A Phenomenological Study of the English Parish Church Porch, c.1200–1399

Helen Lunnon

Interior of the north porch, St. Mary, Boxford (Suffolk) i Fig. 5 Interior of the north porch, St. Mary, Boxford (Suffolk). Photo: Author

For a moment, engage with where you are: slow your thoughts and address your situation. Is the air cool, warm or hot, dry or moist, still or moving? Where is the light source? Is it natural or artificial, subtle or stark, static or varying, diffuse or directed? Is your seat soft or hard, does it respond when you move? If so, in what way? Can you see beyond your immediate surroundings; is there sound within your space or filtering in from elsewhere? What impact does such environmental detail have on you? In what way does it affect your mood, the extent to which you feel relaxed, anxious, excited or calm and, perhaps most importantly, how might the architecturally-constructed environment containing you affect your engagement with this paper?

This brief paper attempts to articulate the relationship between the form and lived experience of parish church porches built in England between c.1200 and c.1399, by adopting a method which brings together formalism and phenomenology. It is not necessary to provide a detailed critique or summary of the trajectory of philosophical phenomenology as expounded by theorists including Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Martin Heidegger.1 It is, however, worth setting out an appropriate conceptual framework. Human-inhabited built environments are defined by bodily experience; buildings exist, and exist in particular ways, wholly through human experience of them. According to Juhani Pallasmaa, ‘the defenders of the humanisation of architecture today are completely mistaken when they claim that buildings should be designed for the needs of real people. I would like them to name a single great building in the history of architecture that was not built for the idealised man’.2 Regardless of the concern given to ‘real people’ in the design process, the formal nature of all structures once built, including church porches, exist in the service of actual experience: how they are occupied or used and what effect form has on the people who use them. Through observation of church porch form it is possible to gain some insight into their purpose and importance. This paper is therefore offered as an alternative, perhaps a corrective, to architectural histories which give methodological primacy to semiotic readings of buildings and make claims to explain architectural meaning.

In this paper I seek to think around a building type by exploring variations and consistencies with the aim of understanding how lived experience can be affected by formal attributes. The result is the observation that from persistent architectural traits emerges the cultural significance of form and structure. The paper is built on a small corpus of English parish church porches built between c.1200 and c.1399, each selected as an early, confident exponent of specific architectural characteristics. As a specimen collection these porches permit two approaches to their study: typological incidence and diachronic development. Widespread proliferation of integrally-built parish church porches can be observed in England from the early-thirteenth century. Although church porches are rarely architecturally dramatic, their existence indicates the nature of how sacramental and liturgical acts happened at the parish church.

The provision of space within which a person can place themselves differentiates the church porch from elaborated doorframes, which act as heralds for the entrance. J. C. Wall divided porches into broadly chronological stylistic categories, including ‘Romanesque Porches’ and ‘Early Pointed Porches, Thirteenth Century’.3 In the latter section, Barnack in Cambridgeshire, built c.1200–10 (Fig. 1), and Skelton in Yorkshire, built c.1247 (Fig. 2), are two parochial examples mentioned. Wall’s text overlooks the fundamental experiential contrast between these two ‘porches’. Despite the shallow projecting walls and high gable of the deeply-recessed doorway, the experience of standing before the church door at Skelton is to remain outside, looking at but physically separated from the building. The stone arch of nine shafts frames and accentuates the timber church door and at the same time emphasises our exclusion from the building’s interior. By contrast, the porch at Barnack is a building within which a human can be. When standing before the church door, one is within—not beyond—the structure, although remaining separated from the principal building beyond. In England, during the first half of the thirteenth century, the form and experience of English parish church porches was explored and tested (as exemplified at Barnack and Skelton) until emerging as a distinct building type: a semi-interior space for people.

Exterior of the south porch, St. John the Baptist, Barnack (Cambridgeshire)
Fig. 1 Exterior of the south porch, St. John the Baptist, Barnack (Cambridgeshire). Photo: Author
Exterior of the church door, St. Giles, Skelton (North Riding, Yorkshire), from J.C Wall Porches and Fonts.
Fig. 2 Exterior of the church door, St. Giles, Skelton (North Riding, Yorkshire), from J.C Wall Porches and Fonts.

