Belief Inside the Medieval Mind


Belief

Robert Bartlett examines the way we thought during medieval times. As the church's grip on their beliefs increased, people came before religious courts and many were killed.


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Transcript


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We know our medieval forebears from what they left behind.

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The grandeur of their castles.

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The beauty of their cathedrals.

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But medieval ideas are less familiar territory.

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Who were these people who lived 1,000 years ago and built

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these extraordinary buildings and did these extraordinary things?

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How did they understand the world? What did they feel?

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And above all, what did they believe?

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Between the 10th and 15th centuries, the West was dominated by religious

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and supernatural beliefs in a way that is hard for us to imagine.

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People saw the world through the prism of those beliefs.

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It was a world touched by divine significance.

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Enchanted...uncertain...

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unpredictable.

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This was a world in which

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some boundaries were less clear than they are today.

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Boundaries were blurred between the natural and the supernatural,

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between the ordinary and the miraculous,

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between the living and the dead.

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Medieval records evoke a time when the dead were always with us.

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The Abbot of the Monastery of Burton-on-Trent recorded

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an uncanny series of events which occurred around 1090.

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There were two villagers living in Stapenhill

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who ran away to the neighbouring village.

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The very next day at the third hour, they were suddenly struck down dead.

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Soon after their corpses were buried,

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word came of two alien beings roaming the woods.

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Now they appeared in the shape of men carrying wooden coffins on their shoulders.

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Now, in the likeness of bears or dogs.

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ANIMALS RUNNING AND PANTING

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The villagers were in mortal terror of the two phantom dead men who roamed the countryside at night.

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The Bishop authorised the villagers to dig up the bodies.

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The linen cloths over their faces were stained with blood.

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They cut off the men's heads and put them in the graves between their legs,

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tore out their hearts from their corpses and burned them.

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When the hearts had at last been burned up, they cracked with a great sound.

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Everyone there saw an evil spirit in the form of a crow fly from the flames.

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Soon after this was done, both the disease and the phantom ceased.

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These records show this remarkable story,

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with its walking dead and blood-stained shrouds was taken very seriously.

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This was no idle ghost story dreamed up to pass away an evening

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by the fire, but a reminder of a pressing reality.

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That the dead did not disappear into dust, but could occupy the same world as the living.

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Countless similar reports suggest the dead were an insistent presence.

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Herefordshire in the 1150s.

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The corpse of a wicked man wanders the roads at night,

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calling out the names of villagers, who sicken and die.

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In Annandale, Scotland, a corpse roams the villages spreading the plague with his foul breath.

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In the 1190s in Buckinghamshire, a dead man returns to his widow's bed,

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almost crushing her with his weight.

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Such horror stories were taken as fact by chroniclers such as William of Newburgh.

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One would not easily believe that corpses come out of their graves

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and wander around to terrorise the living,

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were there not so many cases supported by ample testimony.

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At the time of these uncanny happenings,

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reburying the bodies of these restless souls was not uncommon.

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Excavations of medieval cemeteries throughout the country have revealed corpses buried in an unusual way.

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With the head removed and placed between the legs,

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just like in the story,

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to prevent the dead from ever walking again.

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The medieval dead shared the world with the living.

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And they could be encountered at any time.

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One of the most common medieval folk tales is the story of the Three Living And The Three Dead.

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Three rich young men are out walking when they meet three dead men.

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The dead men, each in varying stages of decomposition,

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have something to tell the rich young men.

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"Beware", they say.

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Such as you are, so were we.

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Such as I am, so will you be.

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They chide them for their love of worldly things.

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"Wealth, honour and power", they say,

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"are of no value at the hour of your death."

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Your time among the living was often described as "briefer than the blink of an eye."

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What mattered was the hour of your death,

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the crossing into the next world,

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when you too might become like one of the three dead,

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wandering the earth,

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warning the living to prepare for what lay in store.

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And this traffic between the living and the dead was two-way.

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Just as people believed that the dead might visit the living,

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so they believed that the living might visit the dead.

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In 1206, in the quiet countryside of Essex,

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a peasant called Thurkill, from the village of Stisted, was working in the fields.

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An accident left him in a deep coma.

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For two days he lay as if dead.

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When he revived, he had an extraordinary story to tell.

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To what one can only imagine was an astonished audience,

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he recounted everything that had happened while his body had been out cold.

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What he described was nothing less than a journey to the next world and back.

