Portrait of Dr Sarah James

Dr Sarah James

Senior Lecturer in Medieval Literature
Head of School


Sarah’s work is focused on medieval hagiography from c.1100-1500. Far from being timeless and aloof, saints in this period are continually being reimagined by writers in ways that perform important social, religious and political work of immediate contemporary relevance. To understand that work Sarah explores a range of evidence, including the written lives, documentary records, and representations of the saints in material culture. Her geographical focus is wide-ranging, including both the Latin west and more recently Byzantium; the island of Cyprus in this period is of particular significance to her work at present and is likely to remain so. 

Sarah is also absorbed by the development of theology as an academic discipline, and has written on theologies of vision, pleasure and the Eucharist. At present she is wrestling with questions of grace, and particularly the ways in which academic theological positions are mediated in order to promote pastoral care. The experience of religion for ordinary lay people, for the most part with very limited access to written texts, is a continued area of interest. 


Sarah is always keen to hear from research students wishing to work on medieval hagiography, especially projects with a strong theological component, or which seek to work comparatively across Europe in some way. She is also interested in projects where the major focus is some aspect of medieval theology.


  • Member: The Ecclesiastical History Society; The Lollard Society; New Chaucer Society 
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy 



  • James, S. (2017). Paradise, pleasure and desire: Edenic delight in some late-medieval dramatic fragments. Literature and Theology [Online] 32:53-68. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/litthe/frw047.
    This paper explores the biblical Paradise and its relationship with the concept of delight or pleasure. In the first section it discusses the changing descriptions and interpretations of Paradise, from the biblical text to later medieval works; it goes on to explore the Augustinian and Thomist philosophies of pleasure and delight. Finally it brings together three late-medieval dramatic texts, all of which share an interest in Paradise, and explores the ways in which these texts utilise the contemporary understanding of delight in order to reinforce their didacticism.
  • James, S. (2014). Oculi carnis, oculi mentis: why seeing is not believing in Capgrave’s Life of St Katherine. The Review of English Studies [Online] 65:421-437. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/res/hgt085.
    This article explores Capgrave’s interest in the nature of visual phenomena as revealed in his Life of St Katharine. Noting that much previous scholarship locates this text in the context of late-medieval Lollard anti-image polemic, the article offers an alternative reading, establishing Capgrave’s interest in a broader intellectual context. The importance of Augustine’s theory of signs and his tripartite schema of physical, spiritual and intellectual vision to Capgrave’s work is demonstrated, as are medieval technical treatises concerned with the physiology of perception. Through a close reading of Book Three of the Life of St Katherine, the article argues that Capgrave uses his text to examine the problems inherent in human visual perception, specifically in relation to encounters with the divine, which highlight the human tendency to rely on the oculi carnis rather than the oculi mentis. It concludes that the Christian message of the text, with its focus on the development of the use of the oculi mentis, is complicated to transmit and difficult to follow, but that Capgrave’s enthusiasm for the nexus of ideas focused on the visual relishes this complexity and the intellectual challenges it presents.
  • James, S. (2012). Rereading Henry Suso and Eucharistic Theology in Fifteenth-Century England. Review of English Studies [Online]. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/res/hgs053.
    This article contributes to our knowledge of the reception of Henry Suso’s work in England by comparing the treatment of Eucharistic theology in chapter six of The Seven Poyntes of Trewe Wisdom with a newly discovered version of that chapter in Cambridge, St John’s College MS G.25. Examination of the two versions reveals that MS G.25, unusually for this text, is not written in dialogue form; it also omits significant material from The Seven Poyntes, as well as including additional matter from Suso’s Latin text. It is argued that these differences, taken together, reveal the author’s anxiety about certain aspects of contemporary mainstream Eucharistic piety, specifically his concern that believers misunderstand the nature of the sacrament and focus too readily on the visible host, rather than upon the sacramental process which it signifies. The article also demonstrates the extent to which the text’s Eucharistic doctrine is compatible with that of John Wyclif, whilst remaining unimpeachably orthodox.
  • James, S. (2012). A Previously Unnoticed Extract of Suso’s Horologium Sapientiae in English. Notes and Queries [Online] 59:28-30. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/notesj/gjr238.
    A manuscript in the library of St John's College, Cambridge, contains a hitherto unnoticed text of part of The Seven Poyntes of Trewe Wisdom (hereafter Seven Poyntes), a late-fourteenth-century English abridgement of Henry Suso's Horologium Sapientiae (c.1320). The manuscript in question, Cambridge, St John's College MS G.25 (hereafter G.25), is written on membrane and measures around 195?mm by 130?mm, with a written area of 140–150?mm by 90–95?mm. It dates from the first half of the fifteenth century, and consists entirely of religious materials in English prose: alongside the text which is the subject of this paper we find the Elucidarium, an Apocalypse commentary, part of the gospel harmony Oon of Foure and two Wycliffite sermons. The manuscript is written in two different textura semi-quadrata hands; hand A, located by the Linguistic Atlas to Northamptonshire, is responsible for the first two quires, containing only the Elucidarium, while hand B, from Cambridgeshire, copied the remaining texts. Although the manuscript has been described more than once, the identity of the Suso text has not previously been established.
  • James, S. (2005). `Doctrye and studie’: Female Learning and Religious Debate in Capgrave’s Life of Katherine. Leeds Studies in English:275-302.
  • James, S. (2005). "Doctryne and studie": female learning and religious debate in Capgrave’s Life of St Katharine. Leeds Studies in English [Online] n.s.36:275-302. Available at: https://ludos.leeds.ac.uk/R/PKXMJHVXXEUTI87JK1SB6QQ2DKSRYBHIUNJC3PFVJTHDBG8D7X-01047?func=results-full.
  • James, S. (2002). Revaluing Vernacular Theology: The Case of Reginald Pecock. Leeds Studies in English [Online] n.s.33:135-169. Available at: https://ludos.leeds.ac.uk:443/R/-?func=dbin-jumpfull&object_id=123774&silo_library=GEN01.