From around 1200, porches rapidly became an accepted new building type in England, recognised as one of the component spaces constituting a parish church. However, in the thirteenth century church porches were designed and understood as architectural preambles, not fully integrated into the rest of the building. Their status remained in flux and was not settled until around the turn of the fifteenth century. Through visual experience and bodily engagement, church porches introduce the house of God, they are architectural versions of introits, overtures, prologues; they shape our sense of what the church within is like, either through similarity or difference; they guide our thoughts and shape behaviour in preparation for entry. Their near ubiquity makes implicit that they became de rigueur; but to what effect? Attending to the historical circumstances of their inception is instructive.

Whilst this paper is not an attempt to explain their invention, a few words on the topic are expedient for subsequent discussion of their phenomenological effect. The development of porches from elaborate doorframes to semi-interior buildings was a significant shift in what appropriately comprised a well-provisioned parish church in England. Two coeval and influential religio-political events should be noted: the General Interdict imposed by Pope Innocent III on King John’s England in 1208, and the papal canons resulting from the council which Innocent III convoked in 1213 and gathered at Rome’s Lateran Palace in 1215. I do not wish to suggest that either event was the cause and porches the effect, but both necessitated a cultural shift in parishioners’ engagement with the interior of their church.

During the period of excommunication, access to the church was restricted and worshippers suffered enforced exclusion from liturgical performance. During this time, for the people of England the very terms of the parochial contract with the Roman Church were fractured, and events would have instilled a nervous fear of repetition in subsequent years.4 Confirmation seven years later of the central importance of the Seven Sacraments for orthodox piety further exacerbated the situation and it is perhaps to be expected that parishioners subsequently sought ways to sustain sacramental engagement during times of religious crisis. The implications of the Interdict presumably lived on in the collective memory of England’s parishes.5

These two internationally-significant events broadly coincide with the invention of the English parish church porch as a new building type. The combination of the General Interdict imposed on the country and the sacramental conviction of canon law following the Fourth Lateran Council apparently created a climate in which porches as semi-interior, conveniently-liminal spaces became relevant to people’s lived experience and therefore desirable. A closer look at the detail of international religio-political diktat helps make visible their impact on individual experience.

With the enhanced authority given to the Sacraments by Innocent’s council, excommunication was understood as a personal reality as much as creating a state of national crisis. Failure to make confession of sin annually to one’s parish priest risked individual excommunication, exclusion from the Mass and denial of Christian burial. As stated in Canon 21, ratified at the Fourth Lateran Council:

All the faithful of both sexes shall after they have reached the age of discretion faithfully confess all their sins at least once a year to their own [parish] priest and perform to the best of their ability the penance imposed, receiving reverently at least at Easter the sacrament of the Eucharist, unless perchance at the advice of their own priest they may for a good reason abstain for a time from its reception; otherwise they shall be cut off from the Church [excommunicated] during life and deprived of Christian burial in death. Wherefore, let this salutary decree be published frequently in the churches, that no one may find in the plea of ignorance a shadow of excuse. But if anyone for a good reason should wish to confess his sins to another priest, let him first seek and obtain permission from his own [parish] priest, since otherwise he [the other priest] cannot loose or bind him.6

Rather than instigating something radically new, Innocent’s council secured the terms of existing practice and tightened up performance. Evidence for this includes the varied treatment of sacramental performance in the circumstances of the 1208 Interdict: baptism and extreme unction were allowed; marriages might be celebrated at the church door; but no Masses were publicly said, and the ordinary course of the sacraments was intermitted; the dead were buried in consecrated ground, and the churches were closed except to those who wished to make offerings.7 As a response, Canon 58 from the Fourth Lateran Council stated:

The privilege that has been granted to some religious we concede also to bishops, that, when the entire territory is under Interdict, those excommunicated and interdicted being excluded, they may sometimes with the doors closed, in a low voice and without the ringing of bells, celebrate the divine offices, unless this is expressly covered by the interdict. But we grant this to those only who in no way shared in the cause of the interdict or injected treachery or fraud, drawing out such a brief period to iniquitous loss.8

Renewed emphasis on correct and regular adherence to sacramental performance and the very real risk of being denied participation in the Eucharist coincided with the advent of porches becoming constituents of the English medieval parish church.

