Research implementation

Whereas the preceding section set out the research contexts, this section deals with the practical implementation of the project. There are five sections:

Stages and schedule
Responses and reflection
Outcomes and outputs

Stages and schedule

At the outset the stages of the project seemed absolutely clear:

• investigation,
• realisation,
• interpretation and analysis;

broadly, one stage in each year of a three-year project.

That sequence was followed, but different elements and stages of the project did not coincide neatly. Sometimes an investigation of a new element raised further questions about another element whose investigation was either further on or regarded as complete. The same was true of realisation; indeed, the process of realisation inevitably raised new research questions or possibilities to be investigated. Interpretation and analysis were also ongoing.

If the staging proved to be overlapping and complex, the practical schedule proved to be more successive and simpler – broadly as follows:

December 2009 to June 2011: Preparation for the enactments

• research, commissioning, designing and making of artefacts, vestments and other practical requirements;
• research and preparation of texts;
• negotiation and planning with partner organisations, and booking of personnel.

May to October 2011: The principal enactments

• May: Salisbury Cathedral Lady Mass
• June: St Teilo’s Church Lady Mass Vespers and Antiphon of the Blessed Virgin Mary
• September: St Teilo’s Church Procession of the Holy Name Jesus Mass Compline with Antiphons (two forms)
• October: Salisbury Cathedral Jesus Mass Procession of the Holy Name

In practice this schedule was extended early on by two preliminary enactments: Reconciliation of Penitents at St Teilo’s Church (June 2010), and Lady Mass at Christ Church, Bronxville, New York (January 2011). Both were invaluable for what we learnt from them and applied to the main body of enactments, but they had an impact on the workload and main project schedule. We also delivered an additional two-day launch event for the medieval organ (St Teilo’s Church, April 2011).

November 2011 to November 2012: Reflection, follow-up, editing and dissemination

Three factors have had a bearing on this part of the project: the large number of lines of research we had opened up; how much material we had accumulated; and just how long it takes to edit live video recordings made with seven cameras running in order to make a coherent narrative.

Nevertheless, between us we planned and set in motion a collaborative book and a critical liturgical edition, transcribed and analysed the enactment diaries and other feedback material, progressed the related Sarum Customary Online project (which amounts to around 320,000 words of Latin text, English translation, and web introduction and commentary), and delivered 28 lectures, papers, presentations and workshops in nine different locations.

Two research strands were also taken further in workshops and liturgies in Bangor Cathedral (February 2012): pre- and post-Reformation use of the organ in Britain, and improvised polyphony.

December 2012 to December 2013: Writing-up and continuation of project

At the time of writing-up the project for the website in early December 2013 (later than we expected – but see above), we are getting closer to sending two volumes to the press, and finalising the extensive texts of Sarum Customary Online. Another book (on Salisbury Cathedral and medieval ritual practice) is in progress.

A second initiative in the USA has extended the range of enactments into the post-Reformation period (Washington, CT, October 2013), raising important questions about continuity, change, and adaptation in the enactment of liturgies from the early versions of the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer. And two of the medieval liturgies have been explored in a new setting: St Davids Cathedral, during the Cathedral Music Festival (May 2013).


This research project has been nurtured and delivered within the wider AHRC-ESRC funded Religion and Society research programme, a programme dominated by projects in the social sciences, not least sociology and social geography of religion. This project has been unusual in being historical in the research focus, and yet applied, creative and practice-led in the research process.

We were aware that we were pursuing an innovative line of arts and humanities research in a programme dominated by social sciences, some of whose methods might have appeared applicable to the project. We were also aware that our pattern of research could be viewed with scepticism by those using traditional historical research methods. How can one investigate any past experience (let alone a late medieval one) in the present? Is any such investigation irretrievably flawed from the outset?

There is a series of responses to such central questions, and they need to be delineated.

Traditional research

In preparing the texts, understanding the buildings, and briefing makers about artefacts and vestments, it was both good practice and only natural to employ traditional methods of musicological, liturgical, architectural, archaeological and historical research. Texts, built spaces and objects were the physical resources that underpinned the enactments. The fourth crucial element of the enactments has been human; and traditional research methods of the kind applied to the physical elements of the project are not of themselves adequate to investigate human experience, let alone human experience of the past.

