To avoid anachronism and to help students more deeply understand a particular time and place, challenge them to list the key features of the modern world first and then remove all those features which would have been alien to people from that period.

Case Study: Why was the church so popular in the Middle Ages?

Understanding the importance of religion in Early Modern Europe can be difficult for students of our modern secular world to grasp. The church was not merely feared and respected due to its power over our the fate of souls; it also attracted geunine love, enthusiasm and support as the glue which bound communities together here on earth.

To get across this centrally important point, start the lesson (without giving the class any clue about what topic they are about to start studying) by giving students a few minutes to discuss with each other what they enjoy doing most the most in their spare time before listing all these hobbies and interests on the whiteboard.

Next, explain to the students that the next challenge is to work out how many of these would have been familiar as hobbies and pastimes in the Middle Ages. Starting with the first one on the list, the class should vote on whether they think it should stay on the board or needs to be wiped off because it was did not exist (or would not have been regarded) as a leisure activity in the Middle Ages. Some of these (computer gaming, watching TV) will be obvious; others might require more discussion.

After the “time-wipe” is finished, the board will be left with things like art, stories, food and drink, music, drama and football. At this point, tell the students that in a medieval village there was one person who was responsible for providing all of these things (and who, as a result, was very popular). After they have tried guessing who it was (the Lord of the Manor, perhaps) tell them if they fail to get the correct answer that it was in fact the parish priest. You can then go back through each of the items in the list to provide further detail:

Art Murals, stained glass (useful teaching aids for the priest)
Music Choir, hymns
Fashion Everyone wore their ‘Sunday best’
Feasting Harvest festival, Church Ales
Drama Sermons, Mumming Plays
Games Football competitions between parishes, Archery,
Holidays Comes from “Holy Day” – Saints’ Days (90 a year in the Middle Ages!)
Games Football competitions between parishes, Archery,
Games Football competitions between parishes, Archery,
Games Football competitions between parishes, Archery,

To draw things together, get students to produce a poster encouraging the local villagers to “Come to Church!” which includes as many of these ideas as possible:

Taking it further

The following lesson can investigate how the power of the church was based on fear as well as love. To do this, investigate Medieval doom paintings using the talkers and listeners approach.

Consider how the timewipe approach could be used for other topics you teach. For example, older students could begin by listing all the features of modern society which help to provide and protect rights and freedoms to citizens regardless of gender, race or religion. The timewipe could then be applied to determine how many of these were a feature of Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia or the UK at the turn of the 20thcentury.


Russel Tarr, Medieval Life and Religion – ActiveHistory (Available at: https://www.activehistory.co.uk/Miscellaneous/menus/Year_7/Medieval_Religion.htm)