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He gave his listeners a detailed account of the geography of the afterlife.

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Thurkill describes how he first comes to a mysterious church, unlike any on Earth.

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To the north there is a wall about six feet high.

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In the middle of the church is a font, from which a bright flame emerges.

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Thurkill tells how all around him evil spirits come leaping to meet him,

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cackling to one another.

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This is where the souls of the dead went to be weighed, some to be damned and sucked into hell.

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They screamed, and cursed their mother and father who bore them for eternal torment.

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The saved are led straight through the jewelled gates to the church of gold.

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As for the rest of us, our fate was to serve out our time in what was called purgatory,

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the agonising waiting room for heaven.

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A place where your sins were purged, hence its name.

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And the greater your sins, the longer your wait.

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Then Thurkill passes through fire, and across a bridge of nails and spikes.

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It's here, among the huddled sinners,

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that he catches a glimpse of a shadowy figure.

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It's his father, hideously emaciated and monstrously deformed in pain.

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His father struggles to tell him how he's languishing here because of his shady business deals.

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Thurkill hears the voice of Saint Michael.

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"Ten masses will free your father,

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"and then you can accompany him to the church on the Mount of Glory."

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Thurkill never even glimpses his mother.

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Has she been damned to suffer eternity in hell?

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To the Essex villagers, Thurkill's vision would have sounded chillingly familiar.

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This was a journey which awaited them all.

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And this very exact description of the afterlife was not an isolated record.

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Such visions were frequent in medieval England.

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And many of them followed the pattern of Thurkill's,

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with torments designed for particular sins.

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Like gluttons being forced to starve, or misers having gold poured down their throats.

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The connection between this world and the next was an everyday reality.

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Such stories were widely discussed and repeated from pulpits throughout the land.

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Just such a vision of a journey through the next world

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is the subject of one of the greatest works in the whole of medieval literature -

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Dante's Divine Comedy.

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Hell is a nightmare of endless torment.

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Purgatory is a mountain where the less sinful serve out

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their allotted time before they join God in the spheres of heaven.

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The dead could visit the living, the living could help the dead.

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The boundaries between these worlds were permeable.

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For life on this earth was just a fraction of our eternal existence.

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The real world was not this one, but the next.

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Constantly moving between these two worlds was a race of spirit beings.

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Good and evil.

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Leading the forces of darkness was the devil, Satan.

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A former angel cast out of heaven

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who was implacably opposed to God and his creation.

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The devil and his battalion of demons were everywhere.

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To tempt you, beguile you, destroy you.

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The devil might appear in all sorts of forms.

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Perhaps in the form of a toad...

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or a black dog.

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Or a crow.

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Anything frightening.

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Anything unusual.

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Anything that nevertheless you might encounter every day.

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In the 1230s there was a man called William of Aberdeen, a sailor,

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who was walking on the Scottish moors.

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He noticed that a little dog was following him.

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Suddenly, the dog increased enormously in size,

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and turned into a dragon.

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William became possessed by a demon.

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He tore off all his clothes, apart from his breeches, and went down into the town of Dunfermline.

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At the devil's instigation, he tried to do many wicked things there.

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He forced indoors the little children and maidens, the old and the young,

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and tried to break down their doors around them with a mighty, sharp axe.

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Eventually, he was disarmed, tied up,

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taken into the local shrine, the Monastery of Saint Margaret.

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He was there for three days howling and wailing, not eating anything,

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until eventually he returned to his senses.

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The monks gave him some bread and cheese, he confessed his sins and the demon left him.

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But medieval men and women were not alone in their fight against the demon world.

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A heavenly army of angels stood ready to fight on their behalf.

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Nine orders of them.

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From Seraphim and Cherubim, down to Archangels and mere angels, each with his allotted role.

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The priest, Gerald of Wales, described their place in the scheme of things.

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They have a more subtle essence than man, a higher location, and a more intimate familiarity with God.

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Angels and demons battled constantly for possession of our souls.

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The angels display endless care for our well-being.

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The demons make fierce attacks upon us to compel us to surrender.

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Around 1110, William of Corbeil saw this battle

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at first hand in his house in Dover.

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As I lay gravely ill, a crowd of hideous demons rushed in

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and sat around my sickbed, gloating over what they would do with me.

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But then William became aware of a presence at his bedside,

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the Virgin Mary.

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He was still terrified, but the Virgin insisted the demons couldn't take him.

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She told them the angels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael would fight them.