Book section

  • James, S. (2019). Unclean priests and the body of Christ: The Elucidarium and pastoral care in fifteenth-century England. In: Clarke, P. and James, S. eds. Pastoral Care in Medieval England: Interdisciplinary Approaches. London, UK: Routledge. Available at: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315599649.
    This essay compares three late-medieval English versions of the Elucidarium alongside the original Latin text, exploring their specific contributions to the nature of fifteenth-century English pastoral care. It focuses primarily upon the important subjects of the Eucharist and the priesthood, both of particular significance in late-medieval England, and demonstrates the ways in which the text of the Elucidarium was reimagined in order to respond to changing contexts and the needs of different English audiences in the later Middle Ages.
  • James, S. (2019). Dialogue. In: Johnson, I. ed. Geoffrey Chaucer in Context. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 83-88. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781139565141.
    The word 'dialogue' is first attested in Middle English in the early thirteenth century, when it appears to have been restricted to literary works in the form of an exchange between two or more persons; it seems to have acquired its more modern sense of ‘conversation’ only from the beginning of the fifteenth century, at the very moment when Chaucer’s output was complete. This essay therefore focuses on the earlier attested sense and considers Chaucer’s poetry in relation to the literary dialogue, demonstrating that while he is not generally regarded as a producer of such texts, an examination of his works quickly reveals the extent to which he has absorbed both the form and its characteristic concerns into his own writings.
  • Perry, R. (2019). Robert Mannyng and the Imagined Reading Communities for Handlyng Synne. In: Clarke, P. D. and James, S. eds. Pastoral Care in Medieval England: Interdisciplinary Approaches. Routledge. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9781315599649-9.
    The essay explores the way in which the author, Robert Mannyng, imagines his text's audience and reception contexts within the pages of his work _Handlyng Synne_. The actual limited material survival of the work is described and compared to the ways in which the author situated his work, imagining aural reception contexts among audiences of a mixed-status laity who would be read to by a clerical lector.
  • James, S. (2015). Reading Classical Authors in Capgrave’s ’Life of St Katherine’. In: Von Contzen, E. and Bernau, A. eds. Sanctity As Literature in Late Medieval Britain. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 134-150. Available at: http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/search-results/?keyword=9780719089701.
    In this essay I argue that Capgrave engages not only with Chaucer, but with classical texts - notably Virgil's 'Georgics' - at crucial points in his narrative of the life of St Katherine, utilising her sanctity as a means of developing a new kind of literariness.
  • James, S. (2014). Hospitable Reading: in a Fifteenth-Century Passion and Eucharistic Meditation. In: Kelly, S. W. and Perry, R. M. M. eds. “Diuerse Imaginaciouns of Cristes Lif”: Devotional Culture in England and Beyond, 1300-1560. Brepols, pp. 593-605. Available at: https://dx.doi.org/10.1484/M.MCS-EB.5.103055.
    Christ’s life, as related through the Gospel narratives and early Apocrypha, was subject to a riot of literary-devotional adaptation in the medieval period. This collection provides a series of groundbreaking studies centring on the devotional and cultural significance of Christianity’s pivotal story during the Middle Ages.

    The collection represents an important milestone in terms of mapping the meditative modes of piety that characterize a number of Christological traditions, including the Meditationes vitae Christi and the numerous versions it spawned in both Latin and the vernacular. A number of chapters in the volume track how and why meditative piety grew in popularity to become a mode of spiritual activity advised not only to recluses and cenobites as in the writings of Aelred of Rievaulx, but also reached out to diverse lay audiences through the pastoral regimens prescribed by devotional authors such as the Carthusian prior Nicholas Love in England and the Parisian theologian and chancellor of the University of Paris, Jean Gerson.

