There is no other historical age like the Middle Ages that maintains its charm unchanged.
Even the first words that evoke it capture each one’s attention: castles, courts, knights, abbeys.
Let’s go further.
The expression Middle Ages means many things. From the taste for the magical and supernatural to the more political and institutional one that enters the historical chronicle as the Crusades and the birth of the first kingdoms, to that of the literary characters who have never aged, as if they had won their own battle against time: Arthur and his knights, the warrior Beowulf, Geoffrey Chaucer and his lively pilgrims.
We have mentioned castles, courts, knights and abbeys. Within these terms lies much of Medieval history: the need for defense, the desire for territorial expansion and alliances and faithful and noble fighters ready to go into battle for their king.
And the abbeys? These places were places of prayer but also refined centres of power, where intricate political games and inevitable clashes with the secular power of kings developed. They were also precious centres of culture, where thanks to the work of patient monks precious ancient books were copied and transmitted and made immortal again.
A writer who has travelled tirelessly for over thirty years in this fascinating era and helped to keep it alive and pulsating as if centuries had not passed is Ken Follett, with his historical series of novels that began with The Pillars of the Earth (1989) and now pushed even further back to the dawn of the year 1000 with the novel The Evening and the Morning (2020).
With an historical approach but the pleasantness of the narrative he makes us enter the corridors (sometimes very dark!) of power and ambition. But he also describes the brilliant, passionate, tenacious and visionary artistic thought of those who were able to deliver to us extraordinary architectural works such as abbeys and cathedrals that have passed almost unscathed over the centuries and that contribute to the charm of this era. And it is precisely the visionary gaze that makes us walk through the corridors of the castles with a few books in our hands that guides us on a journey through time.
So we can feel a little like Beowulf, ready to fight against a monstrous dragon, or with Tales from Camelot we can meet the legendary Arthur, his court of knights in a castle full of mysterious and captivating stories. Maybe we prefer riding on horseback along the long road to Canterbury Abbey in the company of the pilgrims of The Canterbury Tales, each with his own story to tell, and many of them … fine connoisseurs of the corridors of castles and abbeys.
The fascination of these stories will capture the world of students precisely because of its richness, because each adventure is imaginative and engaging in its own way and is a world that never ends and that will stimulate reading and creativity.
TO GO FURTHER
1) Invent a story that takes place in a castle and an abbey in Medieval times.
2) Divide into two groups by choosing the place you prefer.
3) Take inspiration from the characters of The Canterbury Tales to define how many people of your story live in the castle or abbey (remember that not all characters can live in both places).
4) Put in your story an adventurous element and also a magical one, get help from the Tales from Camelot and if you want to emphasize a warrior or have planned a battle with a monster or a dragon observe Beowulf‘s strategies to win against the enemy.
5) Decide if you want to write the story and read it aloud to the other group or if you prefer to dramatize it as a play.