Ancient history

The Church in the Middle Ages

The Church in the Middle Ages was a very powerful institution as it was a deeply religious time. Therefore, the Catholic Church had a lot of influence on society and, although other faiths existed, in the 11th century Europe was largely Christian.
Beyond the borders that separated the European kingdoms, a new concept of union was born:Christendom .
Despite these achievements, Christianity was deeply affected when, in the year 1054, the Byzantine bishops denied the authority of the Pope, causing the so-called Eastern schism .
Since then, the European Christian world was divided in two :The East opted for the Greek Orthodox Church, while the West remained faithful to the Roman Catholic Church.
In the West, the Church became closely linked to feudal society; the Church itself was a great feudal power , since he owned a third of the land property of the Catholic world and among other things, he had the right to tithe, which was a tenth of the crops of all the people.
In addition, many members of the nobility became bishops. They received their diocese as concessions from kings or other nobles and like any other feudal lord, they had fiefdoms and numerous vassals . As a consequence of this, the Church became secularized and their customs relaxed.

Christianity and Church

About a thousand years ago almost all of Western Europe began to be called Christendom , because all its kingdoms accepted the authority of the Pope and all its inhabitants professed Christianity. All the Christian territories were considered a single empire and its most important figures were the Pope and the Emperor. The Church was then very powerful; bishops and abbots owned large tracts of land; the clerics, who were almost the only educated people, were in charge of educating the young, helping the poor and were the main advisors of the kings.

The other creeds

Although Western Europe was mostly Christian in the 11th century, there was a minority that was not:Jews and Muslims.
The Jews they lived scattered in many European cities dedicated, above all, to trade. This religious group was not well liked. The Christians tolerated him although, on many occasions, they persecuted them for their ideas.
From the 8th century, the Muslims occupied almost all of Spain. There they formed a very powerful group whose capital was in the city of Córdoba.

The organization of the Church in the Middle Ages

The Church in the Middle Ages had a lot of power. This was due to its enormous wealth, its clear organization and its cultural importance, which contrasted with the disorder, ignorance and violence of feudal society. All members of the Church made up the clergy, which was divided into two:the secular clergy and regular clergy . The spiritual leader of all was the Pope.

The secular clergy

With the name of secular clergy, those members of the Church who lived in the world, mixed with the laity, were designated:the Pope , the archbishops , the bishops and the parish priests .
The parish priests were in charge of small districts called parishes. Several parishes formed a diocese , whose head was a bishop, and several dioceses formed an archdiocese , led by an archbishop.

The regular clergy

From the sixth century the regular clergy was organized in the West. Unlike the secular clergy, its members chose to isolate themselves from the world and live in monasteries ruled by an abbot . They also followed some rules specific.
In the West, monasticism was initiated by Saint Benedict of Nursia , who founded the Benedictine order. His rule was based on the motto ora et labora , that is, pray and work. At the same time, the Benedictine order forced its members to fulfill vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty. The rule of Saint Benedict was endorsed by the Papacy.

The problems of the Clergy

In the early Middle Ages, the clergy was chosen by the religious community. As of the 10th century, however, the monarchs decided to reserve this right called investiture .
In this way the clergy, deprived of all independence , was subject to princes and lords, and at his choice could fall on characters who lacked all spiritual wealth.
This caused the relaxation of customs and the two main vices of the time:the simony , which consisted of the purchase of ecclesiastical positions through influence or money, and Nicolaism , that is, the rejection of religious celibacy, transgressing the purity of ecclesiastical customs.
Despite this corruption, the clergy tried to humanize the harsh customs of the time and avoid constant wars.
For the so-called right of asylum , prohibited any violent act against anyone who was inside a church or convent. Through the peace of God , forbade feudal lords to attack in battle those who did not fight. Finally, the Truce of God It consisted of the prohibition to fight from Friday to Sunday and during religious festivities, under penalty of excommunication.