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The demons slunk off, grumbling that they wouldn't take them on.

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William was saved.

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But at any moment anyone's life could be transformed,

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for better or worse, by these spiritual beings.

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Would such ideas have generated anxiety or reassurance?

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Probably both at different times.

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But whatever the answer, there was nothing bizarre about divine intervention.

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It was just part of how things were.

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The most spectacular of all divine interventions would be the Day of Judgment,

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the Apocalypse itself.

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When all this world would be destroyed and the dead would rise again.

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When would this happen, exactly?

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Medieval scholars calculated that man was living in the sixth and final age.

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So, for people at the time, the Middle Ages were not the Middle Ages,

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it was the end of time.

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The end of the world approaching. Visits from the walking dead.

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First-hand accounts of journeys to the afterlife.

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Invisible battles between angels and demons.

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The supernatural had nothing abstract about it.

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It was real and it was all around.

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The only mediator between this world and the next was one of the most powerful forces in history.

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The medieval church.

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The soaring cathedrals of the Middle Ages protected the souls

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of men and women against evil interventions from the world beyond.

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God's power was made manifest in stone.

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The Church owned one fifth of the wealth of the country.

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It took one tenth of the income of all Christians.

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In return, it cast a protective shield around the faithful.

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To say this was a religious age doesn't even get close.

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In modern Western societies, religion is a matter of choice.

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Governments are not supposed to intervene on behalf of one religion against another.

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In the United States, the separation of Church and State is even written into the Constitution.

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Such ideas would have been incomprehensible in the Middle Ages.

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Then, the Church was not an association

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of like-minded individuals getting together by choice.

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It was the very framework of society itself.

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The front line of defence against the forces of evil were the great medieval monasteries.

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By the 13th century, there were at least 1,000 religious houses in England alone.

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Many were built in remote sites, echoing Christ's struggle with Satan in the wilderness.

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Pluscarden Abbey, near Inverness, is the only medieval monastery

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in Britain still used for its original purpose.

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CHURCH BELLS RING

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CHURCH BELLS RING

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At the beginning of the 12th century, the monk, Orderic Vitalis,

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described the role of the monasteries in the army of God.

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Here Christ's garrisons reject the world and its parasites,

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scorning all its pleasures as filth,

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to struggle manfully against the devil.

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Monks here follow the rule of Saint Benedict, formulated in the sixth century.

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The essence of the Benedictine rule is the search for God,

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in an ordered and community life

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with special emphasis on prayer, reading and work.

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Living by a rule, living under the authority of an Abbot.

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Living a dedicated, celibate, Christian life.

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The monks' day starts at four in the morning

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and follows a pattern scarcely changed since the Middle Ages.

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For their medieval predecessors, such a routine formed part of an unremitting war.

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A monastery is a castle built against Satan,

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where the cowled champions engage in ceaseless combat against the devil.

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The monk is engaged in a struggle with all that is

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self-centred in himself, or with the...

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the forces of evil, if you like, within himself.

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So, in that sense, yes, and that is the idea of a spiritual combat.

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It is a very ancient one, going back to the desert fathers.

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Beyond the walls of these castles built against Satan were the local garrisons, the parish churches.

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The medieval churches stood guard over the soul

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of every man, woman and child.

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As God's intermediaries, priests administered the sacraments,

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marking the key stages on the dangerous journey from birth to death.

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First, baptism,

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a form of exorcism, casting out the devil.

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Then, confession.

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Communion.

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Marriage.

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And finally, they presided over burial,

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the most dramatic rite of passage of all.

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The medieval dead remained in our midst.

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They were our link with the next world.

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The mingling of the living and the dead is unusual.

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In ancient Greece and Rome, it was forbidden to bury corpses in the town.

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Medieval Christianity brought them in.

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Every parish church was built with a cemetery.

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Go into a synagogue or a mosque or a Buddhist or Hindu temple,

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you don't see memorials and tombstones.

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Every parish church is full of them.

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We take it for granted. But it's actually part of

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what we might call the cult of the dead.

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The tombs of the dead reminded everyone, rich and poor,

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that this world was not their real home.

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In medieval chantry chapels, the wealthy invested in magnificent tombs

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to help shorten their time in purgatory.

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This is the tomb of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick,

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one of the richest and most powerful men in England.

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When he died in 1439, he left money for 5,000 masses to be said for his soul.

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But his real safety net against the pains of purgatory was this chapel.

