England’s Cathedrals, Abbeys, and Medieval Painted Churches
Tour England: See cathedrals, abbeys, and churches in tiny villages that harbor exquisite medieval paintings from Durham to Ely to Oxford to Wells to Bath to Salisbury and Canterbury.
with Professor William R. Cook
July 20 – August 3, 2024
Why Take This Tour ?
- Led by William R. Cook, medieval history specialist and lecturer for the Great Courses
- Experience Evensong at Oxford’s Christchurch
- Observe one of only four remaining Magna Cartas
- Four UNESCO World Heritage Sites: The Cathedrals of Durham & Canterbury, the city of Bath and Fountains Abbey
- See rarely visited medieval frescoes in remote parish churches
- Optional Pre-trip Extension to Vindolanda Roman Army Fort and Museum
- Limited to 14 participants
(click to enlarge)
Day 1: Depart the USA.
Day 2: Arrive into Newcastle. Durham Cathedral. Overnight in Durham.
Day 3: Rievaulx Abbey. York Minster. Overnight York.
Day 4: Whitby Abbey, Pickering and Barton-le-Street churches.
Day 5: Fountains Abbey, Studley Royal Park.
Day 6: Lincoln Cathedral, Brant Broughton and Corby Glen Churches. Overnight in Peterborough.
Day 7: Peterborough Cathedral, Longthorpe Tower, St. Kyneburgha’s Church.
Day 8: Ely Cathedral, Beckley Church. Overnight in Oxford.
Day 9: Oxford, St. James the Great Church. Evensong.
Day 10: Wells Cathedral.
Day 11: Bath, Holy Trinity Church. Overnight Salisbury.
Day 12: Salisbury Cathedral, St. Thomas Becket Church.
Day 13: Winchester Cathedral. Overnight in London.
Day 14: Canterbury Cathedral.
Day 15: Fly back to the USA.
“I had high expectations for this trip and the experience exceeded my high bar. Thank you for the ‘Trip of a Lifetime’… one of the best travel experiences! I would highly recommend Professor Cook and Far Horizons to anyone!” – Jerry Thorson-Boudreaux
Nearly a thousand religious houses – abbeys, priories, cathedrals, and friaries – were founded in England during the medieval period. The more splendid the architecture and decorations, the more the Church believed it was praising God. Even small parish churches were painted with beautiful scenes from the bible.
Far Horizons offers 14 participants an extraordinary two-week sojourn through England, including remote regions that shelter striking art and architecture of the Middle Ages. We have carefully chosen the most outstanding of the country’s religious and secular buildings, including massive cathedrals, remains of former sanctuaries, and churches still displaying walls covered with colorful images of scenes from the bible lovingly applied almost 1,000 years ago. Priests used these pictures to teach the mostly illiterate devotees about the bible and aspects of morality.
From Durham Cathedral, to Fountains Abbey, to churches in tiny villages that harbor exquisite paintings, our itinerary takes us from the far north, west to Bath, and to the far southeast to historic Canterbury and includes four UNESCO World Heritage Sites. As befitting the medieval theme, meals and overnights will be in carefully chosen traditional pubs and inns. This truly unique journey is sure to resonate with the discerning traveler for years to come.
William R. Cook earned his B.A. from Wabash College, graduating cum laude. Shortly thereafter he received the Woodrow Wilson and the Herbert Lehman fellowships to study Medieval History at Cornell University where he completed his Ph.D. He is a lecturer for “The Great Courses” and is currently the Distinguished Teaching Professor of History at the State University of New York at Geneseo, where he has taught since 1970. His publications include Images of St. Francis of Assisi and Francis of Assisi: The Way of Poverty and Humility. He also currently edits and contributes to The Art of the Franciscan Order in Italy. Dr. Cook’s passion and enthusiasm for medieval art and architecture make him both an informed and lively trip leader.
