In a previous blog about the Black Death, I mentioned how its spread helped some of the serfs, particularly when it came to land ownership. Now I will continue with showing how something horrible as the plague, benefited the progression of culture and society in Europe.
Imagine you have a garden; it has been overran from being unkept for years. You take a mower across it, weed it, then suddenly the garden comes alive and vibrant. As cold hearted as this sound, the plague did the same with Europe.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe was left without a centralized government. Feudal governments rose, which meant smaller regional governments were established.
Without a central government, there is no trade between countries. A merchant had to travel to each feudal government to establish any form of trade. Laws varied from region to region, as did customs. Without trade, there was no exchange of ideas or knowledge between areas.
Without a governing body, the Catholic Church gained and controlled power over Europe. If there was any form of centralized power, it was the church.
The Catholic Church was the most dominating factor in the dark and middle ages in Europe. They dictated education (if there was any) to politics itself. If they (Catholic Church) opposed or rejected a theory then it was considered taboo and heresy to even discuss it further.
Much of the knowledge left to the world by the ancient Greeks, were considered by the church to be nothing more than historical documents. To the church, man was the center of the universe; so Greek information about astronomy was considered knowledge obtained by pagans, so was philosophy and medical information.
They ancient texts left by the Greeks were copied by monks (as historical relics), but much of the knowledge contained in them was considered blasphemy by the church. This knowledge sat inside monasteries, unread and lost to the world.
It was also the Catholic Church that informed the population about the cause and cure for the plague. The church stated that the plague was God’s punishment upon the people for their sins. Their cure for the plague was more prayer and righteous living.
The infected went to the churches to pray, and many of them died there. Churches were filled with the bodies of the dead. Church Cemeteries were filled to capacity, and afterwards huge pits for mass burials were then dug and were quickly filled.
When prayer did not cure the plague; the church then blamed non-Christians. Jews and other religious minorities were driven out of Europe, converted or killed.
When the plague continued to spread, the church then stated it was caused by witchcraft, and soon the witch-hunts began. Thousands of people were tried, tortured, imprisoned and put to death with the charge of being a witch. Another consequence of the witch-hunts was the perception that witches used cats as familiars. A witch used a familiar as a conduit to gain more power; cats were often associated as being a witch’s familiar.
It was believed that cats would be used by witches to spy on local villagers, or help the witch cast spells and potions. The cats soon became victims of the witch-hunts also. Thousands, if not millions of cats were killed during the witch-hunts.
An unfortunate result of the cats being killed was that the plague spread faster. We know now the plague was carried by fleas upon rodents. When the cats were not present to hunt these rodents, the rodents flourished throughout Europe, carrying the plague with them.
If the church stated they knew what was causing the plague, but people still died so people began to question the absolute authority of the Catholic Church. This questioning led to the foundation and rise of the Protestant movement throughout Europe.
Another impact was scholars began to question the church condemning some forms of knowledge. These scholars began to look back as the documents from the Greeks. This reintroduction to Greek mathematics, science and philosophy caused the re-birth of knowledge in Europe. At the same time, knights were returning from the crusades; they brought back lost Greek manuscripts that the Muslims had been copying and studying for generations. The Islamic scholars themselves had also conducted research into medicine and science, and were familiar with advanced technology brought from the Far East; this knowledge too was brought back to Europe. The Renaissance had now begun.
Next Time: The plague and medicine.
W.A. Rusho is a martial artists, historian and professional wrestler. He is the author of the fantasy novel “Legend of the Mystic Knights.” You can find out more about him by visiting his website.