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Saints, Sickness, & Society: England, 1349-1500 - HIS00066C

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. John Jenkins
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20

Module summary

Pilgrimage, the journey to a holy place to seek help or give thanks, was such an important feature of medieval life that all Christian men and women, from the king to the lowliest peasant, were expected to undertake it at least once. Medieval England contained hundreds of pilgrimage sites, the most famous being the golden shrine of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury, each with its own saintly relic or miracle-working image. In a turbulent age where the causes of illness and disease were poorly understood and a year’s bad harvest could spell disaster for a whole community, the power of pilgrimage to secure a saint’s protection was believed to be very real. Yet by the later middle ages dissenting voices were attacking the sacred journey as another frivolous corruption of Christianity.

Through a host of characters real and fictional, from Chaucer’s pilgrims to a Scotsman with worms in his feet, this module examines the motives that drove men and women to go on often arduous journeys, where they went and how they got there, and how this reflects on wider medieval society. In particular we will look at how endemic disease and social changes following the Black Death brought large short-term increases in pilgrim numbers, but may have sowed the seeds for its demise. Original pilgrim accounts, guidebooks, miracle stories, and the surviving sites and their treasures provide a rich and vibrant window onto life in medieval England.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2019-20

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To give an intensive introduction to an unfamiliar period and/or approach to the study of history;
  • To offer experience in the use of primary source materials;
  • To develop skills in analysing historiography; and
  • To develop core skills such as: bibliographical search techniques; source analysis; essay writing; giving presentations; and, undertaking independent research.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Acquire an insight into historical study of an unfamiliar period and/or approach to the study of history through intensive study of an aspect of the period and/or an approach to it;
  • Gain experience of analysing primary source materials;
  • Be able to evaluate an historical explanation;
  • Have practiced core skills identified in the Autumn Term Making Histories module, including historical analysis, note-taking, essay writing, presenting to groups, and leading discussions in seminars: and,
  • Have delivered advanced level historical work in essays, demonstrating a thorough understanding of the module topics.

Module content

Teaching Programme:
Teaching will be in weekly 2-hour seminars taught over eight weeks. Each week students will do reading and preparation in order to be able to contribute to discussion.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows

  1. Saints, shrines, and devotion
  2. Illness, disability, and disease
  3. Saving souls
  4. Holy sites and sacred routes
  5. The pilgrim experience
  6. Margery Kempe: a female experience?
  7. Pilgrim souvenirs and material culture
  8. Lollardy: the decline of pilgrimage?


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 2000 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

During the autumn term students will be tasked with finding and researching their own primary source or sources in pairs or small groups, on which they will give a group presentation for formative assessment in one or more sessions during weeks 4-7.

Students will then submit 2,000-word assessed essay for summative assessment in week 10.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 2000 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

The formative assessment is a group presentation and verbal feedback will be provided by the tutor in class followed by a written summary to each student within 10 working days. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Should you wish to do any preliminary reading, you could look at the following:

Webb, Diana. Pilgrimage in Medieval England. Hambledon: London, 2000.

Finucane, Ronald C. Miracles and Pilgrims: Popular Beliefs in Medieval England. J. M. Dent: London, 1977.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): changes to courses

The 2020/21 academic year will start in September. We aim to deliver as much face-to-face teaching as we can, supported by high quality online alternatives where we must.

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