"Saints are not made by accident.” ― T.S. Eliot

Fees from as low as £100

Terms and conditions apply

Deadline to enrol: 24 April 2023


Booking link

Holy Lives and Horrid Deaths
Wednesdays 18:00 - 20:00 
Tutor: Dr Sarah James
Online course
Starts: 3 May 2023 - 6 weeks

For anyone interested in art history, literary history, medieval history, medieval culture, lives of saints

Medieval Europe teemed with saints. Whether they were officially canonized by the Church in Rome, or simply the objects of local reverence, they had a profound and enduring impact on the daily lives of people across all social classes.

But who were these holy men and women? How was their sanctity manifested? How were their stories passed on in a world in which few people were able to read, and why are so many of those stories so gruesome?

In this course we will explore the lives, deaths and cults of some of these charismatic figures, ranging from the mythical virgin martyrs of antiquity, through to the 'holy kings' of medieval Europe and murdered boys. We will examine these remarkable stories by looking at visual and material culture, including wall paintings, stained glass and relics, as well as written sources, and try to recapture something of their extraordinary appeal.

Class Recordings

Where feasible, for this course sessions will be recorded for subsequent viewing


Attendance Certificate


Successful completion of this course leads to the award of an Imperial College attendance certificate


Terms and conditions apply to all enrolments to this course. Please read them before enrolment

Course Information

Course Programme and Additional Reading

Course Programme (subject to possible change)

  • Week 1: Introducing hagiography – saints and cults – source materials – miracles and magic
  • Week 2: Challenging sexual conventions – virgins, cross-dressers and prostitutes – the mythical martyrs of antiquity
  • Week 3: Soldiers of Christ – fighting and dying for God
  • Week 4: Lives of suffering – holy women, pain and power
  • Week 5: Child martyrs and the Jewish blood libel
  • Week 6: Saints and their cults in the modern world

Your Tutor

Dr 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.

Course Fees and Rate Categories

Weeks Standard RateInternal RateAssociate Rate
 6   £150  (£12.50 p/h)
£100  (£8.33 p/h) £125  (£10.42 p/h)
All fee rates quoted are for the whole 1-term course. Part-payments are not possible.


Rate Categories and Discounts

Standard Rate

  • Available 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)
  • People enrolling under our Friends & Family scheme
  • Alumni of Imperial College and predecessor colleges and institutes
  • Students, staff and alumni of the Royal College of Art and Royal College of Music
  • Students, staff and Governors of Woodhouse College and the IC Mathematics School

Associate Rate

  • Austrian Cultural Forum staff
  • City & Guilds College Association members
  • Co-operative College members
  • Francis Crick Institute staff, researchers and students
  • Friends and Patrons of the English Chamber Orchestra
  • Friends of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens
  • Friends of Leighton House/ Sambourne House
  • Friends of the Royal College of Music
  • 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)
  • National Health Service (NHS) employees
  • Natural History Museum staff
  • 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 of our adult education courses after the course has already 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.

Friends and Family Scheme

This course is eligible for the  allowing Imperial College students and staff to share their discount with their friends and family.

Term Dates

Weeks Spring termSummer termSummer School
 6   n/a  Week commencing 1 May to week ending 10 June 2023* n/a
* This is a one-term course

Enrolment Process

Web enrolment opens on 1st March 2023

Enrolment and payment run through the Imperial College eStore. When enrolling:

  • Do check on the drop down menu above called "Course Fees and Rate Categories" to see if you are eligible for a discounted rate and also do make sure you select that rate when enrolling on the eStore
  • If you are a first-time eStore user you will need to create an account before enrolling. You can do this by entering an email address and password. This account can then be used for any future enrolments via the eStore.

When you have enrolled you will be sent the following email notifications:

What is sentWhen is it sentWhat does it contain
1. Payment confirmation Is sent immediately 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 days. Please 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 any questions about the academic content or teaching of this course please contact the Course Tutor, Dr Sarah James

If you have any questions about your enrolment or payment processes please contact the Programme Administrator, Christian Jacobi