England’s Cathedrals, Abbeys, and Medieval Painted Churches

Tour England: View cathedrals, abbeys, and medieval painted churches from Durham Cathedral, to Fountains Abbey, to churches in tiny villages that harbor exquisite medieval paintings.

with Professor William R. Cook



June 2 – 15, 2019


14 Days



Why travel on Far Horizons’ England Tour ?

  • Led by William R. Cook, medieval history specialist
  • Evensong at Oxford’s Christchurch
  • Observe one of only four remaining Magna Cartas
  • Five UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Westminster Abbey, the Cathedrals of Durham & Canterbury, Bath, and Fountains Abbey
  • Rarely visited medieval church frescos
  • Limited to 14 participants


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Daily Itinerary

Day 1: Depart the USA.
Day 2: Arrive Newcastle. Durham Cathedral.
Day 3: Rievaulx Abbey. York Minster.
Day 4: Whitby Abbey, Pickering, and Barton-le-Street churches.
Day 5: Fountains Abbey.
Day 6: Lincoln Cathedral, Brant Broughton, and Corby Glen Churches.
Day 7: Peterborough Cathedral, Longthorpe Tower, St. Kyneburgha’s Church.
Day 8: Ely Cathedral, Beckley Church.
Day 9: Oxford, St. James the Great Church. Evensong.
Day 10: Gloucester Cathedral, Wells Cathedral.
Day 11: Bath Abbey and Bath.
Day 12: Salisbury Cathedral, St. Thomas Becket Church, Winchester Cathedral.
Day 13: Westminster Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral.
Day 14: Fly back to the USA.

Wells Cathedral tour England tourFar Horizons offers 14 participants an extraordinary two week sojourn through England, including remote regions that shelter incredible medieval art and architecture. We have carefully chosen the most spectacular of the country’s religious and secular architecture, including cathedrals, remains of former sanctuaries, and churches still displaying walls covered with colorful paintings applied almost 1,000 years ago.

From Durham Cathedral, to Fountains Abbey, to churches in tiny villages that harbor exquisite medieval paintings, our itinerary takes us from the far north, west to Bath, and to the far southeast to Canterbury. As befitting the medieval theme, many of the 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.

Tour Leader

Professor William R. Cook - Bill CookWilliam 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.

Tour Itinerary

(B) breakfast, (L) lunch, (D) dinner

Day 1:
Fly to Newcastle, England.

Durham Cathedral England architecture tour England medieval tour Durham Cathedral tour England cathedrals tour English architecture tour medieval tourDay 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 is on display. Dinner is on our own this evening. Overnight in Durham within walking distance of the Cathedral and Castle. (L)

Rievaulx Abbey TOUR Durham Cathedral tour England cathedrals tour English architecture tour medieval tourYork Minster Cathedral architecture tour England tourDay 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 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. We will enter 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 York Minster. The 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. Gather this evening for our welcome dinner party.  Overnight for three nights in York.  (B/L/D)

whitby abbey York Minster Cathedral architecture tour England tourarchitecture tour England tour medieval paintings 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. Dinner is on our own tonight. (B/L)

Fountains Abbey architecture tour England tour medieval paintings Fountains Abbey tour England tour English architecture tour 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 designed landscape of Studley Royal Park. There will be time to walk through the water garden here that was created 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. (B/L)

Lincoln-Cathedral Fountains Abbey architecture tour England tour medieval paintings St. John's church England church tour architecture tour abbeys of England tourDay 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. Overnight in Peterborough for two nights. (B/L/D)

Longthorpe tower England tour English architecture tour Peterborough Cathedral Fountains Abbey tour England tour English architecture tour 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 about 1300AD, is a rare survival of a 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 dividing line between 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)

Ely Cathedral tour England tour architecture tour churches tourOctagon tower, Ely Cathedral TOUR eNGLAND TOUR ARCHITECTURE TOURDay 8: This morning we enter 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. On our way to Oxford, we will stop to see the Church of England parish church in Beckley where medieval paintings center on the Virgin Mary.  Overnight near Oxford for two nights. (B/L/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. We will join a guide for a morning tour 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 afternoon, drive to nearby South Leigh to view the church of Saint James the Great. The interior walls display captivating medieval images depicting The Doom, the day of judgment upon death. St. Peter is shown, with angels and towers in the background, handing the keys to Heaven to those virtuous souls about to enter. A grimmer greeting awaits those who enter Hell as scowling devils wrench the chains dragging each sinner down.  Dinner is on our own tonight. (B/L)