Imagination and creativity

Imagination is central to any historical research: the researcher engages with the available evidence and constructs a narrative based on that evidence, which is a process requiring imagination. Organologists and archaeologists have taken that imaginative process one stage further in creating instruments and artefacts (even buildings) based on the available evidence, a process in which the new object is integral to the narrative of the historical and archaeological evidence. Use of the object extends that narrative further, having striking impact on understanding, practice and experience – witness the Early Music movement in the second half of the twentieth century.

In the processes of making artefacts and vestments, and in undertaking the liturgical enactments in this project, imagination and creativity have both been significant.

Enactment and re-enactment

The philosopher R. G. Collingwood argued that in using imagination in historical study, the historian should engage in a process of re-enactment in seeking to understand how an individual might have thought, decided and acted in a particular event or situation (Collingwood, The idea of history, 1946). For Collingwood, that was an intellectual process. In the Experience of Worship project, the intellectual extended to the physical.

In the liturgies, re-enactment in Collingwood’s sense could only be individual, even if the context was a shared experience with others. One particular case stands out. Dr Stefan Scot, who has researched the liturgy and music of the early Reformation in England, asked the question: how would someone influenced by the new Reformation theology approach worship within a traditionally minded community? Having adopted such a stance as a participant in the Jesus Mass, he narrates this experience vividly in the video recording entitled Responding: Participants and Researchers .

Those who act out specific historical events, such as the Battle of Hastings, may engage not only in generating a spectacle for a watching public but in a series of carefully researched representations of past actions, referred to as re-enactment. In the project we distinguished the collective act of engaging in medieval liturgies as ‘enactment’ rather than ‘re-enactment’. First, what we did was typological rather than specific; second, we were clear that performance of liturgy, like performance of music, drama or dance, can only be manifest in the present. It was not a re-enactment of a specific past event, but rather an enactment of historical form of ritual in the present.

Liturgy and history

As with any performance of a pre-existing text or score, the confluence of the past and present is complex in a ritual enactment and unique to each performance and to every individual present at it. This is particularly true of Christian liturgy where the Scriptural texts are drawn from texts written c. 1000 BCE to c. 150 CE, the chants were mostly codified by c. 700 CE, the liturgical forms by c. 900 CE, and yet all have been subject to cultural transmission in both time and place, and the ritual adapted to regional practice and subject to local resource and custom. Even liturgies reformed and revised in the twentieth-century Liturgical Movement embody these layers of historical sources and cultural resonances.

Acting and enacting

The participants in the liturgies at both Salisbury Cathedral and St Teilo’s Church approached the enactments as valid Christian worship (and as it happened almost all were practising Christians). It was John Keble who first applied ‘enacting’ to religious ritual, setting it apart from ‘acting’ as in play or drama (Keble, Lyra Innocentium, 1846, the poem ‘Enacting holy rites’).

In the interpretative stages of the project the concept of ‘enactment’ has been further extended. It is possible to become deliberately aware of your own behaviour and actions, or to observe the behaviour and actions of others (or indeed of self and others in combination) as a process of enactment – even when that behaviour or action is spontaneous and/or normative. It is a means of moderating between the subjective and objective. The heightened awareness of those participating in the medieval liturgies enabled them better to articulate that experience and process of enactment; and those who observed the enactments became participants through observing, creating another dimension of enactment which they in turn could recognise and articulate.

That other methods might be applied and other terminologies employed by those working in other disciplines (in arts, humanities and social sciences) is not only recognised but welcomed; but enactment has proved helpful to us in the contexts of liturgical and musical practice, and the primary disciplines of the core research team.

Historical investigation and discovery through making and doing

In studies of sacred buildings and artworks, ritual artefacts and liturgical texts (including music), the researcher is generally external and passive, however responsive and engaged with their subject. Notwithstanding recent studies employing performativity, especially in the study of artworks, there is a marked contrast with the active engagement of researchers in this project in using the subject materials, and in the integrated study of the relationship between the materials in the animated milieu of liturgical enactment.