‘Bill Cook is a treasure, brilliant, intensively in love with his subject, and a superb communicator’ – Howard Gradet
“Our expectations were to have an experience similar to what Dr. Cook presented in his Great Courses series. This trip far exceeded our expectations. We learned a lot more medieval and Christian history than expected. Dr. Cook was also far more engaging than we could have hoped. Not only does he love to teach, but he was genuinely interested in what our experiences were and how we perceived things. This was a wonderful trip mostly because Bill Cook is a work of art himself. The trip was stunningly good.” – Jeff Koester
(B) breakfast, (L) lunch, (D) dinner
Day 1: Fly to Newcastle, England.
Day 2: Arrive Newcastle upon Tyne Airport in the early morning where we board our bus for the 30-minute drive to Durham where we will have our lunch. In the afternoon, enter monumental Durham Cathedral, regarded as one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in England and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with nearby Durham Castle which faces it across Palace Green. The cathedral was constructed between 1093 and 1133 to house the shrine of St. Cuthbert, a venerated preacher in the 7th century who was responsible for the spread of Christianity in the North of England. Durham Cathedral attests to the importance of the early Benedictine monastic community. It is the oldest surviving building with a stone vaulted ceiling of such a large scale. We will enter the new Open Treasure Exhibit, located in previously hidden spaces within the Cathedral Cloister. Here, 2,000 years of history are on display. Overnight at the Marriott Hotel in Durham, located within walking distance of the Cathedral. Gather this evening for our welcome dinner party. (L/D)
Day 3: This morning’s drive takes us to Rievaulx Abbey, the splendid remains of one of England’s most powerful Cistercian monasteries. We will learn about the monks who dwelled here in medieval times – how they devoted their lives to spiritual matters and at the same time established a thriving business to become one of the wealthiest monasteries in Britain. Our visit will include the abbey’s new museum with displays of previously unseen artifacts. Continue to York, one of England’s finest and most beautiful historic cities, where we will enter the Cathedral and Church of St Peter, better known as York Minster. The magnificent structure’s Gothic style is most notable for its distinctive pointed arches and its gorgeous ornamentation. This is England’s treasure house of stained glass, with a larger and more varied collection of windows than any other building in the country. The Great East Window is thought to be the largest area of stained glass in the world. The panels depict the beginning and end of the world according to the Book of Genesis, scenes from the Acts of Apostles and the Book of Revelations. To the west of York Minster can be seen the ruined Benedictine abbey of St. Mary, once the richest religious house in England. Overnight for three nights in the charming Dean Court Hotel, sited within three Victorian houses overlooking the Cathedral in York. (B/ /D)
Day 4: Our drive outside York takes us north to imposing Whitby Abbey, a 7th century monastery that later became a Benedictine abbey. The building and its possessions were confiscated by the crown during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII. Perched high on a cliff, it’s easy to see why the haunting remains were inspiration for Bram Stoker’s tale of ‘Dracula’. Heading back towards York, stop in the market town of Pickering to visit St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church. During the medieval period nearly all houses of worship were painted with scenes from the bible so that priests could use the images to teach to the mostly illiterate parishioners about the bible and aspects of morality. Inside this village parish church the compositions, created sometime between 1461 and 1483, cover the majority of the nave walls and depict scenes from the lives of the saints, the seven corporal acts of mercy, and the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, together with the torments of the inferno. Our final stop will be the village of Barton-le-Street and the Church of Michael & All Angels containing a treasure house of Norman sculpture, including some of the finest chancel arch capitals found anywhere in England. (B/L/D)
Day 5: A one hour drive takes us to Fountains Abbey, one of the largest and best preserved Cistercian monasteries in England. The religious complex was founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks from St. Mary’s in York seeking to live a devout and simple lifestyle. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the remains of the abbey are enclosed within the 18th-century landscape of Studley Royal Park. There will be time to walk through the water garden here that was created in 1718 and is one of the best surviving examples of a Georgian water garden in England. Return to York with the afternoon and dinner on our own. This evening we may want to hear the choral singing at York Minster. (B/L)