It is also worth noting that, by the end of the thirteenth century, parishioners formally held responsibility for upkeep of the nave, essentially everything west of the chancel arch. Some responsibility for building and maintaining part of their parish church, overseen, organised, and exacted by the ‘guardians of the church’ (gardiani ecclesiae)—those who would later come to be termed churchwardens—was first clearly defined in canon law in the twelfth century. In England, it was stated unequivocally in the statutes for Winchester diocese in 1224, and synodal statutes of Exeter in 1287.9 Financial levies paid by individual parishioners were amalgamated and collectively underpinned corporate concerns with the form, decoration, and architectural appropriateness of the church fabric, working to enhance the building that was the earthly focus of a good Christian life. Enhanced lay engagement with the experience of going to church permeates the period with which this volume is concerned.10 It is more than coincidental that porches as a true building type start to proliferate in such circumstances.

So far, the ground covered in this paper has sought to offer a context in which to set the apparent burgeoning enthusiasm for church porches in English parishes in the first half of the thirteenth century. An ambition of this volume of essays is to generate discussion around and about the parish church as an object of art-historical study. The remainder of the paper will therefore map out how church porches functioned in England c.1200–1399, rather than state what they were used for.11 In doing so it will exemplify the issues at hand and demonstrate something of what can be gained from the direct study of buildings through a lens of human bodily experience.

The south porch at Barnack, designed and constructed in the opening years of the thirteenth century, comprises the four key formal components of this building type as it manifested in England during that century (Fig. 1). The primary formal attributes of Barnack’s porch are (1) a large, open entrance arch; (2) an absence of exterior decoration or any provision for sculptural imagery; (3) solid side walls without apertures; and (4) internal benches. This porch, and others like it, exist beyond the church door and thus beyond the bounds of the sacred envelope of the church. There is nothing in their architectural iconography to suggest they protect or are part of the main vessel. The stonework is essentially undecorated, unlike either Romanesque portals or late-medieval church porches. In the thirteenth century, the device guarding the parochial interior was still the solid church door, a surface which for centuries had held images or symbols of divine protection.12 ‘By the thirteenth century, the concept of an iron picture door in England had nearly run its course’.13 Ironwork continued to enhance the conceptual as well as the physical strength of the church door and to protect the threshold. Through a process of abstraction, representational imagery was converted into stylised foliate designs arranged geometrically. However, the ongoing apotropaic significance of these ferrous designs is suggested by the presence of a cross motif. Thirteenth-century examples include Great Paxton (Cambridgeshire), and Eaton Bray (Bedfordshire).

Being built to surround and enclose a doorway, whether iconographically decorated or not, emphasises the exterior placement of church porches. Whilst their architectural form (essentially two flanking side walls supporting a roof) constructs them as inhabited spaces, the unguarded open entrance of all porches increases the perception of segregation and thus liminality. In the thirteenth century, porch interiors were places of exclusion and were at risk from malign forces. This is well demonstrated by the two-storey porch at Uffington (Oxfordshire), built c.1220–50. The church retains eleven of its original twelve exterior consecration crosses, projecting stone roundels stationed around the building. Importantly, a consecration cross was not situated on the porch. By implication, this building projected from the defended, sanctified church. If the proposal that parochial experiences of the General Interdict encouraged more porches to be built in England after 1208 than had been before, their definition as externalised spaces would have been crucial to ensure that access to porch space would not be denied should excommunication recur.

The distinction between porch and church was confirmed through witnessing the performance of consecration. According to both William Durandus and Jacobus de Voragine, the ceremony of consecration dramatises the sense of exteriority and the importance of access to the church interior:

Having seen how the altar is consecrated, we must now treat of the manner of consecrating the church building; and in this too, several actions are included. The bishop first goes round the church three times, and each time, when he comes to the door, he strikes it with his crosier and says: “Attollite portas principes vestras …” (Lift up your gates, O princes, and be lifted up, O eternal gates; and the king of glory shall enter in!).14

The church is sprinkled inside and out with blessed water, which comprises water, wine, salt and ash. Subsequently, these ingredients and their significance would be mnemonically recalled during the preparation of catechumens for baptism, every Christian infant’s initiation rite enacted in the church porch.