The process of researching, commissioning, manufacturing, decorating and then using the Pax-board, is indicative. Three people investigated, five made, and over 100 have so far used the Pax-board within the enactments. Each stage has revealed aspects of the Pax-board as a historical object (the original dates from around 1500 and is kept in St Andrew’s Church, Sandon, Essex), and added to the understanding of its historical significance. But its ritual and social significance (for the kissing of the Pax-board was hierarchical) only became apparent in its use – qualities made evident by the actual experience of the researcher as participant and the participant as researcher.

Experience past and present

The ritual of kissing the Pax-board undertaken in the enactments involved each participant in an experience that was physical, sensory, cognitive and emotional. For some it was also spiritual and even sacramental. The priest kissed the rim of the chalice before kissing the Pax-board. Kissing the Pax-board was therefore the closest that anyone other than the priest got to direct encounter with the blood of Jesus Christ, the wine consecrated by the priest at the altar. The ritual had added impact in the Lady Mass at St Teilo’s Church: when the parish clerk (as acolyte) brought the Pax-board to the people this was the only time in the Mass that anyone from the chancel came into the nave, penetrating the physical barrier of the substantial rood screen.

As with many other experiences within the enactments, this recalled past practice. However, there was no way in which this experience was definitively historical. Even as an experience in the present it was particular to each individual. Nevertheless, while it was impossible to elucidate the nature of the experience for a late medieval worshipper, it offered an actual experience of a medieval ritual, and in so doing raised important historical questions through engagement with enactment. The recorded interviews and extracts from group discussions , and the transcripts of diaries, offer first-hand evidence of a range of experiences within the enactments for further exploration.


In this practice-led historical investigation, imagination and creativity have played an important part in the processes of both ‘making’ and ‘doing’ the enactments. In neither process was there a goal of exact replication or total authenticity. There was also a measure of pragmatism. From the outset we did not expect fabrics to be woven on a hand- or foot-powered loom, or wood to be worked by hand rather than with power tools. Good-quality modern linen, proper weights and designs of richer fabrics, and well-seasoned wood served the purpose. In some cases a fittingly designed and made modern object proved adequate, as with the spiked portable candlesticks. Cassocks, surplices and albs were either those belonging to participants or borrowed from Salisbury Cathedral.

In terms of personnel, while it was accurate for boys to take on the role of servers both at Salisbury and St Teilo’s in May and June, their timetable was more constrained in the Autumn Term, and only one was available to assist with the Procession at St Teilo’s. There would have been no possibility of a group of boys being available to rehearse the chant and also spend three days singing for the Jesus Mass at St Teilo’s: using women to fulfil this role was more than just a realistic compromise, it allowed them to experience first-hand the musical and ritual demands placed on boys in late medieval liturgy.

There were also compromises over the sensory experience. At St Teilo’s, we did not strew the church floor with straw, let alone put watch-dogs in the building overnight to foul it; nor did we burn tallow candles or change our bathing habits to generate medieval body odours. On the other hand, it was important to be aware of the encumbrances of wearing clothing of broadly early sixteenth-century design, especially when changing posture. The over-riding research priorities, already covering such a wide range of lines of investigation both independently and collectively, prevailed. Replicating medieval odours, which were normative to the people in their own time, seemed less important in this context. Here, as elsewhere in the project, being aware of what was indicated by evidence – whether followed through in practice or not – informed the interpretation of the experience.


The three enactments at Salisbury Cathedral took place at the time of normal cathedral services. Lady Mass in early May and Jesus Mass in early October each took place at the time of the usual Thursday choral service at 17.30, and the Procession of the Holy Name took the place of Sunday Mattins at 9.30. There was one full rehearsal for Lady Mass on the preceding Tuesday evening, and another for Jesus Mass and Procession, again on Tuesday evening. There were additional informal rehearsals for clergy and servers as necessary, not least because not everyone was available for the full rehearsal.

