At the beginning of the Middle Ages, the most common religion was a form of folk belief we nowadays call “paganism.”
Paganism was a polytheistic religion (one which worshipped multiple gods) and was strongly connected to ancient beliefs in luck, fate, and superstition.
Pagans believed that there were gods for every force of nature and had to perform special rituals to honor each one.
Over time, however, paganism was replaced as the main religion in Europe by the spread of Christianity.
Although the process of Christianization was slow, by the end of the Middle Ages Catholicism had become the dominant religion in Europe, and faced little competition.
The spread of Catholicism was helped by improvements in literacy during this period, as well as the invention of the first printing press.
The Church also gained popularity by offering support to the peasants of Europe; food for the homeless, schools for poor children and “salvation” for those who feared they wouldn’t be rewarded in the afterlife were all incentives for people to convert to Christianity.
The “holy war” of the Crusades also helped to boost the popularity of the Catholic Church through propaganda.
During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church was led from Rome, though many other countries had a similar Church entity. The Pope was the overall leader of the Church, and was venerated (looked up to) by the people as a saintly figure.
Each Pope was chosen by a vote from the College of Cardinals, a collection of the Church’s top members who were taken from countries across Europe.
Religion was extremely important during the Middle Ages. Religion controlled every aspect of how people lived their lives; from the moment you woke up to the moment you went to bed at night, you were required to live per the faith you practiced.
Unlike nowadays, where Christianity isn’t preached very aggressively, the Catholicism of the Middle Ages was extremely strict.
Discussion of “Hell” and “sin” could be found at every instance of Mass, and the threat of eternal damnation was used to force people to comply with the Church’s orders.
For example, this is how the Church got soldiers to fight in their Crusades. By describing the Crusades as a “holy war,” people believed that they would go to Heaven if they fought for the Church.
Peasants would pray daily and go to Mass every weekend to show that they were dedicated members of the Church.
They would also pledge a certain amount of their yearly earnings to the Church as a charitable donation, and many bought pieces of paper called “Indulgences” that supposedly worked like “tickets” to get into Heaven. Religion was at the forefront of nearly every activity in the Middle Ages.
Even the law was impacted by the spread of Christianity. Under the Church’s rule, practices like witchcraft, fortune-telling, and spellcasting were all banned by European states, and made punishable by death.
This was because these activities were seen to be in direct opposition to the Bible’s teachings. The Church also had political power in matters of housing, execution, and taxation.
The Crusades were a “Holy War” waged in the Middle Ages against all nonbelievers – or, in other words, anybody who wasn’t a Christian themselves.
The Crusades began in response to a war between the Byzantine Emperor and the people of Turkey. When the Emperor called for help from the Church, the Crusaders answered the call and joined the battle.
The main event of the Crusades was a pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Christianity, and the city of Jerusalem. Along the way, thousands of Jews and Muslims were murdered for their refusal to convert to Christianity, and the population of Jerusalem was decimated for the same reason.
– Polytheism = belief in multiple gods, monotheism = belief in one god.
– Offering support to the poor (food, shelter) and salvation to nonbelievers.
– All non-believers of Christianity, but particularly Jews and Muslims.