England tour church tour architecture tourWells Cathedral England tour church tour architecture tourDay 10: Today will be spent in two stunningly-beautiful ecclesiastical sanctuaries. Gloucester Cathedral has been a place of Christian worship continuously for over 1,300 years. The present building was begun in 1089 as the Roman Catholic Abbey of St. Peter, and within the imposing edifice are many connections with royalty.  In 1085, it was from here that William the Conqueror ordered the famous Domesday Book. In 1216, Henry III was crowned king in the basilica when he was only nine years old. The tomb of the murdered King Edward II stands next to the High Altar of the church. And in 1541, King Henry VIII declared St. Peter’s Abbey to be a cathedral church in the newly created diocese of Gloucester. Continue to Wells Cathedral, dedicated to St Andrew the Apostle, to observe a beautiful example of Early English Gothic architecture. The wells, or springs, for which the city is named can still be seen in the Bishop’s Palace garden. The cathedral’s magnificent 13th century West Front exhibits medieval sculptures of kings and saints. The building interior is filled with capitals and corbels depicting delightful scenes of local life, and in the north transept is an astronomical clock with knights that charge each other every quarter-hour. Drive to Bath and overnight one night. Dinner is on our own tonight. (B/L)

Bath Abbey, Bath, England tourBath roman bath and abbey England tour Day 11: We will spend the morning touring Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage City. We will drive through the dramatic Royal Crescent to view its dazzling 18th century neoclassical Palladian architecture, one of the greatest examples of Georgian architecture anywhere in the UK. Then, enter the Abbey Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, commonly known as Bath Abbey, an Anglican parish church and a former Benedictine monastery. There has been a place of Christian worship on this site for over 1,200 years. The Romans built a temple here around 50 AD, and dedicated it to Sul, a Celtic god, and Minerva, the Roman goddess of healing. The present edifice contains sublime stained glass windows and some of the finest fan vaulting in the world. The Romans also built a public bath which was supplied by the hot springs. We will visit the still functioning waterworks, the acclaimed Roman Baths, and walk on the ancient pavements as the Romans did 2,000 years ago. In the late afternoon, drive to Salisbury and overnight for one night. Dinner is on our own tonight. (B/L)

Salisbury Cathedral tour England tour Day 12: Begin the day in 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. Time permitting, stop by St. Thomas Becket Church, where a 15th century mural of the Last Judgment dominates the chancel arch.  Then drive to the historic city of Winchester to see its awe-inspiring Cathedral, the longest medieval cathedral in Britain.  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.  Continue to London and overnight for two nights. Dinner is on our own tonight. (B/L)

Winchester Cathedral Salisbury Cathedral tour England tour Winchester Cathedral Salisbury Cathedral tour England tour Canterbury CathedralDay 13: Begin the day in Westminster Abbey, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. From the time of Edward the Confessor until the death of George II in 1760, most British kings and queens were buried here including Queen Elizabeth I. William the Conqueror was crowned in the Abbey, and so have all English kings and queens since then. From its towering Norman masonry to the radiance of its quiet cloisters, Westminster Abbey is an architectural masterpiece. Then it’s on into southeastern England and Canterbury Cathedral. 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 depict miracles performed by the saint. Gather this evening for our final dinner party. (B/L/D)

Day 14: Depart for the USA. (B)

Tour Cost

England tour British churches architecture tourCALL  (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 1.40.  If a fluctuation raises the pound, the final price may go up.

Cost does not include: Roundtrip international flights; a donation as outlined below; meals as noted; beverages or food not on regular menus; passport fees; airport departure taxes; laundry; 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.

South Leigh church mural England tourRegistration

A deposit of $500.00 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 90 days before departure. Upon receipt of your deposit and completed registration form, you will be sent a reading list and a tour bulletin containing travel information.  Click here to download our Registration Form.

Cancellations and Refunds

Cancellations received in writing at least 90 days before departure will result in an administrative fee of $300.00. Cancellations received less than 90 days before departure will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the trip, FAR HORIZONS will not reimburse any fees. It is strongly advised that you purchase travel protection insurance that includes trip cancellation upon registering for the trip.

Air Ticketing

Bodleian Library, Oxford University England tour British Isles tourInternational 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, elegant and well-situated to facilitate the site visits. With that said, hotel rooms in England – especially in city centers – are often smaller than what can be expected based on American standards. Single rooms are most often equipped with one twin bed. Should you wish to upgrade to a larger room, please contact us. Your understanding and flexibility in this matter is greatly appreciated.

This England Tour is limited to 14 participants