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5.0 out of 5 stars So that's what those cathedrals were for, 15 Jun 2011
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This review is from: The Penguin History of the Church: Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages (Paperback)
Visit any European city and you will inevitably be struck by the majesty of its huge cathedral. You might occasionally wonder what they all really represent. Professor Southern's `church history as an aspect of secular history' explains the way in which the medieval church was effectively the state.

He describes how the Roman Church replaced the Roman Empire in Western Europe as the latter declined, and went on to develop in power between the eighth and fourteenth centuries. Capitalising on the regional unity established by the Romans, the papacy was able grow in stature, and by the 12th and 13th century, was the dominant secular force in Europe.

Professor Southern sifts through the documentary evidence cataloguing the activities of popes, cardinals, bishops, monks, and lesser clerics - effectively the politicians, judiciary, police, and workforce of the church.

Running alongside their religious activity ( not examined here) was a strong secular identity. Rulers were coerced, by the threat of excommunication, to maintain the pope's edicts. No war could be declared unless the church first decreed its cause to be sacred. The Pope himself waged war on `unbelievers'. Heresy was a capital offence. Non-Christians such as Jews were denied citizenship. Monks devoted themselves to praying for the souls of prominent landowners, who in return bequeathed swathes of their estates.

The church's influence declined during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, as non-religious thought and action gradually separated out and overcame it.

But, by then, those cathedrals were built.
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