In both late June and mid-September 2011 at St Teilo’s, everyone arrived on Monday after lunch and departed on Friday after lunch. Monday afternoon was a time of preparation and rehearsal (including a ritual of Blessing of Artefacts and Vestments), Friday morning was a time for gathered responses and discussion. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday followed the same broad pattern:

Lauds (said)
Coffee break
Mass (in September, Procession and Mass)
Lunch break
Tea break
Vespers and Antiphon (June), Compline with Antiphon (September)
Small group discussions at hotel (after the museum had closed)

The enactments were tentative on Tuesday, filmed on Wednesday, and more assured on Thursday. Detailed timetables can be examined for both June and September.


At both Salisbury Cathedral and St Teilo’s Church, the four periods of enactment between May and October 2011 were intense and concentrated. They represented just the visible tip of the underlying research and preparation. They also demonstrate that separate strands of investigation coalesced within each of the enactments, and between them.

At Salisbury, where it was possible to use the cathedral’s vestments and ritual artefacts as necessary, the emphasis was on negotiating with the relevant clergy, musicians and supporting staff and the preparation of texts for the enactments. Although the ritual directions for these liturgies originally emanated from Salisbury, the building has to an extent been reconfigured, and allowance had to be made for the present configuration and for the limited time for rehearsal. The impact of these factors on the texts we prepared are discussed on the Working texts page.

At St Teilo’s Church, there was the challenge of supplementing the museum’s reconstructed artefacts with additional artefacts necessary for the Mass, and all the vestments. These issues are discussed in Clothing the space on the previous page. There was also a wide range of texts to prepare for the enactments, for background inculturation of the participants, and for members of the public; these are also discussed on the Working texts page.

The narrative of the Pax-board above gives one account of an artefact. The incense boat offers a different perspective. To burn incense in the medieval rituals, a thurible (censer) is required, in which grains of incense are sprinkled over burning charcoal. While the charcoal can be prepared outside in the vestry or sacristy, the incense has to be brought to the priest who spoons it onto the charcoal, and blesses it. A portable container for incense with spoon is required: an incense boat. Surviving medieval incense boats are generally of precious metal and shaped like a narrow hull with prows at each end.

Two potential makers submitted prices for bronze boats (to match the thurible at St Teilo’s) which far exceeded our budget. Faced with this reality, one of the makers – Phil Neal – proposed an alternative solution: a wooden boat painted to appear to be made of precious metal. This addressed the financial problem, but it also new contextual questions. Historically, how did medieval churches with limited resources solve such a problem: might a wooden alternative be plausible? Practically, working in wood, what shape might the boat take: a circular form could be more readily turned on a lathe. A poor church located in Wales described St Teilo’s Church in the Middle Ages. So, not only did a wooden incense boat seem appropriate, but a round shape would be a reminder of the coracle which was in common use on Welsh rivers.

Phil Neal then set out on his own creative journey, balancing our practical requirements with his own exploration of the materials, using different native woods for specific parts of the incense boat and spoon to best suit their shape and function. Even the hinge of the lid was made of wood. While his lathe may have been powered, the processes and materials were all compatible with the late Middle Ages. Here, as with other makers, there was a balance of historical investigation, historical imagination, and creativity. More can be discovered about the incense boat in the Artefacts section of the website, in the video, the pdf file and the gallery of images.


It may seem foolhardy to attempt such a complex and extensive range of enactments within comparatively limited periods, pursuing so many lines of enquiry, both in the preparation of necessary materials for the enactments and in their rehearsal and performance. The very unfamiliarity and freshness of the enactments ensured that every participant was alert to the experiences and their responses.

At Salisbury Cathedral, where there was a single iteration of each liturgy, the process had to remain exploratory. With minimum rehearsal, and a densely-packed schedule, there could be no expectation of immersion in the medieval, or developed responses to the experience. Nevertheless, there were important findings:

• the overlaying of chants, texts and actions;
• the periods of stillness, when the priest alone recited texts privately;
• the implications of the scale of the building for pace and movement;
• the sparseness of the presbytery area, where for the most part only three or four occupied a substantial space;
• the impact of alterations in the configuration of the building, including the removal of the pulpitum and the addition of post-medieval seating, desks and rails;
• the physicality of the liturgy, including turning eastwards for significant elements of the service;
• the contrast between the fixed benches and stalls of the choir for Lady Mass, and the spatial freedom in the Trinity Chapel for the Jesus Mass.