Day 6: Lincoln Cathedral dates from 1072 when William the Conqueror instructed that the bishopric of this, then the largest diocese in England, be moved from Dorchester, near Oxford, to Lincoln. In spite of its size, the sanctuary is filled with intricate details and is one of the high points of Gothic architecture. The nave is awe-inspiring, with slender pillars of Purbeck marble rising up to the painted ceiling high above. Two glorious rose windows light the transept. The earliest is the Dean’s Eye window, dating from 1220, still with much of its original medieval glass depicting the Last Judgment. As we continue south, stop in Brant Broughton to see the small Church of St. Helen covered with attractive carved decoration, both on the exterior and interior of the building. Continue to Corby Glen to enter St. John’s Church. The earliest part of the church, the north aisle, dates from the late 13th century. It is celebrated for its medieval wall paintings covering the interior. These fascinating illustrations were discovered, buried under layers of plaster and whitewash, by a churchwarden when redecorating the church in 1939. The images include a Tree of Jesse, a depiction of the ancestors of Christ, shown in a tree which rises from Jesse of Bethlehem, the father of King David. Continue to Peterborough and overnight for two nights in The Bull, originally dating back to the 17th century and a 5-minute walk from Peterborough Cathedral. Dinner will be in one of Peterborough’s finest restaurants, a short walk from the hotel. (B/ /D)
Day 7: Begin in Peterborough Cathedral, one of the most intact Norman buildings in England. It is renowned for its imposing early English Gothic West Front which, with its three enormous arches, is without architectural precedent. Nearby Longthorpe Tower, built around 1300, is a rare surviving medieval tower house. The Great Chamber on the first floor was the family’s private living and sleeping quarters. The walls of this room are adorned with some of the finest and most complete examples of medieval domestic art in northern Europe. The religious and mythical depictions offer an intriguing insight into the mind of the Middle Ages and demonstrate the often blurred line dividing the sacred and secular during this period. We move on to the tiny village of Castor, dominated by St. Kyneburgha’s Church. One of the finest Norman churches in England, St. Kyneburgha’s is filled with spectacular treasures. An 8th-century carving of St Mark was found under the altar rails when they were removed and is said to be from the original shrine of St. Kyneburgha. A fragment of an Anglo-Saxon cross is displayed in the north aisle that is believed to be a re-used Roman pagan altar. And each of the round Norman arches has wonderfully-carved capitals. Dinner is on our own tonight. (B/L)
Day 8: After a morning and lunch on our own, we drive to Ely Cathedral, one of the marvels of the medieval world and the only UK building to be listed as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages”. The present structure dates from 1081 and is a remarkable example of both Romanesque and Norman architecture. The famous Lantern which towers 70 feet over the center of the church is truly a masterpiece of engineering. Continue on to Oxford and overnight for two nights in the Mercure Eastgate Hotel, located in the heart of the University of Oxford. (B/ /D)
Day 9: Oxford is a gorgeous city of captivating architecture, history and culture, and Oxford University, in existence for 1000 years, is the oldest institution of higher education in the English-speaking world. Today we will enjoy tours of several of the university buildings. Christchurch Cathedral is the smallest cathedral in England and the seat of the Bishop of Oxford. This medieval structure contains the Shrine of St. Frideswide, Oxford’s patron saint. Frideswide hid in a tree to escape from the pursuit of a king and a worldly life. Search among the arches in the shrine to see her face peering from the vegetation. Attached to the Bodleian Library, one of the oldest in Europe, the Divinity School was constructed in the 15th century as a school of theology. Although no longer used for that purpose, it was used as the Hogwart’s Hospital in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The Late Gothic Ceiling, designed by William Orchard in the 1480s, consists of very elaborate lierne vaulting with bosses. Despite its name, New College is one of the oldest of the Oxford colleges, and is renowned for its grand interior and superb medieval stained glass. In the early evening, enjoy an optional return to the university for the Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral. (B/ /D)