Benedictine problems

The Benedictine rule, transplanted from the monastery of Monte Cassino, in Italy, to other countries, proved to have some weak points. Since each monastery was autonomous, each of them operated in great isolation. Furthermore, one of the requirements of the rule was the obligation of each monk to remain all his life in a monastery in which he had entered. This norm produced a lack of contact between the monasteries and caused the monks to be easily influenced by people who took advantage of their lack of information. According to the rule, the monks chose their abbot without the bishop being able to interfere in these elections. However, this rule was disobeyed:not only the bishops interfered in the elections, but also the laity, who offered money in exchange for the monks electing their preferred candidate. In this way, the Benedictine order became corrupted.

Cultural Centers

Life in the monasteries was perfectly regulated:people prayed and worked. However, not all monks were dedicated to the same work. Some worked in the orchards, others dedicated themselves to artisan work, and there were some who dedicated themselves to an eminently cultural company:they copied, decorated and bound the manuscripts that contained the great works of classical knowledge. These manuscripts or codices, written with goose feathers, were adorned with polychrome miniatures (flowers, landscapes and characters) and were jealously guarded in the libraries of the monasteries. The only schools of the time also operated in the monasteries. In them the future monks and many laymen, studied the first letters.

The Ecclesiastical renewal

In the eleventh century, the regular clergy reacted against the relaxation of the customs of the Church and the power of the laity over it. The monastic movement was reformed by two Benedictine convents.

Cluny, the spirit of reform

The first reform started from the Cluny Abbey , founded in 910. The monks of Cluny opted for the exclusive protection of the Pope (and not that of the bishop or feudal lord) and reinforced the authority of the abbot.
Under these reforms the Cluniac order was born. , which spread rapidly in Europe. At its height of popularity in the early 12th century, it had nearly 1,500 monasteries, all under the authority of the abbot of Cluny.

The Cluniac order

The Cluniac order was essentially an aristocratic order, as most of its monks were members of the nobility. Perhaps for this reason, manual labor was no longer considered a suitable occupation and was replaced by an elaborate liturgy , which occupied most of the monks' time. The organization of Cluny was based on the feudal idea of ​​hierarchy:in the same way that in feudal society there was a king at the top, with counts, dukes, knights and the rest on a scale of greater to lesser importance, the abbot of Cluny was the head of a whole hierarchy of subordinate members. All the Cluniac monasteries were under the authority of him.

Citeaux, the return to simplicity

However, in the middle of the 12th century, the Cluniacs moved away from the Benedictine ideal of life, becoming extremely wealthy. This gave rise to a second reform that started from the Citeaux monastery, also in France; its promoter was San Bernardo de Claraval .
In search of a more secluded and strict life, the Cisternienses They founded their own order. The Cistercian order spread throughout Europe in the 13th century, and its expansion was also spectacular.

San Bernardo de Claraval

The expansion and influence of the Cisterian order was due, in large part, to the activity of Saint Bernard. This character entered the abbey of Citeaux in the year 1112 and three years later, he chose a place to found a new monastery of which he was the first abbot:the abbey of Clairvaux. Saint Bernard, supported by the Papacy, exerted enormous influence in combating heresies. He was also a deep thinker and writer:he left more than 350 sermons and about 500 letters. While he was doing this, he was ruling his abbey of 700 monks. When he died, the abbey of Clairvaux had at least 68 monasteries that depended on it.

