Life was short and hard in the Middle Ages. Most people believed in the Christian promise that they would be rewarded in heaven after they died. This was a major part of church teachings.
The Church also taught that if people went against the teachings and rules of the church that they would be punished after they died.
These ideas made most people follow the rules of the Christian Church.
The church also had economic power. The Church made a tremendous amount of money through taxes.
The Church also received large pieces of land from lords. The church was the single largest land owner in the Middle Ages.
The church acted as the government. It made laws and set up the courts to uphold the laws.
People in the Middle Ages were threatened with excommunication, or being banished from church life and basically being banished from society.
Nobles and lords went to high church officials for advice. The church limited warfare, made peace between feudal lords, or even countries. This is one reason why this period saw little warfare.
Through the structure of the church, the Christian Church had power in every kingdom, village, and fief. Priests were in every village. The priests reported to a bishop, who reported to the archbishop. The archbishops reported directly to the Pope.
The Church was involved in all aspects in people’s lives.
Religious men and women lived in monasteries and convents throughout Europe.
Monks and nuns owned a large percentage of the land in Europe. Monks developed better ways to grow crops and tend livestock. Monasteries sometimes acted as hotels for people traveling through Europe.
Monks also had the important job of copying books from ancient times. They preserved many of the great classics and knowledge that may have been lost.
Nuns usually tended the sick and set up schools.
Parish priests were very involved in the lives of the people. And, in return, people usually were asked to give 1/10thof their salary to the church each year.
In the mid 1100s, Northern Europeans began to build large stone churches called cathedrals.
The Gothic cathedral was an expression of medieval religion, and became a symbol of medieval society. Towns and cities built their own churches and cathedrals, the bigger the cathedral, the more religious they felt they were. The whole town would work at building the church.
Gothic cathedrals had ceilings over 1000 feet high. They were developed to bring in more light and had stained glass windows to decorate all around.
Stone arches called flying buttresses held the weight of the roof. And they allowed the windows to take the place of the walls.