Day 10: Depart Oxford and meander through the stunning landscape of the Mendip foothills into the Somerset District to reach Wells, England’s smallest city. Famed for its medieval architecture, Wells is home to a magnificent cathedral, the earliest English cathedral to be built in the Gothic style, and the nearby Bishop’s Palace, home to the Bishops of Bath and Wells for over 800 years. The Cathedral Church of Saint Andrew, commonly known as Wells Cathedral, was erected between the 12th and 15th centuries, and is dedicated to St Andrew the Apostle. The stunning West Front is decorated with 500 sculptures of kings, saints, and bishops that were originally decorated with red and green paint. . The interior is an elegant example of Early English Gothic and contains three scissor arches that were added in 1338 to support the central tower. The medieval art inside includes the Jesse Window that contains the family tree of Christ in stained glass and an astronomical clock made in 1390 with jousting knights that charge outside their castle four times an hour. In the afternoon, we will walk through the portcullis and cross the drawbridge spanning the moat (with resplendent swans who ring a bell for food), to enter the picturesque Bishop’s Palace. Within the fortified Palace walls are found the remains of the Great Hall, the Bishop’s private chapel and 14 acres of gardens. Overnight for one night at the historic Crown Hotel in Wells, located just steps from the cathedral. (B/L/D)
Day 11: Begin today with a drive to picturesque Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here we will explore Bath Abbey, a parish church of the Church of England and former Benedictine monastery. Founded in the 7th century, it was reorganised in the 10th century and rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries. It is one of the largest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture in England. We continue to Bradford on Avon, a charming town with one of the best preserved Anglo-Saxon parish churches. Major work was carried out in 1864 to “restore” the internal appearance to suit Victorian taste. This resulted in stripping out many Georgian features, including the box pews, galleries, wooden pulpit and plaster ceiling. In the late afternoon, drive to Salisbury and overnight for two nights at the Mercure Salisbury White Hart Hotel. (B/L/D)
Day 12: Begin the day in St. Thomas Becket Church, where a 15th century mural of the Last Judgment dominates the chancel arch. Then it’s Salisbury Cathedral, the finest example of Early English architecture in the country. Built almost entirely in the 13th century, the final structure boasts the tallest spire and the largest cloisters in England. Salisbury Cathedral owns one of only four surviving copies of Magna Carta, signed in 1215. Sunlight filtering through the windows of the cathedral’s Chapter House, where the Magna Carta is displayed, will add a mythical touch when looking at the beautifully rendered Latin text written on the aged parchment. Walk up 332 steps to the tallest spire in England on a specially arranged tour. Enjoy unimpeded views of the spectacular Nave from above and admire the West Window at close quarters while we learn how this architectural masterpiece was constructed. The afternoon and evening is on our own to enjoy Salisbury. (B/ /D)
Day 13: The historic city of Winchester and its awe-inspiring Cathedral, the longest medieval cathedral in Britain, is our destination today. Dating from 1079, it was built in the Norman Romanesque style with the towering Perpendicular Gothic nave the focal point. But equally impressive are the reredos, ornamental wooden screens behind the altar, and the carved choir stalls embellished with plants, animals, dragons. We will walk to The Chesil Rectory for a special lunch. Dating back to 1450, this beautifully preserved city landmark has been stylishly refurbished and retains solid oak beams, ancient doorways and beautiful open fireplaces. After lunch, continue to London and overnight for two nights at the Radisson Blu Edwardian London Heathrow. Dinner is on our own tonight. (B/L)
Day 14: Today’s all day excursion takes us into southeastern England to Canterbury, a site of pilgrimage during the Middle Ages. Fortification walls, originally built by the Romans, encircle the city’s medieval center and its picturesque cobblestone streets and timber-framed houses. Canterbury Cathedral has been the primary ecclesiastical center of England since the early 7th century. The seat of the spiritual head of the Church of England for nearly five centuries, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a stunning blend of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. It became a pilgrimage site with the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket in 1170 and the glorious stained glass windows in the Cathedral depict miracles performed by the saint. We will have lunch in one of Canterbury’s fine bistros before we return to the Radisson Blu Edwardian London Heathrow. Gather this evening for our final dinner party. (B/L/D)
Day 15: Depart for the USA. (B)
Vindolanda Pre-Trip Extension
Day 1: Fly to Newcastle, England.
