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Medieval Life

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Initial post: 11 May 2012 10:59:24 BDT
Watched an interesting program on BBC 4 the other night about the attitudes of medieval people, and how their lives were governed by the constant battle between the imaginary forces of good and evil. The program was able to explain how the church fitted into all this and why it was so important.
I've always been surprised by just how many abbeys, minsters, cathedrals and churches there are about, left from the middle ages. Were people really that religious or the church so wealthy that they could pay for and build these structures ? Everyone in the medieval period believed that there was a constant evil presence that was trying to possess them so they would finish in hell, and that the devil was everywhere in many forms. The churches offered protection against this, the monasteries being the central hub, giving a protective blanket around them, the monks constantly praying for the souls of the local population. The parish church was the protective outposts from this, so really the church was the whole basis of how people lived and survived. Everyone wanted to contribute towards these buildings in order to safeguard themselves. So it wasn't exactly about being overtly religious, more like being sensible - like keeping your car serviced and paying your insurance. So actually the concept of the church is different now from what it was then.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 May 2012 13:13:05 BDT
Last edited by the author on 11 May 2012 13:13:42 BDT
gille liath says:
Yeah...that's what they'd like you to think. To understand an age of faith is just too big a leap of the imagination for most people today.

Posted on 11 May 2012 15:50:42 BDT
J.Yasimoto says:
...and the history forum bursts back into life after a months sabbatical!

In reply to an earlier post on 11 May 2012 17:04:21 BDT
Huck Flynn says:
an age of faith and ignorance indeed !

In reply to an earlier post on 11 May 2012 19:20:52 BDT
richard says:
i have read somewhere that although the west went into decline the east kept it together. also although the Roman empire in the west collapsed the church by that time had reached an autonomous position and took over some of the functions that previously the Roman empire oversaw. the catholic church prospered as the Roman empire in the west disintegrated. it's a period in time i'd like to know more about but i believe the 'dark ages' were not as dark as we might imagine them to be although i do think that the rise of the catholic church did spell the end of an age of enlightenment that the Greeks produced.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 May 2012 19:31:59 BDT
Last edited by the author on 11 May 2012 19:34:49 BDT
gille liath says:
You couldn't be more wrong. The church was the one bastion of learning that endured the barbarian invasions in the West. The classical age of Greece had ended centuries before the rise of Christianity - to which the Eastern Empire, Byzantium as we now know it, was if anything even more dedicated than the West.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 May 2012 19:34:33 BDT
gille liath says:
...And that's exactly what I'm talking about.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 May 2012 19:44:05 BDT
gille liath says:
This time for good, I'm sure...

In reply to an earlier post on 11 May 2012 19:47:53 BDT
richard says:
the emerging power of the catholic church recommended bible study over study of the Greek works and said that the Greeks works acted as a barrier to understanding god. (more or less) the church helped to end the study of Greek works.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 May 2012 19:52:40 BDT
Last edited by the author on 11 May 2012 20:01:33 BDT
gille liath says:
Complete rubbish.

Without the church there would've been no study of literature in the west whatsoever. Plus the eastern empire perpetuated the study of Greek literature until its fall - in spite, as I say, of being equally Christian and part of what was at that time the same church.

Posted on 11 May 2012 19:54:02 BDT
richard says:
fine that's the end of that then!

In reply to an earlier post on 11 May 2012 19:55:32 BDT
gille liath says:
There's no point in attempting a discussion where all we have to go on is our prejudices - which brings us back to the starting point.

Posted on 11 May 2012 20:13:18 BDT
richard says:
your prejudices are yours to own and do with as you like.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 May 2012 20:23:39 BDT
My specific interest is the influence on Architecture, as these beliefs stimulated the building of some incredible places. I have spent time photographing some and I have often wondered about the impact they would have had when originally seen.

