Researching Architectural History Through Archaeology: The Case of Westminster Abbey

Warwick Rodwell

For half a millennium, scholars have researched and written about the history and architecture of Westminster Abbey, using documents and visual inspection. One might therefore assume that the architectural history of this iconic building is well understood, and in some respects it is.

Between 50 and 75 medieval skeletons discovered at Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey - photo by Daniel Gillaspia / Flickr

Archaeologists have discovered the skeletal remains of between 50 to 75 individuals buried in the walls of Westminster Abbey. It is believed that they date from the 11th or early 12th century.

How Hagia Sophia was Built

hagia sophia - Photo by Scott MacLeod Liddle / Flickr

Stories and legends from the Patria on how the greatest church of the Byzantine world was built

The Medieval Cathedral: From Spiritual Site to National Super-Signifier

Cologne Cathedral - Photo by globetrotter_rodrigo / Flickr

Although the cathedrals were often mutilated, emptied of their relics, treasures, and clergy, their close association with national glory and the sense of fascination that association had brought about kept them from being closed or destroyed entirely.

Inside Lincoln Cathedral

Inside Lincoln Cathedral

A behind the scenes look at Lincoln Cathedral

Discovering Medieval Graffiti: An Interview with Matthew Champion

medieval graffiti book

We found demons, faces, hand outlines, names, dates and prayers – just about every type of graffiti you can imagine.

Byzantine church discovered near Jerusalem

Remains of a Byzantine church discovered near Jerusalem. Photo by Skyview Company, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority

Archaeologists in Israel have discovered the remains of a Byzantine church and road station just west of Jerusalem. The site is believed to be about 1500 years old.

Early Christian Mosaic Floor discovered in Nazareth

mosaic floor nazareth

Mosaic floor found under the Church of the Annunciation is believed to date to the fourth century.

Medieval Faces in Stone

Medieval Faces in Stone - images courtesy Norfolk Graffiti Project Survey

For centuries, medieval people were etching faces and human figures into the stone walls of their churches. Thanks to the work by the Norfolk Graffiti Project Survey these images are being seen again.

Foundation Myths in Medieval and Renaissance Italy

Plaque of Regola, the VII rione of Rome. (

The 3 papers featured here looked at the development of the civic identities of Florence, Genoa and Rome through art, architecture and foundation legends.

Christians in the amphitheater? The ‘Christianization’ of spectacle buildings and martyrial memory

Sant Agnese in Agone  - Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778)

This article presents an overview of the archaeological evidence for Christian spaces inside spectacle buildings – stadia, hippodromes, theaters and amphitheaters.

The Defensive Role of Church Round Towers: A Re-Assessment

St Peter's church, Bruisyard, Suffolk  - Wikicommons

Towers were erected essentially to house church bells so was the defensive roll of the tower incidental to that roll or integral to its purpose?

Building Materials in Anglo-Saxon Churches and Towers

Burnham Deepdale - St Mary's church - VisualMystery / Flickr

Church historians know that the Romans had used a wide range of building materials, which in theory could also have been used in construction during the Anglo-Saxon period.

Church receives £544,000 to restore medieval wallpaintings

chalgrove wall paintings - Photo by  Holly Hayes / Flickr

A set of medieval wallpaintings in St Mary’s Church in Chalgrove will be restored after England’s Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £544,000 to the project.

14th century English church awarded funds for conservation project

St Mary Cowbit - photo by Rodney Burton

St Mary’s Church in the English village of Cowbit has received £8,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a project to conserve and communicate the heritage of the 14th-century building and its clock.

How a 13th-century royal chapel influenced the history of France

La Crypte de la Sainte Chapelle - photo Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P./ Flickr

UCLA art historian Meredith Cohen and her fascination with the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris

Who lies in the mortuary chests at Winchester Cathedral?

Mortuary Chests in Lady Chapel - photo courtesy Winchester Cathedral

The remains of several kings of Anglo-Saxon and Norman England, including Edmund Ironside, Cnut and William II Rufus are believed to be in Winchester Cathedral. A new project hopes to uncover their remains after they were scattered about nearly 400 years ago.

Canterbury Cathedral by the Numbers

canterbury Cathedral

From 1 to 1,001,266, the story of the Canterbury Cathedral.

Gothic Wonder: New Book examines the spectacular buildings of Medieval England

Ely Cathedral - photo by Steve Cadman / Flickr

In his book, Gothic Wonder, Professor Paul Binski explores a period in which English art and architecture pushed the boundaries to produce some of Europe’s most spectacular buildings and illuminated manuscripts.

Repair? Restore? Re-Design?: The North Porch of Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral

The North Porch of Durham Cathedral was conceived as part of the great Norman building campaign of Durham Cathedral, complete by 1133.

The Lost Shoe: A Symbol in Medieval Scandinavian Ballads and Church Paintings

The Clog Man Photo: Tommy Olofsson

Tommy Olofsson examines the Clog Man, a medieval wall painting in a Swedish church – what was it really about?

Medieval Gothic Cathedrals were built from iron and stone, researchers find


Using radiocarbon dating on metal found in Gothic cathedrals, an interdisciplinary team has shown, for the first time through absolute dating, that iron was used to reinforce stone from the construction phase.

Which Medieval English Cathedral are you?

Which english cathedral is this

Everyone loves visiting England’s wonderful medieval cathedrals. However, it’s not quite as easy as taking a multiple-choice internet quiz! At last, now you can find out which one of the diocesan mother churches of the Middle Ages can be assigned to your exact personality type!

Latin Grammar in the Cathedral School: Fulbert of Chartres, Bonipert of Pécs, and the Way of a Lost Priscian Manuscript

Priscian, or the Grammar, relief from the bell tower of Florence by Luca della Robbia

The starting point of the classical tradition in medieval Hungary is marked by a letter written by Bishop Fulbert of Chartres in Northern France to Bishop Bonipert of Pécs in Southern Hungary.

‘Hag of the Castle:’ Women, Family, and Community in Later Medieval Ireland

Sheela-na-gig from the Fethard wall in Fethard, Co. Tipperary, Ireland, detail, 12th c.

In a letter written as part of his work for the Irish Department of the Ordnance Survey in 1840, Thomas O’Conor recorded his reaction to a “Sheela- na-gig” sculpture—the image of a naked woman shown exposing her genitalia (fig. 1)—that he saw on the old church at Kiltinane, Co. Tipperary.

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