At St Teilo’s Church, we had the benefit of repeating three iterations of the liturgies (although Compline took two forms in September). Furthermore, since about two-thirds of the participants in June returned in September, they were not only familiar with one another, but also took forward issues in September that had arisen in June. The sense of common purpose and community in September was clearly articulated in individual reflection and group discussion at the end of the week.

With each successive iteration of the liturgies there was greater confidence gained from familiarity, but also an opportunity to explore different solutions and ask new questions. For instance, after the first iteration of both Lady Mass and Jesus Mass, there was a change in seating arrangements: in June at Lady Mass, nave benches used by the congregation on the first day were abandoned thereafter; in September at Jesus Mass, the singers used facing benches on the first day, but gathered round a lectern thereafter. The ‘performances’ of the lay congregation recorded in the videos of the Lady Mass, and of the singers in Jesus Mass, are therefore examples of exploratory research in progress. The same is true of the video recording of the Antiphon of the Holy Cross before Compline, sung in procession for the first time on that day. Was medieval polyphony sung in a moving procession? Apart from the exploration of this question by the singers, there was a notable visual and auditory experience for the congregation. The singers began singing in the chancel, not clearly visible, came through the rood screen and concluded the antiphon among the congregation in the nave: remote people and their music moved into close proximity.

At Lady Mass, the clergy, assisting servers and singers faced the challenge of undertaking a complex liturgy with significant action and movement in the confined space of the chancel at St Teilo’s. For the few who had also participated at Salisbury Cathedral (and especially Jeremy Davies as celebrant at all the enactments of Mass) the contrast was starkly obvious. For the congregation, there were different challenges. They had no text to follow, and no defined ‘script’ to prescribe their conduct. From medieval writings directed to the laity, we could deduce what was expected of them collectively by way of posture and gesture. We knew that there were conventions of gender separation and social ranking, factors made all the more apparent in those medieval churches which had acquired benches or pews. But in the absence of the restriction of fixed seating, each was free to pursue prayers and devotions as they wished, to move about the church, to engage with an image, wall painting or remembered short text, to go to the wall to rest, or to huddle up as close as was socially acceptable to see something of the action of the Mass beyond the rood screen.

The experience was in marked contrast to modern worship in the Western Church, though a number of people identified resonances with Orthodox worship. No less instructive was the experience of Jesus Mass in the south aisle. With just priest and clerk at the altar, there was less complex ritual or competition for limited space, particularly with the singers placed at the other end of the aisle beyond the organ. The people stood in the intervening space, close to the priest, well able to see the action of the Mass, and enveloped physically and sonically by priest, clerk, organist and singers.

The congregation was also gathered around the memorial brass of Sir Thomas ap Rhys, patron of the Jesus Mass and its musical provision, and buried immediately before the altar as was typical of the time. Sir Thomas ap Rhys was fictional, but the import was significant: the souls of the dead may have gone on to Purgatory but their bodies remain in the care of the parish. Attending the Mass were his putative widow, heir and steward; and Sir Thomas was named in the prayers for benefactors recited by the priest during the Mass. Stretching the participants’ imagination was testing: how can this enactment be valid if there is a commemoration of a non-existent person? In fact, Sir Thomas represented a type, and both the narrative about him and his brass provided a focus for reflection on medieval relations with the dead. Over the three days this became progressively meaningful for his ‘widow’, and more directly poignant for another participant who had recently lost a close relative.

These instances of making and doing illustrate some of the issues raised through the enactment of late medieval liturgy. They are explored at greater length in the collaboratively authored book based on the project, Late medieval liturgies enacted: the experience of worship in late medieval cathedral and parish church (Ashgate, 2016). Much that is discussed both here and in the book can be followed through in the video recordings and working texts available on this website.