Posted on 11 May 2012 20:36:23 BDT
J.Yasimoto says:
I presume you've seen Civilisation? History of medieval architecture, along with music and art (of interest to a photographer?) all put into context. Albeit a rather conservative context. But worth a go if you haven't seen it.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 May 2012 20:36:28 BDT
Sporgon says:
There was a four part film shown on TCM recently - "Pillars of the Earth" adapted from the book by Ken Follett. This showed the building of a cathedral and gave some pretty good imagery of the "brand new" building. I can see the point you are making because when freshly built they would have been astonishing ! Which ones have you photographed ?

In reply to an earlier post on 11 May 2012 20:51:07 BDT
I have seen Civilisation. On a recent visit to Howden Minster I noticed the new masonry and it astonished me the thought of the whole building being precise and sharp edged! I had just always imagined Churches and other historical buildings as being, well less precise! In response to Sporgon, the Pillars of the Earth is a fascinating book. I have, with my brother photographed several of the Abbeys in Yorskshire. Not all of them are ruins, some are still used today, which is even more amazing when you consider how often they fell down!

In reply to an earlier post on 11 May 2012 21:01:54 BDT
Sporgon says:
I think I watched the same program, presented by Robert Bartlett a short time ago, and your summary is quite accurate. No body is claiming that the church, or rather the monastic system, was not leading the way in education. In fact it was so much so that the monasteries began founding the colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, the success of which began to lead to the demise of the monastic system before the dissolution of the monasteries, as previous benefactors - including prominent bishops and abbotts - began supporting the development of these colleges instead of the monasteries. Presumably around this time - the fifteen century - the general population felt they had less need for the church to keep evil spirits away............

In reply to an earlier post on 11 May 2012 21:10:24 BDT
Last edited by the author on 11 May 2012 21:22:29 BDT
gille liath says:
Well, somebody is claiming it - as you see on this thread. I actually think it would come as startling news to a lot of people that the church was 'leading the way in education'.

I think the element of truth in all this is that, for medieval people, it wasn't the church on one side and life on the other; the church was, as BP says, the whole basis of life. No-one with any knowledge of medieval culture can doubt that. But it would be a mistake to think people at that time rationalised their involvement with any such modern concept as 'insurance'; that may be our way of framing it, it wasn't theirs.

Maybe we feel more comfortable telling ourselves that medieval piety was all some sort of of pretence and that, beneath the surface observances, those people were as mundane and materialistic as ourselves. But history suggests that wasn't so - or at least, not always.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 May 2012 21:24:13 BDT
Sporgon says:
I think BP's analogy of insurance is actually quite good ! People of all classes did give money to the church to pray for their souls - they were rational in so much as they felt it was "money well spent"

In reply to an earlier post on 14 May 2012 14:41:22 BDT
Huck Flynn says:
faith and learning only go hand in hand when it suits religion. i agree that religious institutions deserve credit for the copying and preserving of texts (religious and secular) when the common people couldn't read or write. that doesn't turn the scriptures into science or history

In reply to an earlier post on 14 May 2012 19:26:07 BDT
Sporgon says:
I think Building Panoramic's point was that it had nothing to do with scriptures, in fact if I read him correctly his point is that the life you led in medieval times dominated by fear and superstition, and the "church" was an essential element in protecting you from this. The learning and "education" developed in the monastic system seems to me to be a spin off of the (relatively ) safe and ordered life that these people led - they probably had plenty of time to think about such things while the rest of the population was either very poor, and trying to stay alive, or very rich and having a good time.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 May 2012 19:36:18 BDT
gille liath says:
Again, no. The monastic system developed at the time of greatest crisis in the west. It didn't make use of a privileged position to do things others didn't have the opportunity to do (at least not in the first instance) - it earned its privileges by performing functions people valued.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 May 2012 19:37:48 BDT
gille liath says:
Talk about a one-track mind. I must have missed the part where someone said it did - however virtually all learning at that time, of whatever kind, took place under the aegis of the church.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 May 2012 19:53:09 BDT
Sporgon says:
I had a look on B P's website and his pictures are certainly worth seeing. He has a blog where he makes other comments regarding this type of stuff so it might be interesting to comment on some of it.
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Discussion in:  history discussion forum
Participants:  13
Total posts:  40
Initial post:  11 May 2012
Latest post:  25 Feb 2013

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