Artificial Light in the Middle Ages


Sainte Chappelle 2
The astonishing stained glass of the Saint Chapelle, Paris

After the Ordered Universe workshop on the De iride, Cecilia Panti and Giles Gasper will be delivering a talk to the Durham Institute of Advanced Study Seminar, as part of that Institute’s annual theme focused on Light. As a contribution to a seminars series on the History and Future of Artificial Light organised by Dr Chris Dent in the School of Engineering and Computer Science, they will be talking on:  ‘Artificial light in the Middle Ages: a Diversity of Applications’.

Questions to be explored include:  What is meant by artificial light in the middle ages? What means did people possess to extend the hours of daylight our to subvert the night? What technologies existed to create artificial light and how were these described? This paper will explore a number of case-studies from the 12th and 13th centuries, to pose and consider these questions. From creation and the concept of light philosophically and theologically, to candles, stained glass, mirrors and lamps, in a variety of circumstances: domestically, liturgically, at war and for health. The diversity of applications for artificial light in the period is instructive of medieval imagination and ingenuity

Albert the Great
Holy Grail, as imagined by Arthur Rackam, 1917

Giles will talk about candles and glass, and the notion of artificial light; Cecilia about mirrors and lamps. Theophilus Presbyter, the Holy Grail, Roger Bacon and Albert the Great will all feature: as of course, will Robert Grosseteste, if only in passing!

The talk will take place at 1.00 pm next Wednesday (5th March) in the Institute of Advanced Study, Seminar Room (on Palace Green).

If anyone would like to come along andjoin for a sandwich lunch at 1230 (at the venue), please can you email

to book this, stating any special dietary requirements, by 0900 on Monday 3rd. There is no need to book for the seminar itself.


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