Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Pillars of the Earth: Medieval Cathedrals and Their Builders
Academic Year
Semester 2
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminars / Tutorials 10 x 3 hour sessions
Seminars / Tutorials Individual 10-minute 'feedback tutorial' per written assignment submitted


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Essay 1 - 1 x 2,500 word essay  25%
Semester Assessment Essay 2 - 1 x 2,500 word essay  25%
Semester Assessment 1 x 1,500 word document analysis  10%
Semester Exam 2 Hours   (1 x 2 hour exam)  40%
Supplementary Assessment Essay 1 - 1 x 2,500 word supplementary (resit) essay  25%
Supplementary Assessment Essay 2 - 1 x 2,500 word supplementary (resit) essay  25%
Supplementary Assessment 1 x 1,500 word supplementary (resit) document analysis  10%
Supplementary Exam 2 Hours   1 x 2 hour supplementary (resit) examination  40%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

Understand and discuss critically the technical and aesthetic aspects of medieval cathedrals, with reference to appropriate sources.

Critically assess how cathedrals can further our understanding of medieval culture and society.

Demonstrate an understanding of a range of approaches to studying the middle ages.

Analyse intelligently and reflect critically on primary sources related to the topic.

Develop their ability to form and sustain historical arguments orally and in writing.

Brief description

Cathedrals are among the greatest monuments to survive from the European Middle Ages, testaments to the ingenuity and skill of those who created them. Furthermore, cathedrals provide a fascinating insight into the culture from which they emerged, reflecting faith, power, wealth, ambition, humility, humor and other aspects of life in the Middle Ages. Focusing on examples from England, Wales and northern France, this module will utilize a wide range of documentary and non-documentary sources to explore why and how cathedrals were constructed and embellished, and how and by whom they were used (and sometimes misused). The possibility of arranging an appropriate field trip to reinforce the learning of these aspects will be explored.


This module is taught in ten-three hour seminars. The seminar titles are as follows:

1. Introduction: sources, how to read a building
2. Why cathedrals? Origins, locations, meanings
3. From Romanesque to Gothic: c.1100-1200
4. The flowering of Gothic: c.1200-1350
5. Why they didn't fall down (and sometimes did): cathedral builders
6. Books for the unlearned I: sculpture and glass
7. Books for the unlearned II: wall-paintings, floors and furnishings
8. Housing the holy (and not-so-holy): shrines, tombs and chapels
9. 'Don't shoot the pigeons': the uses and misuses of cathedrals
10. Pillars of the earth: cathedrals and the medievalist


Special Subjects provide third-year students with an opportunity to study a particular period in great depth and partly on the basis of primary sources. They are intensively taught, and particularly high standards of precision, creativity and knowledge are expected from students. Together with the dissertation and the general historical problems module, they provide final-year students with an opportunity to demonstrate the maturation of their historical and other skills and of their intellectual sensitivity. The range of special subjects reflects the range of teaching and research interests on the part of departmental staff. As in other core courses, a wide choice of periods and approaches is made available.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number N/A
Communication Read a wide range of both primary and secondary texts; improve listening skills during the lectures, and consequently develop skills in note taking; demonstrate and develop the ability to communicate ideas in two essays; skills in oral presentation will be developed in seminars.
Improving own Learning and Performance Show awareness of own learning styles, personal preferences and needs; devise and apply realistic learning and self management strategies; devise a personal action plan to include short and long-term goals and to develop personal awareness of how to improve on these.
Information Technology Students will be encouraged to locate suitable material on the web and to access information on CD-Roms and to apply it appropriately to their own work. Students will also be encouraged to word-process their work. These skills will not be formally assessed.
Personal Development and Career planning Develop awareness of personal skills, beliefs and qualities in relation to course in progression; plan and prepare for future course / career.
Problem solving Identify problems and factors which might influence potential solutions; develop creative thinking approaches to problem solving; evaluate advantages and disadvantages of potential solutions.
Research skills Understand a range of research methods and plan and carry out research; produce academically appropriate pieces of written work.
Subject Specific Skills Develop a knowledge of, and familiarity with, a range of different sources from the medieval period, including unpublished and published documents; develop the ability to use appropriate historical research tools effectively.
Team work Understand the concept of group dynamics; contribute to the setting of group goals; contribute effectively to the planning of group activities; play an active part in group activities (e.g. short group presentations in seminars); evaluate group activities and own contribution.


This module is at CQFW Level 6