An architectural component that defines the English parish church porch from its inception through to the Reformation is an open entrance arch set centrally in the facade. Medieval church porches were not fitted with external doors; they never became fully internalised. The open entrance is the defining formal characteristic of English medieval parish church porches, and the point is made more emphatically before c.1400 than afterwards. By design, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, stress is placed on the openness of the facade and its facilitation of entry. The walling that surrounds the negative space is often minimised, as seen at Great Massingham (Norfolk), where open-arcaded side elevations generate a rhythmic progression from exterior to church door (Fig. 3). An alternative way of maintaining emphasis on the church door is seen at Chacombe (Northamptonshire), where the large open entrance acutely contrasts with the solidity of the side elevations (Fig. 4). The open front and enclosed flanks work in partnership to create a chiaroscuro effect, which maximises the brightness of daylight falling upon the church door in an otherwise unilluminated interior. Great Massingham and Chacombe show two approaches taken to ensuring that porches framed and enhanced the church door, rather than dominating it. Almost ubiquitously throughout the medieval period, the entrance aperture of a church porch is greater in height and width than the church door within. The effect is a sense of enhanced perspectival depth as well as layering; by architectural and visual manipulation one is drawn towards the main event. The effective play with perspective and light heightens the sense of preparation, contemplation, and anticipation involved in entering the church. When considered as phenomenological experience, the act of entry is enriched by the presence of a porch.


Exterior of the south porch, St. Mary, Great Massingham (Norfolk)
Fig. 3 Exterior of the south porch, St. Mary, Great Massingham (Norfolk). Photo: Author
Fig. 4 Exterior of the south porch, St. Peter and St. Paul, Chacombe (Northamptonshire), from J.C Wall Porches and Fonts.

As places where liminal states were experienced—including the opening stages of the sacraments of baptism and marriage—as well as architectural overtures to the main church building, extending the length of time spent in a porch from a few seconds to perhaps many hours draws attention to interior elements and their phenomenological effect. As exteriorised places, porch architecture confuses the senses and phenomenologically problematises where one is: protected but still able to sense the natural elements, sheltered but excluded. They thus dilute the binary distinctions of being outside and inside, and compromise the boundary between two existences. Many church porches built in England have vaulted ceilings, including the earliest parochial examples. The idiosyncratic vault that serves as a canopy over the interior of Barnack’s porch might be described as exceeding the engineering abilities of its masons, but their achievement is nonetheless profound. The sense of sanctuary implicitly proffered by the vault acts as compensation for expulsion and exclusion, an architectural version of God’s salvific promise to all who repent.

The timber north porch at Boxford (Suffolk), displays a more immediately convincing achievement (Fig. 5). Boxford’s porch possesses every attribute of a fully-fledged Decorated stone porch, but has a remarkable sense of structural lightness owing to the manner of the timber frame. Two pairs of large florid apertures construct the side walls, and the entrance arch is framed by shallow niches and blind reticulated panelling above open-cusped lancets. Internally, a vault of moulded ribs appears as though a web cast effortlessly over the space. With more negative space than physical structure making up each elevation, the body’s sensory awareness of the exterior environment is retained. Covering the small interior space, the vault provides physical protection (as would any other form of ceiling), but its lightness encourages visual recession, further reduces the building’s physicality, and gives primacy to its sensory effect.

Interior of the north porch, St. Mary, Boxford (Suffolk)
Fig. 5 Interior of the north porch, St. Mary, Boxford (Suffolk). Photo: Author

Boxford’s timber porch is a remarkably accomplished architectural set-piece regardless of its material (Fig. 6). Widely appreciated as the highest quality timber porch in Suffolk, its exceptional qualities only really become apparent when compared with East Anglia’s stone porches of similar date. Unlike the flint and stone boxes built in Norfolk in the half-century before the Black Death, Suffolk’s fourteenth-century porches are timberwork enclosures within which the sensation and perception of the exterior environment are retained. Boxford porch offers a template for changes which would gradually be seen in lithic porches built from the mid-century, reaching maturity around 1400. Precedents for Boxford porch are difficult to find. Choir stalls with vaulted canopies share some formal similarities but lack the porch’s truly architectural attitude. It is tempting to think that the timber octagon at Ely, erected after the fall of the Romanesque tower in 1322, might have provided inspiration for the inventive approach taken at Boxford.