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Built in the 20 years after his death, costing thousands of pounds, the equivalent of millions nowadays,

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where he hoped, in his own words, that prayers would be said for him "until the end of time."

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The effigy of Richard Beauchamp is frozen for eternity.

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His hands open in prayer and veneration to the Virgin Mary

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who gazes down on him from the vaulted ceiling above.

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Around the sides of the tomb, statues, known as weepers,

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family members mourning his death and praying for his ascent into the arms of God.

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In this world, monks and priests pray for the dead,

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helping to shorten their time of torment in the labyrinth of purgatory.

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In the same way, the holy dead, the saints in heaven, were busy,

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offering their help to the living.

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People venerated the saints,

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men and women who had lived

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especially holy lives or performed miracles.

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They could directly intervene in the affairs of the living.

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So, the cult of the saints was at the heart of medieval life.

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Every parishioner could see the saints for themselves on the screen in the local church.

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It's where they came face to face with these heavenly beings.

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Some saints even had a speciality,

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perhaps associated with an incident in their own lives.

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You prayed to Saint Margaret of Antioch during childbirth,

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possibly because she had emerged unharmed from the belly of the dragon that had swallowed her.

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St Apollonia was the patron saint of toothache.

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She was a martyr saint who had been tortured

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by having all her teeth pulled out.

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And as for St Wilgefortis,

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her speciality was helping wives get rid of unwanted husbands.

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She was also called Saint Uncumber.

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The intervention of a saint could mean the difference between life and death,

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even causing God to revise his judgment.

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In medieval trial by ordeal,

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God revealed the guilt or innocence of a suspect through their reaction to an excruciating test.

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In the test by water, if the accused floated, they were guilty.

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If they sank, they were innocent and quickly hauled out.

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In the test by fire,

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they were guilty if their skin swelled up into blisters,

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innocent if it healed.

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Around the year 1200, a woman in York was accused of murder.

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After the woman had carried the hot iron,

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a swelling was discovered on the woman's hand as large as a walnut,

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wherefore she was condemned to death.

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God had revealed her guilt.

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But the accused begged permission to pray at the tomb of Saint William.

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As soon as the woman entered the chapel, the swelling disappeared without trace.

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The justices pronounced her innocent, saying that as God and Saint William

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had absolved her, they did not wish to condemn her.

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Saints were your companions, guiding and protecting you.

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Their awesome power was especially present in their physical remains.

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Small portions of their bone or hair or clothing

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were furiously collected and guarded in the years and the centuries after their deaths

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by people who believed that these tangible objects retained supernatural power.

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These remains were called relics.

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The word means literally what is left behind.

0:30:130:30:16

Objects of supernatural power,

0:30:180:30:21

they were to be approached with awe, even terror.

0:30:210:30:24

The monk, Jocelin de Brakelond, in 1198,

0:30:290:30:31

describes how he helped to move the body of the martyr Saint Edmund

0:30:310:30:36

to the high altar of the abbey church.

0:30:360:30:39

Approaching reverently, we made haste to open the coffin.

0:30:410:30:45

The Abbot said he longed to gaze upon his patron.

0:30:450:30:48

But the Abbot approached the 300-year-old bones of the saint with trepidation.

0:30:480:30:54

A previous abbot had been left paralysed when he touched the saint's remains.

0:30:540:31:00

Whilst the rest of the abbey slept, he carefully peeled away the layers of silk cloth covering the body.

0:31:050:31:12

Taking the head in his hands, he uttered a prayer.

0:31:220:31:26

"Oh, glorious martyr, do not cast me, a miserable sinner,

0:31:260:31:32

"into perdition for daring to touch you.

0:31:320:31:37

"You understand my devotion and purpose."

0:31:370:31:40

This time the Abbot was spared the anger of the saint.

0:31:400:31:44

The corpse remained quite still.

0:31:440:31:46

This was the closest you could get to actually touching the holy.

0:31:500:31:54

It was not something to be undertaken lightly.

0:31:540:31:57

Getting close to dead saints was a medieval passion.

0:32:060:32:11

Pilgrims travelled huge distances in the hope of doing so.

0:32:110:32:14

To Rome, to Santiago in Spain... and, of course, to Canterbury.

0:32:140:32:20

As Chaucer wrote of his pilgrims, "When spring comes, then people long to go on pilgrimage."

0:32:230:32:30

They long to go. The roads of medieval Britain were busy with pilgrims.

