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)
  • Official course code: 90168

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

Provisional Week-by-week programme (All subject to possible change)

Week 1: Introduction to pilgrimage

  • SJ: Introducing the idea of pilgrimage, in Christianity and other religions. Exploring ideas of saints and their cult sites, thaumaturgic power of places. Evidence for pilgrimage (documentary, architectural, literary, material culture)

  • MP: Pilgrim artefacts – the artistry of pilgrim badges and other artifacts

 Week 2: The Development of Christian pilgrimage

  • SJ: Changing practices of pilgrimage: who is travelling, where, why and how? Pilgrimage and the Crusades. Major European shrines and pilgrimage routes.
  • MP: A Two-Way Street – Western medieval architecture and pilgrimage to the east

 Week 3: Lives of the Saints

  • SJ and MP: Some saints well and lesser known and their cult sites

 Week 4 Canterbury 1: The Evolution of a Cathedral

  • MP: Canterbury Cathedral (architecturally and in wider context)

Week 5 Canterbury 2: Thomas Becket - His Shrine and Pilgrimage

  • SJ: Thomas Becket; development of shrine at Canterbury Cathedral. Architecture/glass at Cathedral, and legends of Becket’s life and miracles. General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales. Other pilgrim destinations: St Augustine’s, St Martin’s.

 Week 6 Travelling to Rome

  • SJ Pilgrimage routes as conduits of knowledge/information, e.g. the Vercelli Book. Pilgrimage as tourism: John Capgrave’s Ye Solace of Pilgrimes.

Week 7 When in Rome

  • MP: The Lost Architecture of Medieval Rome

Week 8: The Heavenly City – Jerusalem

  • SJ: Pilgrimage accounts including William Wey and James of Verona. Margery Kempe and reliving the story of Christ.
  • MP: Roman, Byzantine, Muslim, Crusader: The Confusing Architecture of Jerusalem

 Week 9: Pilgrimage and community

  • SJ: Physical and spiritual journeys, and the creation of communities of believers…
  • MP: Pilgrimage by (Architectural) Proxy

 Week 10: Course review

  • SJ: Including discussion of some contemporary versions of pilgrimage: Lourdes, Refugee Tales.


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.