Exterior of the north porch, St. Mary, Boxford (Suffolk)
Fig. 6 Exterior of the north porch, St. Mary, Boxford (Suffolk). Photo: Author

Many English medieval parish church porches also have integral, low-level stone seating along the interior of each side wall. Although porch seats are constructed as continuous benches, some thirteenth- and early-fourteenth-century examples are accompanied by wall articulation which creates individualised compartments imitative of furniture. The inclusion of integral seating in church porches continued throughout the medieval period, eventually becoming a commonplace convenience rather than anything more powerfully mnemonic. However, early instances of porches with pierced rather than solid side walls display a specific relationship between the seating and the apertures. At Great Massingham, c.1280 (Fig. 7) and Hunstanton, c.1320 (Fig. 8), both in Norfolk, the configuration of these two attributes (benches and wall apertures) forms layers of enclosure and exposure. Seated on the bench with knees tucked within the perceived thickness of the wall (that is, within the return of the entrance arch), one can lean back against a solid wall. The paired openings in the east and west walls (through which sun, wind, and rain might come) have sills above head height. Sitting on these benches, one is enclosed and shielded; by design the buildings protect those within but do not exclude visual association with the churchyard.

Eastern elevation, south porch, St Mary, Great Massingham (Norfolk)
Fig. 7 Eastern elevation, south porch, St Mary, Great Massingham (Norfolk). Photo: Author
Interior of the south porch, St. Mary, Hunstanton, (‘Old St Mary’s’), Norfolk
Fig. 8 Interior of the south porch, St. Mary, Hunstanton, (‘Old St Mary’s’), Norfolk. Photo: Author

The composition of openings in the side walls and internal benches indicates that the provision of seating was directly stimulated by notions of humility and the performance of penitence. One is invited to sit, rest awhile, linger, wait. Porch benches are, however, very low, on average about forty-five centimetres above ground level, and their horizontal planes are never divided into singular seats. The effect is humbling, a feeling of being small (perhaps insignificant) within a cavernous space and before the ultimate judge: Christ the door (John 10:9). The penitential associations of time spent in a church porch are numerous, including penitential confinement and exclusion from the church following annual confession to one’s parish priest.15 Experiencing a sense of fear and awe at the church entrance derives from Genesis 28:17, ‘Quam terribilis est, inquit, locus iste! non est hic aliud nisi domus Dei, et porta caeli’ (‘And trembling he said: How terrible is this place! this is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven’).

Similarly, the experiences of women awaiting purification following childbirth associate penitence with porches as preparatory antechambers. Theologians writing across several centuries established the phenomenon. Pope Gregory the Great (540–604), while citing the Old Testament proscription that required women to wait thirty-three days after the birth of a son and sixty-six days after the birth of a daughter before entering the temple, argued that this was to be ‘understood as an allegory, for were a woman to enter church and return thanks in the very hours of her delivery, she would do nothing wrong’.16 The Penitential of Theodore of Tarsus (Archbishop of Canterbury 668–690) is more restrictive in its warning. Women who enter a church before purification after childbirth (a ritual done forty days after childbirth), shall do penance.17 Honorius Augustodunesis (1080–c.1154), citing Leviticus 15, also observes that after the birth of a child, women were not to enter the church because they were designated unclean and excluded from the heavenly temple. Because of this, Honorius explains, it was customary that women, joined by men, stand as penitents at the foris: a word which might be translated as porch area, atrium or door of the church.18 By implication, in the English parish context women awaiting purification did so in the porch.

Amongst the most celebrated early-fourteenth century parish churches is at Heckington (Lincolnshire) (Fig. 9).19 Despite Heckington’s fame, the south porch (built c.1320) has received little attention. It is the primary architectural focus of the church’s facade, confidently projecting further into the churchyard than the adjacent south transept. Despite its heavy restoration, sufficient fabric of medieval date survives to imply something of its iconographic and phenomenological import. At Heckington, the essential form of church porches as a distinct building type established in the early-thirteenth century is retained: the large open archway, low wall plate, no side windows, and low stone benches within. But important differences can be observed. The interior is not sheltered by a vault, shafts do not divide the walling into individualised seats, and the space is more easily relatable to human scale than earlier examples discussed.