Responses and reflection

We endeavoured, during intense and crowded periods dominated by enabling enactments to take place, to gather in as wide a range of responses as possible. At Salisbury time was especially limited. Immediately after both Thursday evening enactments groups made up of participants (clergy, servers, singers, organist, director of music) and members of the congregation assembled in Sarum College to reflect on the experience. The responses were noted down, and have been written up. All present were also invited to submit a written response, but there could be no pressure to do this. Nevertheless a useful, if not representative sample was received. After the Procession the cathedral timetable left no time to discuss the experience with the participants: the Sunday Eucharist followed on directly. There are, however, written responses. All these responses are available in pdf format in the Reports and responses section of the website.

During the two weeks of enactments at St Teilo’s Church, the process of discussing experience and gathering responses was more extensive. Throughout the week, each participant was asked to write a diary reflecting on the day, and particularly on the enactments. Each evening there was an opportunity before dinner for small groups to discuss the outcomes of the enactments. A number of participants also participated in filmed interviews. On the final morning there were summative discussions, followed by a plenary meeting to which all present contributed, and which was filmed. There was also filming of the process and progress of the whole week, when a camera and cameraman were available. Diaries and notes of the plenary sessions are again available on the Reports and responses, and extracts from the interviews and plenary sessions can be viewed in the video, Responding: Participants and Researchers .

The arrival of a small group of observers on Wednesday evening added a new dynamic to the week. They were parachuted into a group that had established itself and was clear of its purpose. They had the benefits and disadvantages of being outsiders. In June the observers included a group of senior scholars from ethnomusicology, ritual studies and sociology of religion, and also a musicologist with specialisms in church history. In September a liturgist with interests in sacred art and space observed at the beginning of the week, while at the end of the week there was an art historian, a late medieval historian (with special interest in popular devotion to Jesus), as well as the musicologist as in June. Each brought insights from their discipline to the project. No less significant in responding to the experience of the enactments, of each week as a whole, and to the process of the research, were the members of the core research team and of the interdisciplinary research group who had been participants in the enactments.

Outcomes and outputs

The assimilation of the elements of the whole project, of the enactments, and the responses to them, is an ongoing process. In a preliminary meeting of the research team and the interdisciplinary research group (September 2010), there had been a range of modes of research investigation proposed and explored, using the video recording of the Reconciliation of Penitents as a case study. The difficulties of reconciling past and present experience were clearly articulated. After reflecting on the outcomes of the meeting, the research team was reluctant to give priority to any single research method. It was important that investigation and realisation should proceed unrestricted by any single method of analysis or interrogation. Rather the research team drew on their own scholarly methods, rooted in historical, musicological and liturgical study and practice, and in particular on the inseparability of scholarship from practice, each informing the other. The value of enactment as a research process and method has emerged, itself emphasising the interconnections between experience encountered and observed, and above all between participation and research investigation.

The making and using of artefacts, the preparation and use of texts, and above all the animation of late medieval liturgies in late medieval buildings have revealed a series of new findings about them, their constituent elements, and their interrelationships. There are experiences that can be observed and measured, and are not self-evident until they are enacted, some spatial, some physical, and some sensory. The emotional, intellectual and spiritual dimensions of experience are far less susceptible to measurement, reliable analysis, or historical validation; but their significance has to be noted and indicators, however subjective, recorded.

One of the principal outcomes of the project is the large body of material included in this website, and on the sister website Sarum Customary Online. This material will, it is hoped, offer a quarry for both teaching and research for those working in the fields of liturgy, musicology, ritual studies and a range of religious studies; in late medieval art and architectural history; and in late medieval studies in general, and cultural and social history in particular. What we have done so far may provide a model for further investigation in other locations, periods and contexts of worship, or a stimulus for a different, even contrasting, approach.

For those working in the social sciences, and especially anthropology (including ethnomusicology), sociology (including sociology of religion), cultural studies and other cognate disciplines, we hope that this project may offer a subject to be interrogated and interpreted with different methodologies; and for our practice-led method of enactment to be considered and evaluated from other perspectives. There is, after all, much more video evidence than can be included in this website.

The materials on this website themselves represent a sizeable output. There are also printed resources associated with the project. These are listed in the About page under ‘The ongoing project’ and ‘Publications’.