My work with the NEH-funded Institute of Immersive Global Middle Ages has focused on the thirteenth century complex of Santo Stefano in Bologna as an example of sense-activated architecture for would-be pilgrims in medieval Italy. This project utilizes an immersive, virtual reality model of the complex to investigate the ways in which pilgrims could, through sensory-guided imagination, transform the architecture in Bologna to its spiritual counterparts in Jerusalem.
Virtual reality is integral to this project as a modern method of accessing simulacra—it can summon far-flung places, objects, and even people into the user’s simulation—this makes it an appropriate tool to probe the function and purpose of imaginary pilgrimages for the medieval person. By investigating the unseen connections formed in the imagination of modern users, and what fosters them, we hope to unearth a deeper understanding of the audience and intended impact of the imaginary pilgrimage which moves beyond strict visual similitude as a measure of reality. This project advances the field of immersive technologies by demonstrating the power of virtual reality to recreate historical environments and explore the transformative nature of human imagination. Furthermore, this project offers valuable insights into the human capacity for transforming physical spaces into metaphysical realms, resonating with contemporary discussions on the power of imagination and virtual experiences.