Exterior of the south porch, St Andrew, Heckington (Lincolnshire)
Fig. 9 Exterior of the south porch, St Andrew, Heckington (Lincolnshire), from J.C Wall Porches and Fonts.

The most dramatic difference is the building’s exterior decoration: sinuous, tendril-like cusped scroll work, heraldic shields (the royal arms, plus those of St. Edmund, and Edward the Confessor) and high-relief figurative imagery (a pair of angels and plausibly genuflecting donor figures) set against foliate (almost seaweed-like) backgrounds. This porch exterior is inhabited, brought visually alive through sculpture, and marked as belonging to Christ (although at least the upper part of the figure of Christ blessing, which now occupies the gable image niche, is a modern replacement). One’s phenomenological experience of stepping into this porch is affected by this imagery and its location. Whilst structurally, the building conforms to the standard composition, the exterior treatment construes it to be a shelter beneath the walls of God’s kingdom on earth as opposed to beyond them.

Location actively formulates the nature of events. The significant events in individual and community life cycles which take place at the entrance to the church, in a practical sense, facilitate the presence of one’s earthly peers but also places the real-life drama symbolically before Christ the door. The nature and social value of these Christian sacraments can be equated with the notion of what anthropologist Arnold van Gennep terms ‘territorial passage’.20 He expounds this as fundamental to the construction of rites of passage and as experientially enforcing the societal significance of the event. Transition is both notional and actual, with actual transition (‘territorial passage’) being made apparent by means of differentiated places distinguished at a threshold. Although written nearly sixty years ago, van Gennep’s observation is pertinent to English parish church porches in that they located preparatory sections of Christian sacramental rites. Porches such as that at Heckington—and it is an important early example—imply that the significant limen of the church, the sacred threshold, was relocated from the church door to the porch entrance. In accordance with van Gennep’s model for marking points of transition, the sculptural treatment of porch facades implicitly confirms this shift.

The porch at Over (Cambridgeshire), also built c.1320, contrasts with Heckington in its formal attributes and phenomenological effect. Externally, a considerable area of blank walling surmounts the entrance arch and a crenellated parapet, shafted pinnacles, and sculpted ball-flower frieze inhabited by animals, including dogs, create an exterior emphatic in its lack of niches to house sacred imagery (Fig. 10). The porch at Over deviates from the previously regarded form in having a combination of a relatively diminutive entrance arch and open—or pierced—side walls. These window-like apertures, set low in the wall, were unglazed and there is no evidence for shutters. Light floods the lower part of the porch interior, specifically the space populated by parishioners participating in rites including baptism and marriage.21 Light directed through the entrance arch towards the church door, as at Barnack, or the global illumination of a porch such as Great Massingham contrast the way in which the architectural form at Over gives primacy to the sensory experience of being in the porch.

Exterior of the south porch, St Mary, Over (Cambridgeshire)
Fig. 10 Exterior of the south porch, St Mary, Over (Cambridgeshire). Photo: Author

The internal ground plan measures 3.7 metres square, the internal doorway measures 2.75 by 1.75 metres, the exterior arch 3.2 by 1.9 metres. Yet these restrained dimensions belie the cavernous interior space. The height from floor to ceiling is approximately 7.6 metres, far beyond human scale and twice as high as the building’s plan is wide or deep. Geometrically, therefore, the porch is a double cube stacked vertically. Part of the architectural reasoning for this height might have been exterior appearance and a desire for the porch to be scaled appropriately to the rest of the church. Whatever the reason for designing such a tall porch, the result is a building within which a human figure can only occupy approximately twenty to twenty-five per cent of the vertical space, and the void above one’s head is considerable (Fig. 11). The phenomenological effect of diminution resulting from the building’s disproportionate height compared with its plan is further intensified when seated on the low stone bench.

Interior of the south porch, St Mary, Over (Cambridgeshire)
Fig. 11 Interior of the south porch, St Mary, Over (Cambridgeshire). Photo: Author

During the period 1200–1399 the church porch flourished as a component of the English parish church. The very earliest examples established their essential form, but two significant developments occurred during this period: the introduction of exterior imagery to adorn the facade; and window-like apertures pierced through the flanking walls to illuminate human engagement in the space. In terms of their evidential function, porches were locations in which lived experience was largely defined as either preparatory or contemplative.