0:32:300:32:35

Men and women prepared to travel hundreds of miles, usually on foot,

0:32:350:32:39

to get close to a relic or to pray at a shrine.

0:32:390:32:43

Along the Pilgrims' Way to Canterbury was Aylesford Priory,

0:32:500:32:54

a favourite resting place for medieval travellers.

0:32:540:32:57

The priory dates back to the 13th century as a house

0:32:590:33:03

of the Carmelite Order of Friars.

0:33:030:33:06

Today, Aylesford houses one of the few surviving medieval relics in Britain...

0:33:080:33:15

the skull of Saint Simon Stock.

0:33:160:33:18

A venerated Carmelite friar, he had been blessed with a vision of the Virgin Mary.

0:33:260:33:32

Medieval Europe was full of them, thousands of relics.

0:33:380:33:41

The bones, the physical remains of the saints, the holy dead.

0:33:410:33:45

The saints might have been in heaven, but they were also here in their bones, in their relics.

0:33:450:33:51

You came to them, you prayed, you tried to get as close to them as you could.

0:33:510:33:56

You might even be hoping for a miraculous cure.

0:33:560:33:59

The road to Canterbury led thousands to the most venerated pilgrim site in Britain.

0:34:080:34:13

It was here in the cathedral that Saint Thomas Becket

0:34:270:34:30

had been murdered by the soldiers of the king.

0:34:300:34:33

As they arrived, pilgrims were offered bottles of the martyr's blood as souvenirs.

0:34:380:34:44

And there was much more here to impress.

0:34:450:34:48

A list of the relics in Canterbury Cathedral in the year 1316

0:34:490:34:54

includes 12 whole bodies of saints, three heads, 12 arms,

0:34:540:35:00

pieces of Jesus's cross, foreskin, cradle and tomb,

0:35:000:35:04

as well as innumerable pieces of bone, hair and blood.

0:35:040:35:09

As a pilgrim, you'd make your way around the cathedral,

0:35:150:35:18

up the steps to the most sacred area of the church.

0:35:180:35:20

This was your ultimate goal.

0:35:350:35:38

The shrine of Saint Thomas of Canterbury.

0:35:380:35:40

It would have stood here, encrusted with gold and jewels,

0:35:400:35:44

containing the remains of England's most famous saint.

0:35:440:35:48

A place of miracle. A centre of supernatural power.

0:35:480:35:51

The shrine of Saint Thomas was designed to strike awe into the heart of the medieval pilgrim.

0:35:530:35:59

As with many such shrines, it had openings in the side

0:36:050:36:09

to allow the faithful to reach in and get even closer to the relic.

0:36:090:36:13

Like a giant picture book, the stained glass windows

0:36:210:36:25

around the shrine tell the story of the miracles of Saint Thomas.

0:36:250:36:29

A terrifying reminder that saints could be vengeful as well as benign

0:36:330:36:38

is shown in the story of the knight, Jordan Fitz-Eisulf.

0:36:380:36:43

His household was struck by a dreadful disease.

0:36:450:36:49

Amongst those who died was his younger son.

0:36:490:36:51

Just at this time, he was visited by pilgrims coming from Canterbury,

0:36:540:36:58

carrying with them some of the holy water from Saint Thomas's shrine.

0:36:580:37:02

He thought he'd give it a try.

0:37:040:37:05

He poured some of the holy water

0:37:050:37:08

into the boy's mouth, the boy was miraculously revived.

0:37:080:37:11

Naturally he made a promise to go on a pilgrimage of thanksgiving to Saint Thomas's shrine at Canterbury.

0:37:130:37:20

But with one thing and another, he postponed that pilgrimage,

0:37:200:37:24

even though Thomas appeared in a vision reminding him.

0:37:240:37:27

Eventually Saint Thomas's patience ran out.

0:37:270:37:30

He returned and killed the knight's older son.

0:37:300:37:35

This time, of course, Jordan and his family made the pilgrimage.

0:37:380:37:42

Thousands came here, hoping for a miracle.

0:37:490:37:52

And there was no shortage of supply.

0:37:520:37:56

What today we take as coincidence, might in the Middle Ages be seen as something miraculous.

0:37:590:38:05

You had a bad leg or a toothache, you went on pilgrimage to pray for a cure, it got better.

0:38:050:38:11

And that would be seen as evidence of divine intervention.

0:38:110:38:16

Medieval pilgrimage became a huge industry.

