Medieval collage

"Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote..."  - Geoffrey Chaucer

At a Glance

  • Live online course
  • 2 hours a week
  • Mondays 18:00 - 20:00
  • 10 weeks: October to December
  • Tutor: Sarah James and Michael Paraskos
  • Fees from £115 to £210
  • Imperial College attendance certificate (T&Cs apply)
Booking link

We are delighted to welcome to our programme Dr Sarah James, former Head of English at the University of Kent, and leading authority on medieval literature, to present a new course looking at travel in the Middle Ages. Specifically Sarah is going to introduce us to the travel associated with pilgrimage. 

Although we might be familiar with at least some of the fictional stories told by Geoffrey Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales (c.1387), numerous real-life accounts of travel and pilgrimage survive from the medieval period, giving us an astonishing window into life at the time. 

In the Middle Ages pilgrimage was at the heart of Christian belief, with a journey to a sacred site such as Canterbury, Lindisfarne or Salisbury, or if you could manage it, a trip to Rome, Santiago de Compostela or Jerusalem helping to purify your soul and earn you a place in heaven. But, even at the time, pilgrimage was also seen as a kind of adventure holiday, full of new sights and experiences in an age when travel was rare and often dangerous.

With Sarah we will explore some of the remarkable travellers' tales from the medieval period, some of which read like remarkably modern guide books, others like diaries complete with complaints about the food, and others like fantastical ripping yarns.

Dr Michael Paraskos, of Imperial College London, will also be on hand to talk about some of the art and architecture of the period, to help Sarah set the idea of medieval travel in a wider context. This will include its relationship to the Crusades, the impact of travel on Western culture and even the legacy of pilgrimage in modern culture - from the appearance of blancmange on our pudding menus to the revival of pilgrimage in recent years.

Course Information

Course Programme

Programme - subject to possible change

  • Week 1: The Grammar of Pilgrimage

In this session we will explore the idea of pilgrimage and its artefacts. With so much historical pilgrimage taking place in times when records were relatively scarce, what evidence is there for the forms and meanings of pilgrimage and how can art historians and other researches fill-in the gaps?

  • Week 2: East and West: Pilgrimage and the Crusades

One of the most important sites for pilgrimage by Christians was Jerusalem and the Holy Lands, but for many Western Christians pilgrimage to the Holy Lands only became possible after the capture of territories in the eastern Mediterranean by the Western Crusaders. In this session we will look at some of the influences on Western Christendom of this encounter with the east.

  • Week 3: Saints and Shrines

This week we have a task for you. We are going to select three of our "favourite" saints (or least saints that interest us) and talk about their lives and identify a cult centre associated with them. This could be a major cathedral or it might be something as simple as a holy well. We would like each of you to choose one saint, tell us a little about their life and why you chose them, and also identify a cult site associated with them.

  • Week 4: Saints and Vampires

For All Hallows we have taken a slight detour. What is it about saints and vampires that makes them seem so similar? Are vampires really diabolical saints, and do they also have cult sites?

  • Week 5: Canterbury and St Thomas Becket

By far the most important pilgrimage site in England for much of the middle ages was Canterbury Cathedral and the shrine of St Thomas Becket. In this session we will look at the rise of Canterbury as a pilgrimage site, the cult of St Thomas Becket and the building and shrine itself as art historical artefacts.

  • Week 6: Roman Holy Days I: Medieval Rome

Aside from Jerusalem, Rome was the most important site for mediaeval Christian pilgrimage and in this session we will look at the rise of Rome as a pilgrimage site, accounts by travellers in the middle ages to Rome and the development of the shrine of St Peter into a template for other pilgrimage sites in the West.

  • Week 7: Roman Holy Days 2: Later Rome

Rome remained a key pilgrimage site long after the middle ages, and in this session we will look at the later creations of the architecture of pilgrimage and travellers' accounts of visits to Rome and other Italian pilgrimage sites, such as Assisi.

  • Week 8: The Heavenly City – Jerusalem

As we saw in week two, Jerusalem and the Holy Lands were the supreme location for Christian pilgrimage in at least the early middle ages and in this session we will think about what it meant and what it was like visiting the city in the middle ages, as well as looking at the sometimes confusing religious architecture of the city.

  • Week 9: Communities of Pilgrims

Pilgrimage was not simply a journey during the middle ages, it was also about joining a community - a new community to that into which a person was born. We see this in the community of story-telling travellers in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, but the community was also there for mutual aid, safety, to share expenses such as translators and guides and to keep each other company on what could be a very long and difficult journey. In this session we will also look at what happened if you didn't want to go on pilgrimage - what were the alternatives?

  • Week 10: Pilgrimage in the Age of Romanticism

It might seem a cliche to point out that religious pilgrimage is still present in the modern world, but in this session we want to conclude by thinking about the locations, meanings and artefacts that might be associated with a much broader concept of pilgrimage today - in a post-Romantic Age where we might, for example, go to the countryside or nature to find spiritual sustenance.

Additional Reading

There is no compulsory reading for this course.

Your Tutors

Photograph of Dr Sarah JamesDr Sarah James’s work is focused on medieval hagiography from c.1100-1500. Far from being timeless and aloof, saints in this period are continually being reimagined by writers in ways that perform important social, religious and political work of immediate contemporary relevance. 

To understand that work Sarah explores a range of evidence, including the written lives, documentary records, and representations of the saints in material culture. Her geographical focus is wide-ranging, including both the Latin west and more recently Byzantium; the island of Cyprus in this period is of particular significance to her work at present and is likely to remain so.

Photograph of Dr Michael Paraskos

Dr Michael Paraskos is a very experienced adult education tutor, having taught for over twenty-five years. He holds a Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and also teaches art history to undergraduate students at the City and Guilds of London Art School.