Much of this paper has been descriptive rather than analytical, and by way of conclusion I will very briefly summarise what I believe becomes knowable through the adoption of a phenomenological enquiry of architectural forms. Rarely can we medievalists hear the voices of those who inhabited the cultures we study expressing their worldly experience. Although not unproblematic, risking ahistoricism and anachronism at every turn, the phenomenological study of built environments can permit the historian a fractional and fragmentary glimpse of the medieval lived experience. Discovering rewarding ways to think through the circumstances and implications of parish churches—how they function in relation to bodily experience—requires a methodology that enables buildings not simply to become better known but to be better understood. In return, this knowledge will shape how historical relationships between people and things are considered and recognised


[1] See Julian Thomas, ‘Phenomenology and Material Culture’, in Chris Tilley, Webb Keane, Susanne Kuechler, Mike Rowlands, and Patricia Spyer (eds.), Handbook of Material Culture (Sage Publications, 2006), pp. 43–59.
[2] Juhani Pallasmaa, ‘The Geometry of Feeling: A Look at the Phenomenology of Architecture’, in Kate Nesbitt (ed.), Theorizing A New Agenda for Architecture: An Anthology of Architectural Theory 1965–1995 (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996), p. 452.
[3] J. C. Wall, Porches and Fonts (London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1912).
[4] For discussion of the contemporary confusion and hurried attempts to establish protocol see Stephen D. Church, ‘King John’s Books and the Interdict in England and Wales’, in Laura Cleaver and Andrea Worm (eds.), Writing History in the Anglo-Norman World (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2018), pp. 149–65.
[5] Helen Lunnon, East Anglian Church Porches and their Medieval Context (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2020), pp. 98–9.
[6] Twelfth Ecumenical Council: Lateran IV 1215. Medieval Sourcebook (Fordham University), accessed 1 June 2021, https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/lateran4.asp
[7] T. M. Parker, ‘The Terms of the Interdict of Innocent III’, Speculum 11:2 (1936): pp. 258–60.
[8] Lateran IV. https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/lateran4.asp
[9] Carol Davidson Cragoe, ‘The Custom of the English Church: Parish Church Maintenance in England Before 1300’, Journal of Medieval History 36:1 (2010): p. 20; Norman J. G. Pounds, A History of the English Parish: The Culture of Religion from Augustine to Victoria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 38.
[10] Catherine Rider, ‘Lay Religion and Pastoral Care in Thirteenth Century England: The Evidence of a Group of Short Confession Manuals’, Journal of Medieval History 36:4 (2010): pp. 327–9.
[11] For further discussion of porch functions see Lunnon, Church Porches, pp. 55–100.
[12] Jane Geddes, Medieval Decorative Ironwork in England. (London: Society of Antiquaries of London, 1999), pp. 37–48.
[13] Geddes, Decorative Ironwork, p. 41.
[14] Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints, Volume II, (trans.) William Granger Ryan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 390.
[15] For more detailed discussion see Lunnon, Church Porches.
[16] Pope Gregory’s reply to the eighth question posed by St. Augustine, Archbishop of Canterbury, in a letter written to the Pope in 597 AD, and as recorded in Bede, A History of the English Church and People, book 1, chapter 27. Medieval Sourcebook (Fordham University), accessed 1 June 2021, https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/bede-book1.asp.
[17] Penitential of Theodore of Tarsus, no. 17, as cited in Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg, Forgetful of Their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society, Ca. 500–1100 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), p. 479, note 15.
[18] Honorius of Autun, Gemma Animae, PL 172, bk 1, cap 146, p. 589. See also Burchard of Worms Decretorum Libri XX, PL 140, lib.19 cap 141, p. 1010, as cited in Schulenburg, Forgetful, p. 479 note 15.
[19] For detailed and enlightening discussion of the sculptural programmes at Heckington see Veronica Sekules, ‘Beauty and the Beast: Ridicule and Orthodoxy in Architectural Marginalia in Early-Fourteenth Century Lincolnshire’, Art History 18:1 (1998): pp. 37–62.
[20] Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage, (trans.) Monika Vizedom and Gabrielle L. Caffee (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), pp. 15–25.
[21] Lunnon, Church Porches, pp. 65–8, 74–7.