0:38:180:38:22

Money poured in from the sale of badges and souvenirs

0:38:220:38:25

and from offerings left at the site of a shrine.

0:38:250:38:29

With money came corruption.

0:38:340:38:36

Even forgery.

0:38:360:38:38

Around 1270, the much-revered friar, Walter of Saint Edmunds, had recently been buried.

0:38:410:38:46

One day, a man came to one of the friars and he said he could make them rich if they wished.

0:38:510:38:55

When asked how, the man explained that Friar Walter had a reputation for sanctity

0:38:550:39:00

and if a few miracles happened at his tomb, that could bring in a nice income for the friars.

0:39:000:39:05

When the friar asked how miracles could take place,

0:39:050:39:09

unless at God's command, the man had a ready answer.

0:39:090:39:13

He had 24 men at his command who produced miracles whenever he wished.

0:39:150:39:20

He had sent them to many places in England to produce miracles for a profit.

0:39:200:39:25

Despite such instances of corruption and fraud,

0:39:390:39:42

the Church's grip on the medieval mind remained strong.

0:39:420:39:47

The word of the Church was the word of God.

0:39:490:39:53

It could absolve you of your sins.

0:39:580:40:00

It could shield you against Satan. It could even send you to war.

0:40:000:40:04

If you didn't accept the beliefs and rituals of the Christian Church

0:40:160:40:20

you were simply an outsider, and possibly an enemy.

0:40:200:40:23

In the Middle Ages, the Christian Church became increasingly beligerent towards outsiders,

0:40:230:40:29

people of different faiths, abroad and at home,

0:40:290:40:32

and anyone who disagreed with the Church,

0:40:320:40:35

the heretics, the enemy within.

0:40:350:40:37

Christianity had not begun as a bellicose religion.

0:40:420:40:46

"Turn the other cheek," Christ had said.

0:40:460:40:48

11th-century Christians took a different view.

0:40:480:40:52

The focus of their wrath was the rise of Islam.

0:41:010:41:04

In just a few centuries,

0:41:100:41:12

its teachings had spread as far afield as China and Spain.

0:41:120:41:17

Its armies had even captured the holy city of Jerusalem.

0:41:200:41:24

It was a thorn in the side of medieval Christianity.

0:41:240:41:28

On the 27th of November 1095, Pope Urban II preached

0:41:310:41:35

a sermon that was to change history.

0:41:350:41:37

He urged the knights who were listening to him to march east,

0:41:370:41:41

to Jerusalem to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,

0:41:410:41:44

supposedly the site of Jesus's resurrection, and free it from Muslim rule.

0:41:440:41:49

The response was astonishing.

0:41:490:41:51

Thousands answered the call to action.

0:41:550:41:57

They marched to the Holy Land.

0:41:570:42:00

In less than four years, they recaptured Jerusalem.

0:42:040:42:08

This extraordinary campaign is now known as the First Crusade.

0:42:110:42:18

It was followed by many others.

0:42:180:42:21

Fighting, even dying in the Crusades, was one of the highest ideals of the Middle Ages.

0:42:220:42:29

The Temple Church in London symbolises the aspirations of the Crusaders.

0:42:300:42:35

It's modelled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

0:42:350:42:39

It was the home of the Knights Templar,

0:42:410:42:44

an elite group of warrior monks who formed one of the most feared fighting units of the Crusades.

0:42:440:42:51

The Crusades were different from other wars because they were holy wars.

0:42:530:42:57

Christian holy wars.

0:42:570:42:59

They were authorised by the Pope, and they brought spiritual benefits to those who fought in them.

0:42:590:43:05

If you died on crusade, all your sins were washed away.

0:43:050:43:09

The battle on earth between good and evil,

0:43:110:43:15

had been taken to a new level.

0:43:150:43:18

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux urged on his fellow Christians.

0:43:230:43:27

A new kind of knighthood has arisen.

0:43:310:43:33

The knight of Christ, I say, kills with an untroubled mind.

0:43:330:43:37

A Christian may glory in the death of a pagan, since Christ is glorified.

0:43:370:43:43

The Crusades undoubtedly deepened hostility

0:43:490:43:52

between Christians and Muslims,

0:43:520:43:54

bringing the two worlds into collision

0:43:540:43:57

in a way that has consequences even today.

0:43:570:44:00

The very word "crusade" has opposite meanings in the West and in the Muslim world.

