There were also strong economic ties between the Church and the people.
All land that did not already belong to the Church was taxed for the benefit
of the Church. One tenth (a tithe) of everything produced on this land was
given to the Church. In addition, the Church itself did not pay taxes on
anything donated to it. Pilgrims who expected a saint to produce a miracle,
were expected to make an offering to the saint's church. As a consequence, the Church became very rich. By the end of the middle ages, the Church owned
approximately one third of all the farmed land in Catholic Europe!
The Church also strictly
controlled people's everyday life. Everyone belonged to their local
parish. From managing the important civic ceremonies of birth, marriage and
death, to organizing the festivals associated with Holy days, the Church was
responsible for all aspects of village social life. Most importantly, the
parishioner attended a weekly Sunday ceremony (Mass) and regularly told the
priest all their most personal secrets (Confession).
and socially, the Church exercised an all-embracing 'Catholic' influence but
it was the cultural influence that was most important of all. By controlling
the minds of medieval men and women, by influencing how people
explained what happened to them, the Church had no need to physically force
people to do things.
Medieval people were
fatalists. They believed that everything that happened because God wanted it
to happen. Nothing happened naturally, everything happened because of
'divine intervention' (God's actions). When good things happened people were
being rewarded by God and they thanked him. When bad things happened, they
were being punished for something doing something sinful. Medieval people were constantly on
the lookout for signs or omens of God's moods. For the people of Paris, a
red sky at night three times in a row, was an sign of war; the appearance of
Halley's comet in 1066 was shown on the Bayeux Tapestry, as an omen of
the great upheavals to come.
Life for medieval people
was a constant struggle between the forces of good and evil. They believed
that good and evil actually existed in objects all around them (pantheism)
The reason for this predates the Christian faith. In particular, the Devil
was to be found all around, tempting people away from good Christian
behaviour. Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny in the the 12th century
collected stories about the Devil and listed over 1000 different forms that the Devil may
take, including spider, vulture, bear and black pig. For St. Bruno the Devil
actually existed, invisible in the air around us: 'a breath of wind, a
turbulence in the air, the gust that blows men to the ground and harms their
crops, these are the whistlings of the Devil'.
But it was with illness or
in the face of death that medieval minds became most obsessed with good and
the priest could save the individual soul from eternal damnation and
purgatory. Hell was a possibility that filled people’s minds with horror and dread.
Richard Alkerton a preacher in 1406, described the eternal nature of Hell
that would have been familiar to medieval people:
in fire and brimstone without end. Venomous worms...shall gnaw all the
members unceasingly, and the worms of conscience shall gnaw the soul... Now
ye shall have everlasting bitterness... This fire that tormenteth you shall
never be quenched, and they that tormenteth you shall never be weary neither
(above) A medieval
vision of Hell
In the absence of
scientific explanation Illness in general was seen as an invasion of the
body by the Devil. Gregory of Tours claimed that the Devil could be vomited
up. Common 'cures' such as bleeding and drilling holes in the head were similar attempts to persuade the Devil to leave the body. To be in the
presence of something holy, the relic of a saint for example, would
hopefully bring about a miraculous cure. This was probably the main reason (motive)
for people undertaking a pilgrimage. As Chaucer explains in the Canterbury
Holy blisful for to seke
That them hath holpen whan that they were sick.'