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Religion in Medieval Times


What Was Religion Like?


The middle Ages, also known as the Medieval Times of Feudal Europe, was a very different society from the society that we know today. Religion played a significant role in the society of that time. The Roman Catholic Church was the only church in Europe during the middle Ages, and had its own laws and large assets. The church played a role in politics, law, and learning. The kings, nobles, and church officials worked together to govern Western Europe. The church was the center of daily life in every village and town.

In 1000 Monks brought the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church to Europe. They converted people to Catholic faith, and built churches and monasteries. The priests and bishops continued the work started by the monks as the church leaders wanted to build a civilization based on the Christian teachings. The people were loyal to the Pope in Rome. Friars and the crusades also influenced religion in the middle Ages.


Religion and Every Day Life


Religion and the church was the center of every day life in the town. Every town or village had a church. On Friday the people obeyed the churches rule not to eat meat. On Sunday everyone went to mass or worship (church). Holidays that were kept were usually in honor of a saint or related to some religious event. To become a king, vassal, or knight, a religious ceremony was performed. Only Catholics were considered members of society.

The church taught that all people have sinned and had to rely on God's favor to get into heaven. The only way to receive God's favor was to receive sacraments. One of the most important sacraments was receiving Holy Communion, which was performed at every mass. The sacrament was a reminder to the people that Christ had died for them, and it would make them better Christians.


Monks and Nuns


Monks and nuns lived in a place called a monastery. A monk is a man who is a member of brotherhood. A monastery is a kind of half church half hospital. Monasteries in the middle Ages were based on the rules set down by St. Benedict in the sixth century. The Monks became known as leaders. By 1000 the monks had brought the Catholic teachings to most of Europe.

Monks were required to perform manual labor and were forbidden to own property, leave the monastery, or become involved in concerns of society. Their daily tasks were usually carried out in silence. Monks and nuns (who lived in convents) usually took care of the less fortunate members of the community or village. The monks worked hard to make the land produce. They became known as the best farmers in Western Europe. They were well educated and could usually read and write in Latin. Many monks devoted themselves to learning. Some of the first encyclopedias were written by monks and then copied over by hand. Monks and nuns spent most of their time praying, meditating, teaching, writing, and reading. Their three main jobs were work, study, and prayer. They would teach the people of the village to read and write. The monks usually wore brown robes with hoods around their heads. The nuns wore black gowns and head wear.


Parish and Castle Priest


The clergy, or the priests ran the Catholic Church. Each priest had his own parish, or church. The priests conducted worship services and explained Christian teachings to the people. They took care of the poor and strangers in the parish. Priests were appointed by local lords, so they were expected to tell the people to respect the king, nobles, and other government officials. The priests said Mass for the town church and also said Mass in the castle. This was done in its chapel. They were also responsible for the collection of church taxes. Priests recorded births, married people, and conducted burials. Often the priests were the only people in the village who could read or write. They were sometimes responsible for village and castle record keeping.

The priests set up schools in cathedrals, which were churches headed by the bishops. The schools were to prepare the sons of nobles for service in the church. Eventually, these schools also trained students to be government officials, lawyers, and teachers.

The priests had considerable influence over the people. He could force them to attend church and punish them in the church court if they refused. Priests collected a tenth of whatever the peasants had produced from their land over the course of the year. This money was called a "tithe."

Not everyone could become a priest. Serfs were not permitted to become priests, and if a person was physically disabled, he could not become a priest. No woman could become a priest, and the men who did become priests were not permitted to marry. The priests were appointed by the bishops or noblemen.




The bishop was the leader of the priests. The bishop ruled over groups of parishes called "diocese." Bishops were an important part of the feudal system. Many bishops came from noble families, and received land from the king in return for military service. Since bishops were not permitted to fight, they gave some of their land to knights to fight in their place. Bishops owned large, wealthy estates and their headquarters was in cathedrals. The cathedral was the largest building in any medieval city.

Most kings could not read or write, and since bishops could read and write, they were used to carry out such government duties as keeping records. The bishops often sat on the king's council.

Bishops were often very wealthy and dressed lavishly, wearing many of the same clothes as a feudal lord. They had their own religious garments to wear also. Bishops often had their own castles from which to conduct business. In this way, they were deep - rooted in the feudal society. They were accepted in royal courts and often took part in politics. They had many duties such as to levy taxes and settle issues such as annulments of marriages.

The Pope was the leader of the bishops during the middle Ages.


The Pope


The Pope was the head of the Catholic Church during the middle Ages, and today. The Pope had considerable power both as a religious and political leader. Those who opposed the Pope on important issues lost their membership in the church and their political rights. The Pope had his own courts of justice and government offices. He ruled from Rome with the help of a group of bishops known as the College of Cardinals.

One of the most powerful Popes of the middle Ages was Gregory VII. He wanted to rid the church of the kings and feudal systems control. He also wanted to increase the Pope's authority over church officials. He issued a document stating the Pope was above all kings and other church officials. The document also stated that the government officials who disobeyed this document would be removed from office. He also told the people they did not have to obey any official who disobeyed the Pope. Later an agreement called the Concordat of Worms was signed that gave both the Pope and the king a part in the selection of bishops.

As head of the Catholic Church, the Pope had the final authority in all matters of the church.




Friars mean "brother" and were similar to monks in that they took religious vows and lived in religious communities. Unlike monks they did not shut themselves off from the rest of the world. They lived in towns and worked to bring Christianity to the people. The friars took a strict vow of poverty and had to beg for everything. The friars kept many people loyal to the teachings of the church.




The crusades were a series of wars undertaken by western Europeans to regain the Holy Land from the Muslims. These wars lasted over 200 years. Pope Urban II told the knights that they should go fight for the Holy Land, the land where Jesus lived. He thought Christians should have the land where Jesus lived, not the Muslims.

There were five crusades. The first crusade was the People's Crusade. Before the lords get an army, many people went to the Holy Land. They were not like an army but more like a mob. This crusade was not very successful. Many were killed during this crusade.

During the second crusade, the first official army was sent. It started in 1097, and two years later in 1099, the Christians captured Jerusalem.

For the third crusade the Christians called upon people from different countries to fight for the Christians. It was such a fierce war that many people left to war and never returned. In 1187 the Muslims recaptured Jerusalem.

Three kings led the fourth crusade: Frederick I, Phillip II, and Richard I. Although the Christians won a number of battles they did not capture Jerusalem. After a while, they agreed to make peace for give years even though the Muslims still owned Jerusalem.

The last crusade was the Children's crusade. Children thought they could win the Holy Land by love, but unfortunately many children were taken as slaves and never reached the Holy Land.


The Catholic Church


The Catholic Church was the only church in Europe during the Middle Ages. It had its own laws. Church leaders such as bishops and archbishops sat on the king's council and played leading roles in government. Bishops, who were often wealthy and came from noble families, ruled over groups of parishes called "diocese. The village priest tended to the sick and indigent and, if he was able, taught Latin and the Bible to the youth of the village.

As the population of Europe expanded in the twelfth century, the churches that had been built in the Roman style with round-arched roofs became too small.

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