Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Nick Wilding

Second Advisor

Jared Poley

Third Advisor

Jacob Selwood

Fourth Advisor

Denise Davidson


The religious mind in medieval Latin Christianity was thoroughly preoccupied with heaven, not only as an afterlife destination but as a present reality just beyond the reach of physical senses. But material expressions of heaven could, in connecting with the senses, usher the soul into an experience of heaven’s realities, and many ecclesiastics, philosophers, architects, artists, musicians, city leaders, and utopian visionaries thought heaven’s realities had significant implications for life on earth. As a result, social hierarchies, the geometry of structures, the intervals of sacred music, the iconography of artists, the organization of sacred and civic space, and the words and rituals of the liturgy mimicked heavenly ideals in myriad ways. The question this project explores is to what extent late medieval and early modern European life was intentionally patterned after heaven’s template. The answer to this question helps us see medieval expression not simply in terms of theological and aesthetic preferences but as part of a complex, comprehensive worldview that would later face many challenges. This inquiry intersects with the fields of psychology, sociology, anthropology, art, and religion in helping us understand how views of the afterlife shape human activities, social structures, and expressions. Drawing from these disciplines, I explore beliefs about heaven within the larger medieval worldview and then examine material and social expressions of them in three case studies: Gothic France, Low Country pageantry and aesthetics, and northern Italian civic life.

Assumptions about the afterlife profoundly shaped first the expressions of the sacred within the church, then reached beyond church walls to affect creative expressions, hierarchical structures both “sacred” and “secular,” and the ideals of city leaders and utopian visionaries. These findings help explain the dynamics of conflict in the reform movements, discoveries, and creative trends of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.


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