Laura Varnam
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Introduction
Reading sacred space in late medieval England
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The introduction establishes the methodology for reading sacred space in Middle English literature through an examination of the fifteenth-century text ‘The Canterbury Interlude’, in which Chaucer’s pilgrims arrive at Canterbury Cathedral, visit the shrine of Thomas Becket and argue over their interpretation of the stained glass. The chapter explores the relationship between texts, buildings, visual art, and lay practice in the production of sanctity and sets up the theoretical framework for discussing the church as sacred space. The chapter argues that sacred space is performative and must be made manifest, with reference to Mircea Eliade’s concept of the hierophany, and suggests that sacred space is a powerful tool in the negotiation of social relationships. Finally, the chapter discusses sanctity as a form of symbolic capital in an increasingly competitive devotional environment.

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