Middle Ages

Topic: ArtPhotography
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Last updated: November 28, 2020

The word ‘Church’ means ‘belonging to the Lord’. In the Middle Ages, the word had more than one meaning. In the broadest sense, it meant the body of all good Christians.

It included those already in purgatory and heaven, together with those on earth who would one day be saved.The word ‘church’ also stood for the clergy. These were people , such as priests, monks, nuns and friars, who had promised to spend their lives in the service of God. People who did not belong to the clergy were called the ‘laity’.The church was the centre of village life.

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It was the place where everyone gathered at least one a week, on Sunday, to worship God and swap news. The church was the tallest building in the village and often the only one built of stone. Its walls were covered with religious paintings, especially paintings of the Last Judgement, showing the damned being dragged to hell, and the saved climbing to heaven.

These were the only pictures that most people ever saw and they believed that what they saw was true. This encouraged the villagers to become good Christians so that their soul’s would be saved. The images of hell terrified the people into worshipping God.Churches were divided into two parts. The holiest area was the eastern end, called the chancel.

This was where the Alter was placed. It was here that the priest recited the services, which were in Latin. The western end of the church, called the nave, was for the ordinary worshippers.TithesThe maintenance of the church was paid for by a tax called a tithe, or tenth. All the villagers had to pay a tenth of their income. Usually this meant a tenth of the crops they grew in the fields. If people did not pay, the Church had the power to arrest and punish them. They could also be arrested for other offences, including heresy, witchcraft, eating meat on a Friday, or failing to go to church.

Punishments included beating, fines, imprisonment and excommunication.The PriestOnly men could be priests. Apart from leading the services, a priest was meant to explain Christian beliefs to the ordinary people. He taught them how to say prayers and, if he was a good priest, preached to them about the life of Christ.MonksMonks were men who chose to live apart from the everyday world, in monasteries. When men became monks, they had to make vows, or promises. They promised to give up all their personal property, never to marry and always to obey their abbot the chief monk.The monks’ way of life was laid down in a rule, a set of instructions drawn up by the founder of their order.

The most famous rule was written by St Benedict in the sixth century. His followers were called Benedictines.The monks’ most important task was to sing the Divine Service, a collection of Bible songs praising God. They had to do this seven times every day and once in the middle of the night.

This was called the ‘work of God’. The monks spent the rest of the day in study, prayer and in work in the fields of the monastery.St Benedict’s aim was to teach the monks to be humble, to realize how unimportant they were compared with God.

This was why they spent so many hours each day praising him. Being obedient, working in the fields and having no possessions of their own, helped the monks to be humble. For the same reason, the monks all dressed alike in simple black robes called habits.NunsWomen could also choose to live apart from the everyday world, by becoming nuns. However, there were far fewer nuns than monks, for they mostly came from rich families. Nuns had paid servants to work in the fields for them and their rules were less hard. Nuns were often widows, or daughters for whom husbands could not be found.

Several English queens became nuns.Monks and nuns lived the religious life for its own sake. Even so, people believed that their services helped everyone in the battle against the devil.

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