    Through exploring these texts from a variety of perspectives - theoretical, codicological, theological - and through tracing their complex lines of dissemination in ideological and material terms, this collection promises to be invaluable to students and scholars of medieval religious and literary culture.
  • James, S. (2014). Hospitable Reading in a Fifteenth-Century Passion and Eucharistic Meditation. In: Kelly, S. ed. Devotional Culture in Late Medieval England and Europe: Diverse Imaginations of Christ’s Life. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, pp. 593 -605.
  • James, S. (2013). Capgrave, Bokenham, and late medieval saints’ lives. In: Boffey, J. and Edwards, A. eds. A Companion to Fifteenth-Century English Poetry. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, pp. 99-112.
    This essay explores the contribution of John Capgrave, Osbern Bokenham and other late-medieval hagiographers to the development of English poetic writing in the fifteenth century.
  • James, S. (2011). "Langagis, whose reules ben not writen": Pecock and the Uses of the Vernacular. In: Salter, E. and Wicker, H. eds. Vernacularity in England and Wales c.1300-1550. Brepols, pp. 101-117. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1484/M.USML-EB.3.4944.

Edited book

  • James, S. (2019). Pastoral Care in Medieval England: Interdisciplinary Approaches. [Online]. Clarke, P. and James, S. eds. London, UK: Routledge. Available at: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315599649.


  • James, S. (2008). The First English Bible: The Text and Context of the Wycliffite Versions. Review of English Studies [Online] 59:766-767. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/res/hgn090.


  • Arthur, C. (2016). The Liturgy of ’Charms’ in Anglo-Saxon England.
    This thesis undertakes a re-evaluation of the concept of ‘charms’ in Anglo-Saxon culture, and reconsiders three core issues that lie at the heart of this genre: the definition of galdor as ‘charm’; the manuscript contexts of rituals that have been included in this genre; and the phenomenon of ‘gibberish’ writing which is used as a defining characteristic of ‘charms’. The thesis investigates the different meanings of galdor from the entire corpus of Old English before reconsidering its meaning in ritual texts. It then explores the liturgical nature of these seemingly unorthodox rituals, and argues that ‘charms’ were understood to be part of the Anglo-Saxon liturgy. The manuscript contexts of ‘charms’ indicate that Anglo-Saxon scribes did not distinguish between these rituals and other liturgical texts, and I take a case study of one manuscript to demonstrate this. Some rituals from the Vitellius Psalter have been included in editions of ‘charms’, and this case study reinterprets these texts as components of a liturgical collection. The Vitellius Psalter also reveals intertextual relationships between ‘gibberish’ writing in some of its rituals and exercises in encryption, suggesting that several texts encode meaning in this manuscript. The findings of this case study are then developed to reconsider the phenomenon of ‘gibberish’ writing that is used as a defining characteristic of ‘charms’, and it offers an alternative way of reading abstract letter sequences in ritual texts according to Patristic philosophies of language. This study does not aim to analyse every ritual that has been included in the corpus of ‘charms’ but each chapter will take case studies from a range of manuscripts that are representative of the genre and its sub-categories. The thesis challenges the notion that there was any such thing as an Anglo-Saxon ‘charm’, and it offers alternative interpretations of these rituals as liturgical rites and coded texts.
  • Wackett, J. (2014). The Litlyngton Missal: Its Patron, Iconography, and Messages.
    The Litlyngton Missal, Westminster Abbey Library MS 37, is a lavishly illuminated English service book commissioned by Abbot Nicholas Litlyngton 1383-4 and donated to his Benedictine monastery at Westminster. This thesis examines the life of this medieval ecclesiastical patron and investigates how his missal is an expression not simply of a desire to be commemorated, but is also a reflection of his priorities as a member of Westminster’s monastic community. While the study’s emphasis is on the missal’s iconography, both text and image are contextually examined in order to better appreciate the patron’s intended messages of personal devotion to the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the abbey’s promotion, and protection of its privileges.
    This study scrutinizes the abbey’s particular status in relation to the crown and how this is reflected through the missal, most especially through the inclusion of coronation orders and royal exequies. Considering the rubrics and illuminations of these ceremonies through the lens of Westminster Abbey and its abbot elucidates their authorship and clarifies why, atypically, they were included in a service book of this kind.
    Analysis of documentation and examination of the book’s stages of creation affords a better understanding of the missal’s production than has been obtained to date and shows that there is an overarching aesthetic cohesion to the book. The thesis offers a critical reappraisal of the missal’s illumination and reveals previously unacknowledged innovation and subtlety. The thesis considers what images occur, where, and how they relate to the text. The findings regarding the imagery are contextualised by comparison with illumination schemes of other English missals of fourteenth and fifteenth century missals and service books.
    The thesis discussion begins with a biographical study of Nicholas Litlyngton in chapter one, providing a clear context to the man who commissioned the missal. Chapter two considers Litlyngton specifically in his role as patron of the missal. The focus of chapter three is the production of the missal, focusing on its scribe, the illuminators, and their style. Discussion of the contested matter of number of artists and attribution of work also occurs in this chapter. Chapter four scrutinises the text and images connected to the royal ceremonies and examines the motivation behind their inclusion in the missal. The final chapter considers the manuscript’s iconographic programme through a comparative study of other English missals, and interprets the extent of convention or innovation in the Litlyngton Missal’s illuminations. Chapter five also examines messages contained in the images and reflects on their significance and purpose.
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