Day 2: Arrive Newcastle upon Tyne Airport in the early morning. Begin the drive along Hadrian’s Wall, the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire and part of UNESCO’s Frontiers of the Roman Empire, to Vindolanda. A key military post on the northern frontier of Britain, Vindolanda has produced spectacular finds. Ongoing excavations here are led by Dr. Andrew Birley, and he (or a member of his staff) will give us a private tour, along with a ‘see and touch’ viewing of artifacts found during excavations. Vindolanda’s museum contains unique organic remains such as leather shoes and thousands of writing tablets recording daily life almost two thousand years ago – letters from soldiers, a birthday party invitation to the fort commander’s wife, requests for payment, and many artifacts that displays a significant record of everyday life in the Roman Empire. In the late afternoon, transfer to the Marriott Hotel in Durham and enjoy dinner on our own. (L)
Day 3: After breakfast, join the rest of our group for the main tour. (B)
CALL (per person, double occupancy) includes all hotels, meals as noted, entry fees, gratuities to driver and guides, and all ground transportation.
Single Supplement: CALL. Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement will be charged. Prices are based upon the British pound not going over the exchange rate of 1.35. If a fluctuation raises the pound, the final price may go up.
Extension Cost: CALL (per person, double occupancy) includes all hotels, meals as noted, entry fees, gratuities to driver and guides, and all ground transportation.
Extension Single Supplement: CALL. Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement will be charged. Prices are based upon the British pound not going over 1.35. If a fluctuation raises the pound, the final price may go up.
Cost does not include: Roundtrip international flights to Newcastle, UK and returning from London; a donation as outlined below; meals as noted; beverages or food not on regular menus; passport fees; airport departure taxes; laundry; necessary vaccines or tests; excess baggage charges and other items of a personal nature.
Fuel Surcharges: Far Horizons must pass on price increases when additional fuel charges are levied.
Donation Checks: As a tour company that benefits from the cultural and natural riches of our destinations, we have a policy of donating to the scientific and cultural projects, and museums we visit. This has created a bond between Far Horizons and the academic and local communities that has helped us establish an extensive list of contacts in each of our destinations. We ask that each participant write a check to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person and is made by check directly to the donation project. Note that the donation is required as part of your registration for the trip and that it is non-refundable. We will be designating a donation project for this trip shortly.
A deposit of $750 per person is required along with a separate check made out to the donation project is required, as well as your registration form. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Upon receipt of your deposit and completed registration form, you will be sent your initial trip documents which contain important travel information. Click here to download our Registration Form.
Cancellations and Refunds
Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $450 per person administrative fee. Cancellations received less than 120 days before the departure date will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the trip, Far Horizons will not reimburse any fees. Upon registering for the tour, the purchase of travel protection with both trip cancellation and emergency evacuation is strongly advised. Insurance recommended by Far Horizons can be reviewed by clicking HERE.
International flights are not included in the cost of the trip. If you do not arrive or depart on the scheduled days, you are responsible for all transportation (including airport transfers) to join the group. If Far Horizons must change the trip dates or cancel the trip for any reason, Far Horizons is not responsible for any air ticket you may have purchased. Please send your complete air schedule as soon as you have it. NOTE: Please contact Far Horizons if you would like for us to handle your air ticketing.
Private Tours of Archaeological Sites
The private tours of archaeological sites and talks by specialists are scheduled in advance and include a donation to each. Specialists working at these sites are excited about showing their work to interested enthusiasts. However, please be aware that there may be times when the director or a member of the staff may not be on site when our groups arrive due to other commitments.
Note about Travel in England
This itinerary requires a great deal of walking – at least a mile a day – in order to visit the included sites. If you have questions about whether or not you are physically capable of this level of activity, please contact the Far Horizons office as soon as possible. As befitting the medieval theme, many of the meals and overnights will be in carefully chosen traditional pubs and inns. Far Horizons and its staff have taken great care to select hotels on this itinerary that are clean, comfortable, and well-situated to facilitate the site visits. Remember that hotel rooms in England – especially in city centers – are often smaller than those in the United States. If you would like to be upgraded to a larger room or suite at an additional cost, please contact the Far Horizons office. Hotels and pubs listed in the brochure might change; the ambiance will not. Your understanding and flexibility in this matter is greatly appreciated.
This England Tour is limited to 14 participants