In the middle ages religion was a huge part of people’s lives. They obeyed religious leader, such as the Pope, over their kings. People gave their lives up to the church, either through the Crusades, living in service to the church, or by becoming monks or nuns. Saints were looked up to above normal people, and it played an important role in everyday life. In the Middle Ages, people greatly looked up to their religious leaders, such as the Pope. The Pope, in some countries, was obeyed above even the king.
In fact, in 1303, King Philip of France had a huge disagreement with the Pope Boniface, who was Italian, about that. He ended up having Boniface kidnapped. The 86-year-old man never recovered from the trauma of it and died. The Popes in the Middle Ages were also very corrupt, saying you could be pardoned, become an important religious leader, get religious relics, marry a relative, trade with non-Christians, get dead relatives out of Purgatory, or even become a saint if you paid enough money. The Pope would also take money from churches for himself and send out collections for the Crusades and not even spend it on the Crusades.
There were also monks, who ranked below most other religious leaders. Monks are probably the most well known for their bald patches on the middle of their heads, called tonsures. They had tonsures as a symbol of the rejection of popular fashion and esteem (Medieval Monks 1). They were supposed to live in poverty, obedience, and chastity, and they took vows for all three. They usually had the same meal every day, worked until their hands bled in fields, and made sure to obey their monk rules. In the monasteries where they lived, there wasn’t much decoration and it was very poor. Monks jobs consisted of copying bibles, farming, making wine, and providing medical care to the community. They also were required to provide shelter for religious pilgrims.
Nuns were sort of like female monks. They were usually women that no one wanted to marry, that their family didn’t want to take care of anymore. They had the same rules as monks, vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty. When they became nuns, they wore a veil and got a ring and were “married to God” (Medieval Nuns 1). There were some girls, called oblates, given up by their parents when they were very young to be raised as nuns also. Nuns had mostly the same jobs as monks. The only educated non-rich girls were nuns. They were also well known for breaking their vows, having children, enjoying riches, and dancing.
Many people in the Middle Ages were greatly devoted to the church. Some rich women who wanted to give their lives to the church could choose to be come Anchoresses rather than nuns. Anchoresses were walled up into a room just off the chapel for the rest of their lives, with three windows. One to an assistant who would deliver food and take out waste, one to the outside so the Anchoress could give prayers and advice to people, and one to chapel so she could listen to sermons. Sometimes she would have her grave already dug in her room as a constant reminder of her mortality.
In addition to that, women also got involved in religion because of the Cult of the Virgin. Originally, in the Middle Ages, women were looked down upon because of the belief that because of Eve (a women) and her little stunt with the fruit in the garden of Eden, everyone was born with original sin. Original sin is supposedly the sin that all of us are born with, because our original ancestors, Adam and Eve, ate the Fruit of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden and got kicked out because of it. The Cult of the Virgin changed the negative view on women because it presented Mary as the Bride of God. Since she was without sin her entire life and gave birth to Jesus, women in the Middle Ages demanded that they were treated with more respect. And they were. For a bit.
The Crusades were holy wars commissioned by the Pope to be fought in the holy lands so that it would be returned to Christian hands. There were eight Crusades, plus a few little ones that didn’t matter very much. They were fought between the Muslims and the Christians for control of their holy lands. Many religious men died in the battles and the church gained lots of money from them.
Saints were greatly revered in the Middle Ages. Becoming a saint in the Middle Ages was a long process that took many years, “How to Become a Saint for Dummies” has a good description of the practice
Usually, the process of recognizing a saint starts no earlier than five years after a person’s death. Usually, the potential saint’s pastor presents the case to the bishop. Specific stages are met on the path to being declared a saint: • Servant of God: As soon as the person is accepted for consideration, she’s called a Servant of God. • Venerable: After the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints determines that the servant of God lived a life of heroic virtue, she is granted the title of venerable. Heroic virtue doesn’t mean a person was perfect or sinless, but that she worked aggressively to improve herself spiritually and never gave up trying to be better and grow in holiness. • Blessed: After the Church establishes one miracle, the venerable person’s cause is presented to the pope to see whether he deems her worthy of being called blessed. This step is called beatification and is the next-to-last step.
• *Saint: Another miracle and the blessed person’s cause is presented to the pope again for his judgment. If he determines that the evidence is clear and that contrary reports aren’t credible, he may initiate the canonization procedure. If all goes well, the candidate is publicly recognized as a saint. One of the most famous saints is Joan of Arc, who’s actual name was Jeanne la Pucelle. She was probably the daughter of a French farmer, though some historians argue that she was the daughter of the Queen of France. She supposedly heard angels telling her to lead the French soldiers to victory against the English army, which was invading at the time. And she defeated them, dressed as a man, in the siege of Orleans in 1429. The English eventually got a hold of her and, since she wasn’t a man and couldn’t be executed as a soldier, they burned her at the stake as a witch.
Saint Charles of Blois, also French, was also a very well known saint. He believed that men should suffer for their sins, so he made sure that he was always suffering. He put rocks in his shoes and had knotted ropes tried around his body at all times, so that he would never be without pain. He made a pilgrimage to a holy place without shoes or a coat in winter. He walked across the frozen ground until his feet were bloody and frozen. And when his admirers tried to help by putting blankets down before him, he took another road. But he was also cruel. He used catapults to heave heads of prisoners into enemy cities and he massacred over 2,000 men, women, and children when he took over the town Quimper. “Right… that’s enough slaughter for one day. Let’s all go and pray.” (Measly Middle Ages 126)
Every church is supposed to have in its possession one holy object, or else it doesn’t count as a legitimate church. What is odd about this, is that Catholics believe that a body shouldn’t be missing any bits so the soul can go to heaven, but the relics were usually bits of saints. A list of relics includes a piece of St. Eustace’s brain, wood from both Jesus’ manger and cross, stones used to stone St. Stephen to death, a piece of bread chewed on by Jesus, thorns from the crown of thorn, two heads of John the Baptist, St. Agatha’s veil and countless others. Some monks even killed saintly people for relics.
There were also gruesome plays of bible stories put on for crowds, bloodily depicting death scene, such as the crucifixion, Judas hanging himself, Emperor Nero cutting his mother’s stomach open, and John the Baptist’s beheading. Also they plays included people in animal costumes throwing actual filth on the stage so that it seemed realistic. They even illustrated stories from the Old Testament, Noah’s Ark being one of the most popular and showing Noah as almost naked and drunk.
While all this was going on, Greece and Rome had fallen at the beginning of the Dark Ages, Muslims in the Middle East and northern Africa were at war with the Christians because of the crusades, the civilizations of the Aztec, Inca, and Maya were flourishing in the Americas, and Genghis Kahn was rampaging around Asia, along with the Black Death, brought by European traders.
“Cruelty alongside saintliness. That pretty well sums up the measly Middle Ages.” (Measly Middle Ages 126). This quote also sums up the church rather well, with all the greed and cruelty, but also the people who actually did good things. The popes may have been corrupt, but they endorsed a good cause to the people of Europe, trying to send the message of “after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change” as Douglas Addams says in his book the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, they inspired people to try to get along with each other. They also inspired people to go out and kill each other, but that probably wasn’t what they were really going for. The point is, they really believed in what they were doing, and it influenced in entire age, to war, to peace, to poverty, and to riches.