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Medieval Architectural Style: Dating and Understanding Old Churches

Key facts

Sorry, this course was heavily oversubscribed and cannot take any more students into this class. Please use the course enquiry form to be kept informed of future runs of this course or to join the waiting list.

TypeSummer Schools - Oxford University Summer School for Adults
DatesSat 12 to Sat 19 Jul 2014 - Week one
Subject area(s)Architecture
CATS points10
FeesFrom £610.00
Application statusCourse full
Course codeO13I108JBR
Course contactIf you have any questions about this course, please email OUSSA@conted.ox.ac.uk or telephone +44 (0) 1865 270396.


This course will take students through the history of English medieval architecture, enabling them to discern the various architectural styles seen across the country, in great cathedrals and humble parish churches alike. With this knowledge students will be able to date parts of these buildings, as well as deepen their understanding of the changing times in which they were built. The course will include a field trip to a series of fascinating and beautiful buildings emblematic of each style.

Programme details

Session 1: Medieval churches, medieval architecture and the idea of ‘style’: introduction, orientation, overview; including discussion of methodologies other than stylistic analysis (documentary research, archaeological investigation, etc).

Session 2: Architecture before and after the Conquest (ie Saxon and Norman architecture): defining the styles; development over time; the significance of Romanesque. Diagnostic clues; context and (briefly) fixtures and fittings; brief exercise.

Session 3: Gothic: an introduction; early gothic: identification and diagnosis. Early English: defining the style, development over time, diagnostic clues, context - including (briefly) fixtures and fittings; regional variations; exercise.
Session 4: Tour of Christ Church cathedral, Oxford (with a brief pause at St Michael-at-the-North-Gate to view the Anglo-Saxon tower), using the building as a living illustration of the main points covered in the course so far. Students will be asked to play particular attention to the parts of the building most useful for their main piece of coursework, and are encouraged to use the visit in their preparation of this. We will note the archaeological clues to the building’s development, and cover some of the main documentary evidence for it. The tour will take place on foot.

Session 5: Decorated: defining the style; diagnostic clues; exercise.
Session 6: Decorated: development over time; fixtures and fittings; regional variations, context.

Session 7: Perpendicular: defining the style; diagnostic clues; development over time (including the identification of early Renaissance elements in sixteenth-century Gothic design); context; exercise.
Session 8: Perpendicular: regional variations; fittings and fixtures; context.

Sessions 9&10: Site visit – Oxfordshire churches, with a picnic lunch; there may be an opportunity to return to Christ Church in the late afternoon. We will focus on structures with exemplary work in the main medieval styles (apart from Anglo-Saxon): ideally Iffley, Stanton Harcourt, Dorchester and Ewelme.

Session 11: Presentations: students will each present to class their analysis of Christ Church, Oxford, or another church of their choice, focusing on identifying features of the main architectural styles.
Session 12: Key areas of outstanding uncertainty across the group, as identified in the presentations, will be clarified by the tutor. A brief seminar paper will discuss the recognition of Victorian imitations of medieval style. Finally, Medieval stylistic evolution will be summed up in an ‘overview’ paper.

FIELDTRIP There will be two field trips: to Christ Church early in the course, to orientate students’ eyes as to how the material being discussed looks ‘in the flesh’ and to support preparation of the main piece of coursework; and a longer one (taking up most of a day) towards the end of the course, when we will together look around several local churches and return to Christ Church if necessary. A fuller account of each of these is given above.


Mr Jon Cannon

Role: Tutor

Jon Cannon is the author of several books and articles on the subject of religious architecture, especially English medieval church architecture. In...more

Course aims

This course aims to enable students to identify the main periods of medieval architectural style, especially in old churches.

This course will enable students to:
  • deepen their understanding and appreciation of the buildings around them;
  • recognise the key identifying features of medieval architectural style;
  • improve their analysis of buildings of all types and periods, especially with respect to the identification of stylistic change;
  • deepen their understanding of the concept of style, especially as it relates to architecture;
  • achieve an overall sense of the significance of other techniques for analysing buildings, especially those dependent on archaeological and historical evidence;
  • generally enrich their visual skills;
  • improve and broaden their understanding of the medieval world and medieval religious culture.
  • Level and demands

    On acceptance you will be given preparatory reading and a title for a short essay of about 1500 words to be submitted before the summer school begins. The essay is intended to help you clarify your thinking and reading on the chosen subject.

    The purpose of the first essay is to get your own ideas down on paper - we will send a guide to writing essays with your enrolment pack. By completing the required preliminary work you will be able to make the most of your time at Oxford.

    At your first tutorial your tutor will discuss your essay and make suggestions for a further piece of coursework to be completed during the week. The may take the form of another essay (of about 1000 words) or a presentation, undertaken either individually or jointly with another student. If you decide to work with another student, each student will need to submit individual documentation of the presentation.

