Eloquence in Sound and Stone: English Music and Alabaster Images, 1380-1520

Music and devotional alabaster sculptures were England’s two great cultural exports in the ‘long’ fifteenth century (c.1380-1520). Both, moreover, interacted in sacred spaces in the service of devotion to favoured saints conducted for the earthly and posthumous welfare of the populace, not just in their country of origin but across Europe.

While the music is increasingly known through commercial recordings, the mute images, now mostly confined behind glass, reduced to a dull pallor by modern electric lighting and frequently devoid of context, typically garner little attention from casual observers. 

The project

This project aims to revivify the modern experience of these two phenomena in tandem by means of modern virtual reality (VR) techniques. Our aim is the recreation of late medieval environments, enabling people to gain a closer, more pertinent appreciation by means of the experience of a tangible connection to the past. This will involve virtual reconstruction of late-medieval interiors, light (natural, and via the warm glow of candles and tallow torches) and evocative smells, in addition to music and alabaster statuary. Ultimately its intention is to afford public access to such reconstruction in museum spaces, opening up a greater appreciation of the patrimony of our forebears and its role in the articulation of their existential sense of themselves.

To ensure the highest level of realism and thus quality of the VR experience of late medieval ritual practice, the project will:

  • Undertake an unprecedented historical enquiry into how texts, spaces, objects (including the 'sounding objects' of music) and ritual action coalesced in a primarily sensory experience of medieval worship
  • Connect these findings within a contextual study of late medieval religion, culture and society
  • Use state-of-the art computer modelling techniques and physically-based computer simulation of the lighting and audio to create high fidelity virtual medieval environments
  • Capture in high detail people re-enacting ancient rituals and incorporate these in the virtual environments so the environments are populated as they may have been in the past
  • Use the findings from 1-4, to create high-fidelity virtual experiences of late Medieval ritual practice for individual/ group interaction
  • Evaluate the authenticity of the reconstructions by comparing them with re-enactments in specially selected real environments.
  • Through practice-led research within these real and authentic virtual experiences, explore and appraise how ritual practice interacted with buildings, music, and artefacts.

Research Team

  • Professor Andrew Kirkman, Peyton and Barber Professor of Music, University of Birmingham
  • Professor Alan Chalmers (Professor of Visualisation, Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), University of Warwick
  • Professor Haida Laing, Head of Imaging and Sensing for Archaeology, Art History and Conservation (ISAAC), Nottingham Trent University

Outputs and Engagement


  • ‘Image, Music and Lived Reality in Fifteenth-Century Midlands Alabaster’ in Julia Boffey (ed.), Performance, Ceremony and Display in Late Medieval England, Harlaxton Medieval Studies 30 (Donington, Lincs.: Shaun Tyas, 2020).
  • With Philip Weller, “English Alabaster Images as Recipients of Music in the Long Fifteenth Century”, in Zuleika Murat (ed.), English Alabaster Carvings and their Cultural Contexts, Boydell Studies in Medieval Art and Architecture (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2019). 
  • With Philip Weller, “Music and Image/ Image and Music: the Creation and Meaning of Visual-Aural Force Fields in the Later Middle Ages”, Early Music, 2017. 

CD recordings

(The Binchois Consort, Andrew Kirkman, conductor), all on Hyperion Records: 

  • “Music for the Hundred Years’ War” (2017)
  • “The Lily and the Rose: Adoration of the Virgin in Sound and Stone,”(2018)
  • “Music for Saint Katherine of Alexandria,” (2019)


  • Eloquence in Sound and Stone: 2nd edition, symposium and concert, The British Academy/ Temple Church, London, Monday, June 26, 2017
  • Part of ‘Being Human’ Festival, Nottingham Castle Museum, November 19, 2016: Concert by The Binchois Consort, lectures by Lloyd de Beer (British Museum) and Philip Weller (University of Nottingham), demonstration of alabaster carving by Sarah Danays
  • Eloquence in Sound and Stone: symposium and concert, University of Birmingham/ Barber Institute, 4 November, 2017


Numerous concerts and son et lumière performances