0:44:000:44:05

In the West, it means a struggle for some good cause.

0:44:050:44:09

In the Muslim world, it summons up pictures

0:44:090:44:13

of brutal, aggressive Westerners.

0:44:130:44:15

Those Muslims hostile to the American presence in the Middle East

0:44:150:44:20

revile American soldiers there as "the Crusaders".

0:44:200:44:24

The Christian world was now on the offensive.

0:44:390:44:41

If Muslims were seen as the enemy at the gates,

0:44:430:44:46

there was another enemy even closer at hand.

0:44:460:44:50

The Jews.

0:44:500:44:52

In most parts of medieval Europe, Judaism was the only non-Christian religion officially tolerated.

0:45:000:45:05

Its position was precarious and sometimes perilous.

0:45:050:45:09

Jews were reviled but they were also much relied on as moneylenders.

0:45:090:45:14

And they were technically owned by the king,

0:45:140:45:16

an uneasy arrangement that allowed for exploitation as much as protection.

0:45:160:45:21

In medieval Britain, Jews were treated with growing intolerance.

0:45:240:45:29

Rumours spread of strange practices in synagogues.

0:45:290:45:32

In 1144, Jews in Norwich were accused of ritual murder,

0:45:350:45:39

taking and killing a Christian boy in mockery of the crucifixion.

0:45:390:45:44

But it was in York that hostility to Jews spilled into violence.

0:45:460:45:52

In March 1190, the people of York turned against their local Jews.

0:45:560:46:02

"Neither the law nor reason nor humanity stopped them,"

0:46:020:46:04

in the words of a contemporary chronicler.

0:46:040:46:06

The attack was led by local nobles who owed money to the Jews,

0:46:090:46:13

and one thing they made sure to do during the disturbances

0:46:130:46:16

was seize and burn the documents recording their debts.

0:46:160:46:19

In desperation, the Jews sought refuge here in the royal castle,

0:46:240:46:28

the site now known as Clifford's Tower.

0:46:280:46:31

Outside, the Christian mob gathered -

0:46:330:46:36

the indebted nobles, the local apprentices,

0:46:360:46:40

a hermit who said, "You are doing God's work".

0:46:400:46:43

The Jews resisted as best they could,

0:46:490:46:51

throwing down rocks on the besiegers, one of which killed the hermit.

0:46:510:46:55

But their situation was fairly desperate.

0:46:550:46:58

The Christians brought up siege machines, huge engines

0:46:580:47:01

that could throw rocks and batter down the walls.

0:47:010:47:04

The Jews knew that further resistance was impossible.

0:47:040:47:07

They turned to their oldest and wisest member, the Rabbi, who gave them simple but terrifying advice.

0:47:070:47:14

Mass suicide.

0:47:140:47:16

Each of the Jewish men was to take his knife

0:47:190:47:21

to kill his own wife, to kill his own children and to kill himself.

0:47:210:47:26

They set fire to the castle, which at that time was made of wood,

0:47:260:47:30

and amongst the flames they began this grisly work.

0:47:300:47:33

Those of the Jews who didn't take the option of suicide

0:47:350:47:38

begged the Christians outside to let them go free.

0:47:380:47:41

The Christians agreed and the Jews came out. They were all massacred.

0:47:410:47:45

There was not a Jew left alive in York that day.

0:47:450:47:49

Hostility towards Jews was fuelled by an increasingly intolerant Church and State.

0:47:590:48:05

They were forced to wear distinguishing badges.

0:48:050:48:08

And in 1290, Edward I of England announced

0:48:080:48:12

that all Jews should either convert or leave the kingdom for good.

0:48:120:48:17

They wouldn't return until the time of Oliver Cromwell.

0:48:170:48:21

With the Jews banished,

0:48:320:48:34

the onslaught against unbelievers continued,

0:48:340:48:36

as the Church trained its sights on a new target -

0:48:360:48:39

religious reformers in its own ranks.

0:48:390:48:43

These reformers were dangerous, "the enemy within", and needed to be dealt with.

0:48:480:48:52

Their opponents called them Lollards, which means mumblers.

0:48:520:48:56

Much of what they mumbled about attacked the very essence of the medieval Church.

0:48:560:49:01

From belief in pilgrimage, to the intervention of the saints.

0:49:010:49:04

The Lollards were inspired by the Oxford theologian, John Wycliffe.

0:49:140:49:17

He was for ten years rector of this church,

0:49:170:49:20

Saint Mary's Lutterworth in Leicestershire.

