Fall 2017 HC 221H: The Arts of Pilgrimage in the Middle Ages

Fall Term, 2017-2018

Professor: Johanna Seasonwein

4 credits

  • CRN 12770: Monday & Wednesday, 10:00 – 11:20 @ MAC 111
  • CRN 12771: Monday & Wednesday, 12:00 – 13:20 @ MAC 111

An expensive journey, an encounter with the marvelous, the purchase of a souvenir to take home: this could describe a medieval pilgrim’s journey to a sacred site…or the modern rite of passage that is the American family vacation to Walt Disney World. In this course, we explore the medieval model of pilgrimage and some of its modern descendants.

We will ask ourselves the questions:

  • Why do human beings often feel the need to set out on a pilgrimage?
  • How does the built environment (and the material objects contained within) structure the pilgrim’s experience?
  • What place does pilgrimage have in contemporary consumer culture?

To begin to answer these questions, we will focus primarily on Christian pilgrimage in Western Europe from about 1000–1250 C.E., a period that saw considerable growth in the numbers of pilgrimage sites and pilgrims. We begin by reading excerpts from primary sources on pilgrimage—both for and against—and the cult of Christian saints.

Next, we will spend time looking closely at the architecture, sculpture, and sumptuous arts of the some of the key churches associated with pilgrimage in France, Spain, and England, including several along the pilgrimage roads to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. We will read both primary and secondary sources on these complex artistic programs, and we will assess some of the models scholars have proposed for understanding them.

Finally, we will apply the models of pilgrimage that we have discussed to an assessment of sites of modern-day secular pilgrimage.