Period Band A

The Age of Cathedrals: Medieval Architecture in England 1050 - 1250

Tutor: Norbert Nussbaum


This course will study some of the most spectacular buildings ever constructed in England, in the two centuries after the Norman Conquest of 1066. We will examine and describe the buildings themselves, consider the contribution of patrons and masons in their creation, and explore the potential meanings of such churches for medieval viewers.

We are thrilled and honoured to announce that this module will be taught by the distinguished Professor Norbert Nussbaum who will be visiting the department from the University of Cologne. 


By the end of the module students should have acquired:

  • an understanding of the language of medieval architecture and how to describe the buildings themselves
  • an understanding of a variety of contexts and the kinds of materials available to interpret them
  • an awareness of the various scholarly approaches to the material and the factors informing them

Preliminary Reading

  • *N Pevsner, An Outline of European Architecture (Penguin, many editions, available in cheap paperback)
  • D Watkin, A History of Western Architecture (1986)

These are two standard introductions with good brief chapters on the development of medieval architecture in Europe.

There are well-illustrated and reliable chapters in two recent general books on European architecture:

  • R. Toman, ed., Romanesque – Architecture, Sculpture, Painting (1997), 216-51
  • R. Toman, ed., The Art of Gothic – Architecture, Sculpture, Painting (1998), 118-37

*P Kidson, P Murray, P Thompson, A History of English Architecture (Penguin, 1965, available in cheap paperback).  The section by Kidson is the best brief account of formal and stylistic developments in English medieval architecture in general, though not very well illustrated.  There are numerous illustrations in:

  •  G Webb, Architecture in Britain: The Middle Ages (Pelican History of Art, 1956)

Recent studies available in cheap paperback are:

  • *R Stalley, Early Medieval Architecture Oxford (Oxford History of Art 1999)
  • *C Wilson, The Gothic Cathedral (1990); the various sections on England add up to a history of English medieval architecture
  • N. Coldstream, Medieval Architecture (2002)

Stalley surveys European architecture from the early Christian period up to the end of the Romanesque c.1200; Wilson follows on with the development of Gothic

For more detailed studies of English architecture in our period, the following are essential:

  • E. Fernie, The Architecture of Norman England (2000), esp Part I for a general introduction.
  • P. Draper, The Formation of English Gothic – Architecture and Identity (2006)(very well illustrated)
  • J Bony, The English Decorated Style:  Gothic Architecture Transformed, 1250 – 1350 (1979) is mostly beyond our period, but there is much of value in the early chapters.

The most important thing to do in advance is to start looking at and studying as many medieval buildings as you are able to see in this country, or abroad if you are travelling, whether cathedrals, abbeys, parish churches or castles, for all of which there are numerous studies and guides available in the bookshops and libraries.

For England, the best guides are:

  • N Pevsner and P Metcalfe, The Cathedrals of England (2 vols, 1985)

And the individual volumes for every county of England by Pevsner which describe every building you are likely to be able to see.  Each volume of Pevsner has a useful glossary of architectural terms at the back.

For a stimulating approach to contemporary meanings of architecture, see P. Binski, 'Edification', in Becket's Crown: Art and Imagination in Gothic England, 1170-1300, (2004) pp. 1-77 and also his prologue.

Professor Norbert Nußbaum