Catholic Church and Cathedrals

Christianity and the Catholic Church played a major role in Europe during the Middle Ages. The local church was the center of town life. People attended weekly ceremonies and held life-cycle events at the church. Cathedrals and churches were often used as large meeting places. The church confirmed kings on their throne, giving them the divine right to rule.

The Catholic Church became very rich and powerful during the Middle Ages. People tithed 1/10th of their earnings to the church. They paid for various rites, such as baptism, marriage, and communion, and for penances. The wealthy often donated land to the church, which owned about one-third of the land in Western Europe. The church was required to pay taxes to the king for the land. Church leaders also became rich and powerful. Many nobles became abbots or bishops in the church.

The highest leader of the Catholic Church was the pope. Next in the hierarchy were powerful men called cardinals, followed by bishops and abbots. Even bishops held a lot of power on the local level. Churches provided education and aided the poor and the sick.

Many churches were built during the Middle Ages. Cathedrals were the most expensive and beautiful buildings built. Construction on a cathedral could take over two hundred years. Master masons could work on a single cathedral for their entire career. Most cathedrals were designed in the shape of a cross.

Around the 12th century, cathedrals began to be built in a new style called Gothic architecture. The weight of the vaulted ceilings rested on buttresses, so the walls could be thinner and taller. It also allowed for tall windows on the walls.

Some of the great art of the Middle Ages was produced for cathedrals, including stained glass windows, sculpture, architecture, and painted murals.

Entire countries converted to Christianity. First the king converted, then his nobles and people. Although Christianity dominated Europe during the Middle Ages, there were other religions. There were pagan religions such as the Viking worship of the god Thor. The Muslims ruled much of Spain for many years. The Jews played a significant role in the economy because they were allowed to loan money and charge interest.

Source: Catholic Church and Cathedrals
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