Medieval collage

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

At a Glance

  • Live online course
  • Mondays 18:00 - 20:00
  • 10 weeks: October to December
  • Tutors: Sarah James and Michael Paraskos
  • Fees from £126 to £235
Booking link

After a stunningly successful launch of this course in October 2021, we are delighted to welcome once again to our programme Dr Sarah James, former Head of English at the University of Kent, and leading authority on medieval literature, to present our course looking at pilgrimage travel in the Middle Ages. In this Sarah will be joined by our own Dr Michael Paraskos, with Sarah looking at the stories and literature of medieval travel associated with pilgrimage, and Michael examining the architecture of 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.

In addition we will see the relationship between pilgrimage and the Crusades, the impact of pilgrims' 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.

Live Online Course

This course will be taught live online (via the internet). To take part in the course you will need a suitably equipped device for session attendance each week on the weekday and time shown above.

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)

  • 10 October 2022: 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?

  • 17 October 2022: 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.

  • 24 October 2022: 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?


  • 31 October 2022: NO SESSION


  • 7 November 2022: 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.

  • 14 November 2022: 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.

  • 21 November 2022: Roman Holy Days I: Mediaeval 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.

  • 28 November 2022: 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.

  • 5 December 2022: 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.

  • 12 December 2022: 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?

  • 19 December 2022: 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. However, if you would like to read more on the subject you might enjoy:

  • Jonathan Sumption, Medieval Pilgrimage (London: Hidden Spring Books, 2013)

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 Fees and Rate Categories

HoursWeeksStandard RateInternal RateAssociate Rate
 20 10 Early Bird: £212  (£10.60 p/h) 
Full price: £235   (£11.75 p/h)
Early Bird: £126  (£6.30 p/h) 
Full price: £140   (£7 p/h)
Early Bird: £166  (£8.30 p/h) 
Full price: £185   (£9.25 p/h)
All fee rates quoted are for the whole course. Early Bird rates available 1 August to 30 September 2022 only. Part-payments are not possible. Equivalent to hourly rate is shown for comparison guidance only, it is not possible to pay pro-rata hourly rates.

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
  • Students, staff and Governors of Woodhouse College and the IC Mathematics School
  • 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
  • Co-operative College 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 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 2022-23

HoursWeeksAutumn termSpring termSummer term
 20  10 Week commencing 10 October to week ending 17 December 2022* n/a n/a
*This is a 1-term course

Enrolment Process

Web enrolment starts 1 August 2022. Early bird discounts are available from 1 August to 30 September 2022.

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 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 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 Michael 

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