The Investiture Complaint

Thanks to the Benedictine reforms, the regular clergy became largely independent of the influence of the laity.
However, one problem remained to be solved; the election or investiture of the Pope and of the bishops who, since the 10th century, were appointed by the Holy Roman Emperor.
Since the eleventh century, the Popes sought to put an end to this situation. For this reason, in the year 1075 Pope Gregory VII, who dreamed of a Church free from the influence of the German emperors, published a decree that prohibited all laymen from investing any member of the Church, including the Supreme Pontiff.
This decree gave rise to a series of violent conflicts between the Pope and the German emperor Henry IV called the Investiture Complaint. For refusing to comply, Henry IV was excommunicated. As excommunication was the worst punishment there was, Henry IV had to humiliate himself before the Pope, begging for forgiveness on his knees in the Italian castle of Canossa, in Italy.
This conflict ended in 1122 with the signing of the Concordat of Worms , which was agreed between Pope Calixtus II and Emperor Henry V. Through the Concordat, the emperor forever renounced the appointment of bishops and Popes.
From then on, the powers of the Church and the empire were defined and the Catholic Church was strengthened.

Faith in the Middle Ages

With the ecclesiastical reforms, the Catholic Church achieved supreme power in the twelfth century. His triumph was also due to the wave of Christian fervor that enveloped the lower classes.
Faith was founded on the hope of a better life . The veneration of the Virgin, the saints and the relics that, it was believed, could work miracles, spread throughout Christianity.
On the other hand, the Church guided her parishioners, preventing them from falling into heresies or false beliefs. To achieve this, she had two powerful weapons:the excommunication and the Inquisition .
Through excommunication, anyone who did not obey her orders was expelled from the Church. The excommunicated could not receive sacraments, and was outside the divine law. Excommunication was the worst punishment of the Middle Ages.
On the other hand, in the 12th century the Inquisition was founded:an ecclesiastical court that investigated people of doubtful faith. To obtain information, the inquisitors tortured the accused.
The punishments varied according to the sin:from riding on the back of a donkey with a rope around the neck and a pointed hat called a sambenito until being burned at the stake.

The pilgrimages

One of the manifestations of feudal society's attachment to religious beliefs were pilgrimages:trips that the faithful, both rich and poor, made on foot to different religious sanctuaries and that lasted for months or years.
The most important centers of pilgrimage were Rome , spiritual capital of Christianity; Jerusalem , where the Holy Sepulchre, and Santiago de Compostela , where the apostle Santiago was believed to be buried.
Christians made pilgrimages for very different reasons. Some fulfilled penances or a promise, others sought purification, and others did so out of curiosity or the desire to trade in the places where the pilgrims arrived.

The guide to Santiago

In the 11th century, Santiago de Compostela, in northern Spain, became as important a place of pilgrimage as Rome and Jerusalem. The pilgrimages were reported in an extensive codex from the 12th century. This manuscript contained an authentic guide for pilgrims in which the faithful were warned of the dangers of the road and at the same time, the pilgrimage to Santiago was encouraged.
Any pilgrim was subjected to the penalties of the route and the problems of food and security. The guide pointed out the water sources, the types of food in the different regions and even the possible risks of robberies, as well as the inns, hospitals and churches that were worth visiting.

The millennialism

Another spiritual expression of the time was millenarianism, that is, the belief that a thousand years after his death, Christ would return and reign on Earth for a thousand years before the Final Judgment . Millennialism greatly influenced society. Some gave up their riches to make themselves more worthy of the coming of Christ.
The poorest, on the other hand, frequently formed sects that confronted the violence of the Jews, the rich or the clergy, thinking that they were unworthy of the arrival of Christ.
These sects, led by alleged prophets and messiah , were the origin of many medieval things, such as that of the Albingenses.


One of the manifestations of medieval piety was the cult of relics; devotion to the remains of a saint, his bones, or some object related to him. The chalice from which Jesus drank at the last supper, The Holy Grail , was one of the most sought after relics but was never found. According to the Gospel of Saint John, the Jew Joseph of Arimathea claimed the body of Christ to bury it, and also took the Holy Grail, which was lost over time. The Holy Grail was the origin of many medieval stories, and also of some heresies.
In the late twelfth century, for example, a sect of French monks, the Albigensians, claimed to possess the Holy Grail. Then, the king of France, Felipe II, obtained papal consent to declare war on them for heresy.