He is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction and has published very widely on art of this period, as well as reviewing exhibitions and novels for BBC Radio 4’s Front Row and The Spectator magazine. He is the Lead Convenor for Othello's Island: The Annual Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Studies held in Cyprus.

Course Delivery Method

All our online courses are taught live which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time. To take part in the course you must be able to attend the online session at the time stated for the course description.

All times stated are British Standard Time.

To take part you will need a computer, or laptop, or tablet computer, connected to the Internet. The device you use will also need to have a camera, microphone and speakers. Most devices now have these built in, but if not you might have to buy them from a computer shop and to connect them to your device.


This course will use Zoom as its online delivery method. Zoom is very easy to use and you do not need to set up a Zoom account to use it. Near the date of your first online session you will be sent an email with a web address (or URL) that will allow you to access the course. This is called the Course Link. All you need do is click on the Course Link in the email and you will be asked to enter your name. This is the name that will be seen by your tutor and other students in the class.

Once you have entered your name you might be asked to enter a password to enter the class. The password will be included in the email sent to you. Once you enter the password you will either be taken directly into the class, or asked to wait in a virtual waiting room until the tutor is ready to let you into the class.

We have also produced a Handy Guide to Zoom [pdf] which gives you basic information on how to use it.

All courses lasting two hours have a 10-minute break in the middle. For one-hour courses there is no break.

Course Fees and Rate Categories

HoursWeeksStandard RateInternal RateAssociate Rate
 20  10  £210    (Early Bird Rate: £190*)
£125    (Early Bird Rate: £115*) £165    (Early Bird Rate: £150*) 
* The Early Bird rate is available for enrolments made before the end of 30 September for courses starting in October

Rate Categories and Discounts

Standard Rate

  • Applicable to all except those who fall under the Internal Rate or Associate Rate category, respectively.

Internal Rate

  • Current Imperial College students and staff (incl. Imperial NHS Trust, Imperial Innovations, ancillary & service staff employed on long-term contracts at Imperial College by third-party contractors)
  • Individuals enrolling under our Friends & Family scheme
  • Staff of the English Chamber Orchestra
  • Current Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication (CLCC) staff, current CLCC PhD students, Science Communication (Sci Comm) postgraduate students, and students enrolled on an Imperial College 'Language for Science' degree programme should contact before completing the online enrolment form

Associate Rate

  • Alumni of Imperial College and predecessor colleges and institutes
  • Austrian Cultural Forum staff
  • City & Guilds College Association members
  • Francis Crick Institute staff, researchers and students
  • Friends and Patrons of the English Chamber Orchestra
  • Harrods staff
  • Historic Royal Palaces staff
  • Lycee Charles de Gaulle staff
  • Members of the Friends of Imperial College
  • Members of the Kennel Club
  • Members of the London Zoological Society
  • Members of the South London Botanical Institute (SLBI)
  • Members of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
  • Natural History Museum staff
  • National Health Service (NHS) employees
  • Residents of postcodes SW3, SW5, SW7, SW10 and W8
  • Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council staff
  • Royal College of Art and Royal College of Music tutors and other staff
  • Royal Geographical Society staff
  • Science Museum staff
  • Staff of Exhibition Road Cultural Group (Discover South Kensington) organisations
  • Students (non-Imperial College)
  • Teachers and other staff of UK schools
  • Tutors and other staff of institution members of the Association of Colleges
  • Tutors and other staff of other universities and higher education institutions
  • Victoria and Albert Museum staff

Late enrolment

It is possible to enrol on many CLCC Evening Class and Lunchtime Learning programmes after the course has started. For non-language courses this is subject entirely to agreement by the tutor. For language courses it is subject to agreement by the language Coordinator conducting level assessment. If you want to join a course late do bear in mind there might be work you will need to catch up on, particularly in language courses.

Applicable terms & conditions

Please read the Terms and Conditions [pdf] before enrolling on any course.

Term Dates

HoursWeeksAutumn termSpring termSummer termSummer School
 20  10 11 Oct - 13 Dec 2021 (10 weeks)  n/a n/a n/a
This is a one-term course

Enrolment Process

Web enrolment starts 2nd August 2021

Enrolment and payment run through the Imperial College eStore. Please click on the blue booking link on the relevant course page noting below instructions:

  • Our rate categories are explained on the course page and your applicable rate category must be selected on the eStore
  • First-time eStore users please create an account by entering an email address and password. These credentials should also be used for future bookings. Imperial College users please note the eStore is not a single-signon College system
  • The booking process involves entering payment details after your course choice and applicant details are collected via an in-built questionnnaire
  • The following email notifications are sent:
What is sentWhen is it sentWhat does it contain
1. Payment confirmation Is sent instantaneously following submission of your online application
  • This is a receipt for your payment and includes payment date, order number and course title
  • Confirmation of your place on your chosen course will follow later
2. Enrolment confirmation Is sent within 10 working daysPlease treat your payment confirmation as confirmation that your applicant details and payment have been received
  • Re-confirms your course choice
  • Shows your course's term dates
  • Confirms the day and time of your course
3. Programme information Is usually sent on Friday late afternoon the week before term starts
  • Contains joining instructions for your course, incl. tutor contact details
If you need further help with the above information please ring 020 7594 8756

Any Questions?

If you have enjoyed this course, why not look at other arts and humanities evening class courses at Imperial College. This includes courses on the history of western art from ancient Greece to the nineteenth century, Understanding Modern and Design, the history of film and cinema and Greek and Roman mythology in art. We also run practical courses in art and photography and creative writing classes, and a growing programme of science based evening classes.