On the track of the construction of medieval masterpieces: ROOTS PhD candidate spent the summer in English cathedral archives

2022_09_27_Marie Jäcker

Marie Jäcker capturing the cathedral of Ely, Cambridgeshire. Copyright: Jelte Ullrich. 

In June and early July this summer, Marie Jäcker, PhD candidate of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS (subcluster ‘Knowledge ROOTS’) at Kiel University’s Department of History, visited several archives of English cathedrals for her PhD project. Here she reports on her archive trip:

In my research, I focus on ‘Knowledge in Financing and Building Cathedrals in the Late Middle Ages’ and I am especially interested in cathedrals in southern England and northern France. This summer, my research took me to numerous English cathedral cities: from Cambridge, to Ely, Norwich, York, Winchester, and Salisbury, and then up to Exeter and Hereford. The aim of the trip was to gather and work with information from original sources connected to the construction of these cathedrals. The possibility to do so proved to be insightful and led to many fascinating discoveries. I encountered sources in formats I did not expect, for example, richly-illuminated manuscripts and medieval watermarks. 

My work consisted mainly of viewing the original building accounts about the medieval construction projects. Very often, these accounts are older than 600 years. They were kept in the form of parchment scrolls, some of which are longer than 3 m. They are sometimes challenging to work with, especially because they are written in abbreviated Latin. In addition, I was able to gather an impression of the cathedrals in order to match the written material with a personal view and to see how much has been altered since the Middle Ages. 

One of the highlights of my journey was the visit to Exeter Cathedral about which I had conducted research for my Master Thesis and where I could work in the archive situated in the medieval bishop’s palace.

In general, cathedral archives are often located directly next to the cathedrals in magnificent historic buildings. During the trip, this was one of the key elements of my PhD project and I could gather a lot of material which will form the basis of my future research. Above all, the direct experience of examining the original documents on site, the direct view of the corresponding cathedrals, and collaboration with the people working in the archives provided me with new perspectives on my subject.

Marie Jäcker


2022_09_27 Marie Jäcker

Parchment scroll with an account written by the Sacrist of Ely who was the administrator of the building process. Copyright: Marie Jäcker. 



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