    Recommended reading

    Cannon, Jon. 2014. Medieval Architectural Style. Shire.
    Watkins, D. 1986/2005. A history of Western Architecture. Laurence King.
    Pevnser, N and Sherwood,J. 1974. Oxfordshire. Penguin/Yale University Press.
    (and for very detailed coverage of Christ Church: Blair, J (ed). 1990 . Saint Frideswide’s Monastery at Oxford: Archaeological and Architectural Studies. Alan Sutton).
    Wilson, C. 1990. The Gothic cathedral. Thames and Hudson.
    Coldstream, Nicola. 2002. Medieval Architecture. Oxford University Press.
    Frankl, P with Crossley, P (ed). 1962 (or 2000 revision edited with Paul Crossley). Gothic Architecture. Yale University Press.
    Jon Cannon. 2007. Cathedral: the great English cathedrals and the world that made them. . Constable.
    Cunnington, Pamela. 1990/2005. How old is that church? . Maston House.

    Teaching methods

    All summer school courses are taught through group seminars and individual tutorials. Students also conduct private study when not in class and there is a well stocked library at Oxford University Department for Continuing Education to support individual research needs.

    Teaching outcomes

    By the end of this course students will be expected to understand:
  • How to recognise changing styles of architecture, especially of the medieval period;
  • How and why these styles changed over time;
  • The strengths and limitations of the concept ‘style’, so that changing stylistic practises are perceived as the products of an ever-unfolding present as well as a taxonomic system applied in retrospect by historians;
  • In outline how archaeological analysis can be brought to bear on the evolution of complex buildings;
  • In outline the strengths and weaknesses of using documentary evidence to support analysis of medieval buildings;
  • Something of the cultural and religious context in which these works were made;
  • Show an improved ability to visually analyse cultural artefacts of all kinds.

  • And students will have gained and/or developed the following skills:
  • Name, date and distinguish the key medieval architectural styles: Anglo-Saxon, Norman (Romanesque); early Gothic/Transitional, Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular (Gothic);
  • Date to within 50 years the main parts of most medieval buildings, and form a general understanding of the process of evolution within each style;
  • Have an improved ability to recognise stylistic change in general, especially as it affects architecture;
  • A deepened appreciation of architecture, especially that of medieval churches.
  • Accommodation

    All bedrooms are modern, comfortably furnished rooms, all with tea/coffee making facilities, TV, telephone and private bath or shower rooms.

    The residential course fees including tuition, all meals and accommodation are per person, per course/week.

    Accommodation, along with your course, can be booked online using the 'enrol now' icon. You can also apply by post. To do this please print the downloadable application form, complete it, and then post it to the Programme Administrator. If you have a specific question regarding accommodation please contact the summer school administrator: oussa@conted.ox.ac.uk or telephone: + 44 (0)1865 270396.

    IMPORTANT: If you require shared accommodation you cannot enrol online. Instead, please download the application form, complete and email or post it to the OUSSA office. You should complete one application form for each student enrolling and return c/o OUSSA administrator via

    email: OUSSA@conted.ox.ac.uk

    fax: +44(0)1865 270 429

    or post: OUSSA, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, OXFORD OX1 2JA).

    Additionally, if you have not already done so, please register on our website.

    To download the PDF application form


    There is a limited number of bursaries available, which include those kindly donated by the Governing Body of Kellogg College, Oxford, and the Ruth Windsor Fund.

    Bursaries are provided for UK applicants on low incomes or state benefits who wish to continue or resume studying. Bursaries will normally be offered to first time applicants to the summer school only. Please note that bursaries will not cover more than 50% of the OUSSA fee - and many students will receive less than this amount. Therefore, bursary applicants must be able to pay (at least) 50% of their course fee.

    The deadline for bursary applications is 1 March 2014. Please contact the Programme Administrator by email at oussa@conted.ox.ac.uk to request an application form. Please note that evidence is required to support bursary applications (eg wage slips, details of income from state benefits, Council Tax bills), and applicants are therefore advised to allow sufficient time to complete the necessary paperwork.

    Fee options

    Programme Fee
    Programme Fee (no accommodation, lunch and dinner provided): £610.00
    Programme Fee (single room - incl. all meals): £1280.00
    Programme Fee (deluxe single room - incl. all meals): £1380.00
    Catering: £0.00

    Apply for this course

    Click here for details of the application process.

    Sorry, this course was heavily oversubscribed and cannot take any more students into this class. Please use the course enquiry form to be kept informed of future runs of this course or to join the waiting list.

    Programmes including this module

    This module can be studied as part of these programmes:

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