0:49:200:49:23

He attacked the wealth of the Church and its involvement in politics,

0:49:230:49:28

and he wanted the Bible translated from Latin into English,

0:49:280:49:33

so that ordinary people could hear and understand the words of scripture in their own language.

0:49:330:49:39

Such a step threatened God's intermediaries,

0:49:410:49:46

the priests who interpreted the Latin bible for the faithful.

0:49:460:49:50

Worse, Wycliffe struck at a core belief

0:49:530:49:55

that during Holy Communion,

0:49:550:49:58

bread and wine were turned into the body and blood of Christ.

0:49:580:50:04

His scorn for this doctrine undermined the mystery, the magic, of Christian ritual.

0:50:070:50:12

As support for Wycliffe grew, at Lambeth Palace,

0:50:170:50:20

seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury,

0:50:200:50:22

Church authorities decided to act.

0:50:220:50:25

In 1378, Wycliffe was brought to the Chapel of Lambeth Palace to be tried for his beliefs.

0:50:300:50:36

It was a raucous occasion. A crowd of Londoners burst in to express their support.

0:50:360:50:40

Wycliffe defended his views, coolly and with conviction.

0:50:400:50:45

But in the end, the bishops condemned him to perpetual silence.

0:50:450:50:49

Wycliffe returned to Lutterworth,

0:50:530:50:56

forbidden ever to speak out against the Church.

0:50:560:50:59

He died there in 1384.

0:51:020:51:06

The Pope did not forget John Wycliffe.

0:51:080:51:11

Many years later, he ordered his bones to be burned and the ashes thrown into the local river.

0:51:110:51:17

Meanwhile, Wycliffe's followers could not be silenced.

0:51:200:51:24

In 1395, they nailed a stinging attack on the Church to the door of Westminster Hall.

0:51:240:51:30

We, poor men, demand the reformation of the Holy Church of England,

0:51:350:51:41

which has been blind and leprous many years,

0:51:410:51:44

and a great burden to people here in England.

0:51:440:51:48

Reformation was not a word the medieval Church wanted to hear.

0:51:510:51:56

Many of Wycliffe's followers were rounded up and interrogated.

0:51:570:52:01

Some, it is said, were locked up in Lambeth Palace itself.

0:52:010:52:05

The traditional name of this place is Lollard's Tower.

0:52:150:52:21

It's a rather grim and frightening place.

0:52:310:52:33

You can still see the rings on the walls

0:52:350:52:39

where the prisoners were manacled.

0:52:390:52:42

It's a rather frightening reminder

0:52:450:52:47

of the dangers of being a heretic in medieval England.

0:52:470:52:51

In 1401, a Lollard preacher was burned at the stake.

0:53:020:53:05

He was the first of many to be burned for their beliefs in medieval England.

0:53:090:53:13

Across Europe, the Church aimed to root out all opposition.

0:53:300:53:35

Men and women were dragged before religious courts.

0:53:400:53:43

All heresy was to be crushed.

0:53:450:53:48

Thousands were killed in the name of God.

0:53:520:53:55

For growing numbers of people,

0:54:010:54:04

the Church's brutal intransigence became intolerable.

0:54:040:54:08

100 years after the Lollards attacked the idea of prayer for the dead,

0:54:170:54:20

pilgrimage, the wealth and power of the bishops, and what they called the "feigned miracle of the mass",

0:54:200:54:26

another assault was launched aimed at the heart of the medieval Church.

0:54:260:54:30

And this time what followed was a full scale war of ideas,

0:54:300:54:34

that marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

0:54:340:54:37

The medieval Church was about to face its own day of judgment.

0:54:370:54:41

The religious landscape of Britain would never be the same again.

0:54:480:54:53

The fear of Armageddon.

0:54:560:54:59

The fascination with the supernatural.

0:55:060:55:09

The cult of the saints.

0:55:130:55:16

The great journeys of pilgrimage...

0:55:240:55:27

destined to become relics of the medieval age.

0:55:270:55:31

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:55:500:55:53

E-mail [email protected]

0:55:530:55:56

Leading authority on the Middle Ages, Professor Robert Bartlett, presents a series which examines the way we thought during medieval times. Our forebears believed they shared the world with the dead and that angels and demons battled for control of human souls. As the church's grip on our beliefs increased, men and women were dragged before religious courts and multitudes were killed in the name of God.


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