Architectural Representation in Early Medieval England

Project summary

Architectural Representation in Early Medieval England c.650–1350 is a collaborative project that brings together researchers from disciplines including literature, history, archaeology, art history, and theology. It provides a forum in which to discuss the various ways in which construction and design were conceived of, lived with and imbued with significance in England in the period c. 650– 1350. The project interprets architectural representation in broad terms, from the symbolic and artistic to the reality of the medieval walls and towers whose imprint is still apparent in the names and shapes of English towns and cities to this day.

This initiative will gather together a group of researchers who are working on this subject within the perspectives and methodologies of their respective fields, so that scholars may learn from each other’s approaches and develop between us a more accurate and holistic understanding of the semiotic functions of architecture in the Early Middle Ages.

Architectural representations appear in a variety of contexts during the early medieval period, including as frontispieces to major Gospel collections, representations of places, such as Jerusalem (both terrestrial and celestial), as descriptions of cities, buildings, and imaginary places, not to mention the real-life architecture which comprised the contemporary built environment. Disciplines such as archaeology, literature, and history each tell one aspect of how architecture was perceived and conceived during the early medieval period, but there is still a lack of an overall picture into which such information can be contextualised. The opportunity to investigate aspects of material culture, in this case architecture, in the rich environment of early medieval textual and material culture will provide insight into contemporary attitudes towards the built environment.

One-day Workshop

The Architectural Representation project will be meeting for a workshop at TORCH on 8 September to discuss the contents of an upcoming special issue of Leeds Studies in English. Contributors will give short presentations about their submissions to the journal, which will be followed by discussion intended to foster interdisciplinary approaches within each submission and to highlight points of contact between them. Topics to be covered will include: the symbolism and representation of ecclesiastical architecture (real and literary), architectural representation in the Codex Amiantinus, the life-cycle of Anglo-Saxon buildings, architectural metaphor in early Middle English Body and Soul poetry, and the representation of doors and doorways in early medieval literature and art, and architecture as authoritative reader in Old English apocalyptic literature. We would welcome input from interested parties who are not currently members of the research group. Due to restrictions on space we ask that you contact in advance if you wish to attend.


Lead investigator

Hannah Bailey, Balliol College and Faculty of English, University of Oxford

Research team

Daniel Thomas, Wadham College, University of Oxford

Karl Kinsella, Keble College, University of Oxford

Helen Appleton, St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford

Meg Boulton, University of York

Rachel Delman, University College, University of Oxford

Sophie Dentzer, The Courauld Institute of Art

Conor O’Brien, University of Sheffield

Clifford Sofield, School of Archaeology, University of Oxford 

Laura Varnam, University College, University of Oxford

Contact details for enquiries

Please email the lead investigator, Hannah Bailey, for any queries regarding this project.