As the glow of success was dimming on the Roman Empire decisions were made that would transcend Rome and form the basis of the Medieval Age that was to follow. Inevitably, a study of the Middle Ages must begin with an examination of actions taken in Rome during its waning days. Confronted with both external (barbarians) and internal (city entitlements) crises, Rome's response was to lead to a fragmentation of the government and progressive reliance on a real economy of barter as opposed to one of currency. With the ingredients in place, a feudal society was born on the ashes of a once glorious Pax Romana.
As the orders were to become the icon of recognition for a classical age, so would the cathedral become the most identifiable image of the Medieval Age. With their magnificent vaulting of imposing stone, the Medieval cathedral attempted to transcend this world of grief and torment. If life was to most a living hell, then the cathedral was to be heaven on earth. A survey will reveal a stylistic transformation from the opening days of the Early Christian Era, through the Romanesque, to a stylistic apex in the Gothic Era.
Like the Medieval equivalent of a cruise ship, the pilgrimage was a popular retreat bringing together a kaleidoscope of people from across the social spectrum. This alone provided Chaucer the opportunity to explore a cross-section of his time. Read in two groups - first the religious characters, followed by the secular - we discover the variety in Medieval society ranging from the virtuous to society's bottom-feeding scoundrels. Courtly love, chivalry, church corruption, and the irony of a ranting wife are but a few of the themes to be explored.
The cathedral was the stage. And, like any stage where a drama would regularly be played out, it required props and a libretto. Altarpieces and frescos formed the appropriate backdrop for the singing of the Mass creating a mystical environment of transportation. Again, study will reveal a development of styles from the earliest Christian Era, through the Romanesque, into the later Gothic stage. In an age where book making was a painstakingly consuming process, illuminating manuscripts became a not to be overlooked art form in itself.
A parallel lecture to the one on religious arts, this one takes us into the world of the nobility complete with castles, tapestry, and secular illuminations. Like the monastery's fortification against the sin of the world, the castle will show the nobility's most obvious concern with a war-making feudal society. Life inside those walls become our concern as we attempt to recreate aristocratic lifestyles complete with the unbridled music provided for such occasions.