The Experience of Worship in late medieval Cathedral and Parish Church

Submitting Institution

Bangor University

Unit of Assessment

Music, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Philosophy and Religious Studies: Religion and Religious Studies

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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.

Underpinning research

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 (, 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 reports.

3. Sarum Customary Online ( 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 contents.

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 on request.

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 2012).

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

  1. Letter from the Canon Chancellor, Salisbury Cathedral
  2. Letter from the Senior Curator, Historic buildings, National Museum of Wales
  3. Letter from the Dean of St Davids Cathedral
  4. `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 ( A DVD copy of the program is available on request.
  5. Ann Wollenberg, `The experience of worship' (AHRC feature article on the project, 2 January, 2013)". 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Ronny Krippner, Ex Tempore: the Art of Organ Improvisation (Fugue State Films 2011)
  8. Medieval organ recreation success (28 April 2011): (with short clip of BBC coverage, information about the courses held, and a link to Goetze & Gwynn's organ workshop).
  9. An impression of the artist decorating the Pax board: `The Sandon Pax', including news coverage of the event at St Teilo's by News Wales (22 September 2011).
  10. 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).
  11. Gallery images of the organ and altar painting by the artist
  12. A summary of the accounts with dates is available on request.