pre-Reformation organ (St Teilo's, 2011 [5.8]) has enabled
Goetze and Gwynn (who specialise in building new organs on historical
principles and historical restoration) to survey 16th-century remains of
organs (English, Southern French and Spanish) and extend their techniques
(e.g. bellows made from a single cow-hide) and craft (e.g. manufacture of
copies of soundboards and pipes).
(ii) Impacts on the performance practice of early organ and choral
music in church
Ensuring that these three organs were easily movable has enabled
residencies in specific locations. Extended residencies (3-12 months) have
offered unique resources for singers and players. Keyboard players have
been able to investigate new issues of performance practice for 16th- and
early 17th-century organ playing and repertory in Britain (e.g. pitch,
tonal qualities, keyboard fingering and articulation, improvisation on
plainsong melodies, accompaniment textures), and singers working with the
organs have reconsidered issues of church pitch and timbre. Practical
exploration with the organs has led to very significant rethinking of
these matters, and stimulated new engagement with manuscript sources by
cathedral musicians (e.g. residencies in Durham Cathedral in 2007 and 2009
with subsequent CD [5.3, 5.6]). The organs have already enabled a
wide range of players to reconsider the appropriate pitch for both solo
and alternatim British organ music before 1680, and 16th-century
improvisation on plainsong [5.7]; and their continuing
availability ensures that such impacts are ongoing and long-lasting.
(iii) Impacts on new experience and deeper understanding of historical
buildings, objects, texts and ritual practices
Some 2,500 participants actively participated in the liturgical
enactments. In addition, each enactment, prefaced by contextual
introductions, has uniquely enabled regular users of medieval buildings
(e.g. clergy, choirs — including the choristers, staff and congregation of
Salisbury Cathedral [5.1, 5.4] and St Davids Cathedral, [5.3])
to engage with and experience how their building was used in the late
Middle Ages, and to reflect on its present configuration and use: that
impact is cultural and religious, enhancing both historical and
contemporary understanding of ritual objects and gestures; use of space,
sound and silence; and wider aesthetic, spiritual and devotional issues.
The physicality of medieval ritual, the reliance on memory and non-verbal
cues, the absence of texts for congregation with concomitant religious
challenges and freedom, and the long periods of silence have all proved
revelatory [5.4, 5.5].
The experience has encouraged promotion of aspects of medieval practice
in contemporary worship. Linda Woodhead (director of the Religion and
Society programme) used it in an invited presentation to the Roman
Catholic bishops of England and Wales, `The End of Religious Uniformity',
3 October 2012 [5.5]. Elements of medieval ritual practice
(extended periods of kneeling, facing eastwards, movement) and repertory
(chant, early polyphony) were explored in modern worship at Bangor
Cathedral (November 2011 and 2012), and for a week of services (August
Although drawing on research undertaken since 1993, this case for impact
has focused on a recent, major research project (2009-13). As such its
full potential is not yet realised. At St Fagans Museum, collaboration
with curators, conservators and interpreters has addressed questions of
the configuration, embellishment and ritual use of St Teilo's Church: the
ensuing cultural and educational public benefit is long-term
(interpretation of the building, depositing of artefacts, and future use
of the church for enactments) [5.2]. This is also true at
Salisbury Cathedral and its predecessor, Old Sarum (interpretation of the
building/ruins, contemporary liturgical practice, and planned future
historical enactment) [5.1].
More generally, unrestricted access to two globally available major web
resources, developed as core outcomes of the project, enables ongoing
cultural, historical, educational and religious impact. The Experience
of Worship website [3.2] provides a full narrative of the
project as well as resources to enable future enactments of each liturgy
in other places. Sarum Customary Online [3.3] offers
contextual introductions to the two cathedrals of Salisbury and their
influential ritual practices (the Use of Sarum).
Sources to corroborate the impact
- Letter from the Canon Chancellor, Salisbury Cathedral
- Letter from the Senior Curator, Historic buildings, National Museum of
- Letter from the Dean of St Davids Cathedral
- `Angelic Voices' (90-minute programme about the choristers of
Salisbury Cathedral, heavily reliant on John Harper's expertise and
commentary throughout), BBC Four, various screenings including 25 March
and 6 April 2012 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01f6tb8).
A DVD copy of the program is available on request.
- Ann Wollenberg, `The experience of worship' (AHRC feature article on
the project, 2 January, 2013) http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/News-and-Events/Features/Pages/The-experience-of-worship.aspx".
A copy of Linda Woodhead's presentation to the Roman Catholic bishops of
England and Wales, `The End of Religious Uniformity' (3 October 2012) is
available on request.
Tudor Church Music from Durham Cathedral (featuring the
Wetheringsett Organ), CD recording by Durham Cathedral Choir / Durham
Cathedral Consort of Singers dir. James Lancelot with Keith Wright,
organ (CD OxRecs Digital, OXCD-106, 2010). A pdf copy of the CD booklet
is available on request.
- Ronny Krippner, Ex Tempore: the Art of Organ Improvisation
(Fugue State Films 2011) http://www.fuguestatefilms.co.uk/extempore/.
- Medieval organ recreation success (28 April 2011): http://www.religionandsociety.org.uk/news/show/medieval_organ_recreation_success_and_course_announced
(with short clip of BBC coverage, information about the courses held,
and a link to Goetze & Gwynn's organ workshop).
- An impression of the artist decorating the Pax board: `The Sandon
including news coverage of the event at St Teilo's by News Wales (22
Making History, BBC Radio 4 (21 May 2013) Helen Castor is
joined by leading historians to discuss the latest historical research
(includes contribution by Sally Harper). http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qxrc/broadcasts/2013/05
- Gallery images of the organ and altar painting by the artist http://www.loisraine.co.uk/about.asp.
- A summary of the accounts with dates is available on request.