Black Death -- a Significant Pandemic Essay

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Black Death -- a significant pandemic that struck Europe in the 14th century due to a flea-born pestilence brought about via eastern trade routes. The outbreak is estimated to have killed half of Europe's population and as a result produced a major impact on the socio-economic and religious development of European civilization.

Transubstantiation -- the concept that during the Eucharist the host is actually transformed into the blood and flesh of Christ. The veracity of transubstantiation would be a major point of contention during the fighting between Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation.

Enlightenment -- a cultural movement in 18th century Europe and America that aimed to use reason in order to improve society and seek greater knowledge. The movement can be seen as a reaction to the religious violence of the Thirty Year War and other 17th century religious conflicts. Enlightenment thinkers embraced science and opposed superstition and the Church.

Homosocial society -- Any grouping of humans that are all of one gender. This practice was prevalent in the Middle Ages and can be seen in the Church's monasteries and knightly life.

Heliocentric Universe -- the concept that the Sun was the center of the solar system and that the Earth was not a fixed point in space. The truth of this scientific observation was denied by the Catholic Church and become a rally point for pro-science Enlightenment thinkers.

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Essay on Black Death -- a Significant Pandemic That Assignment

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once remarked, "The only constant is change." Therefore the insinuation that the Middle Ages were a static period where little happened of note is bogus. The Middle Ages, although typically represented as "dark," backwards and idle, were in fact a bridge linking the classical and modern world. Medieval society may not have been in a sense glorious, but the era of itself was a prime foundation of the modern world's newfound stability, a revival of the law and teachings from the classical era, a reinvestment and reform in the church and a precursor to the golden age of art found in the Renaissance.

Before any examination of the Middle Ages can be commenced it is critical that the historical framework be understood. The "Middle" Ages can be understood as beginning around 500 to roughly 1500 CE. This period started with the collapse of the Roman Empire which disintegrated as political authority devolved into regional, feudal kingdoms competing with one another. Over the significant changes of the Middle Ages, modern Europe evolved with the establishment of our modern Western society with universities and elected bodies of government. During this significant period, countless works of art were composed, profound religious changes occurred and tremendous pandemics ravaged the European continent.[footnoteRef:1] [1: Artz, F. 1980. The Mind of the Middle Ages: An Historical Survey (3rd ed). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.]

During medieval times, religion played a significant role in the lives of Europeans. Christianity was the glue that held what remained of society together and the Bible was a major work which influenced culture, law and education. There were approximately 10,000 parishes in England, and each had one or more guilds associated with it.[footnoteRef:2] Though joining an economic guild was initially voluntary it evolved into a family institution with knowledge being passed down through the generations. Like our economic structure today, the poor always outnumbered the wealthy as a hierarchical economic structure existed. Guild membership meant more than just an economic relationship with members spending religious and cultural capital in their groups' activities. Feasts and carnivals were intended to celebrate religious events, and charity work was encouraged, which improved the community. Each guild was usually formed to honor an eponymous saint, the most popular being the Virgin Mary.[footnoteRef:3] [footnoteRef:4] [2: Cantor, N. 1994. The Civilization of the Middle Ages. New York: Harper Perennial.] [3: Bishop, M. 2001. The Middle Ages. London: Mariner Books.] [4: Jordan, W. 2004. Europe in the High Middle Ages. New York: Penguin History.]

Beyond day-to-day life, religion played a major role in the practice of pilgrimage. One of the most open and democratic aspects of medieval religion, pilgrimage was act that anybody from any walk of life could undertake. It was very common and often done though the reasons going on a religious pilgrimage could differ tremendously. Some individuals would do it to escape from the burdens of life while others would do it to achieve salvation. Many became pilgrims and risked the dangers of traveling as a means of self-punishment, going on long and arduous journeys in a time when there was no central authority. The end result they were trying to achieve would be the same though spiritual enhancement. The most common cites had profound religious importance and offered miracles such as a cure for an affliction. At Canterbury, people would travel for days just to drink the water from the shrine, which was purported to have special qualities as it contained St. Thomas' blood. The more arduous the journey, the greater the spiritual value obtained by the pilgrim, with particularly popular locals being Jerusalem and Rome.[footnoteRef:5] [5: Rosenwein, B. 2001. A Short History of the Middle Ages. Boston: Broadview Press.]

To move beyond religion, architecture was a major means of expression in the Middle Ages that evolved tremendously. The Romanesque style and the Gothic style were the two most prominent. The most characteristic element of Romanesque design is the rounded archway. These arches were found framing the doorways and window frames of the church and supported the church's ceiling. Due to their rounded appearance, when used in series to hold up a roof this architectural style is called barrel vaulting. Romanesque churches are huge and built with heavy stone walls to support the burden of the arched vaults. Within the church, there were paintings of significant religious stories to help the illiterate understand or events in the lives of the saints. Massive columns leading from floor to vault were decorated with sculptures depicting scenes from the Bible or from other religious texts. [footnoteRef:6] [6: Holmes, G. 1992. The Oxford History of Medieval Europe. London: Oxford University Press. Chapters 11.]

During the later Middle Ages, there was a movement towards lighter, more graceful religious buildings, culminating in the Gothic style. These churches were built to a tremendous height yet are more compact than their Romanesque antecedents. In general, Gothic churches utilize tapered arches in contrast to rounded ones, producing an effect that their vaults seem to soar. Their windows, also pointed, tend to provide more light while innovative use of stained glass provides greater interior lighting. Unlike Romanesque churches, Gothic churches do not have inner walls that support the weight of the vault. The innovative us of flying buttresses, exterior arches which serve to distribute the roof's weight and direct it into the soil. Due to this critical feature, the interior of a Gothic church looks delicate but the exterior is reminiscent of a porcupine bristling with flying buttresses.[footnoteRef:7] the religious men and architects who conceived and built these structures intended these churches to instill in their viewer, the mystery of God. One historical example is the abbot of the monastery of Saint-Denis, who claimed to have received the concept for such a church from the writings of a Christian mystic who went by the name of Dionysus and who wrote during the 6th century. This mystic taught that God was the "Divine light," the source of all things seen. This abbot constructed his church in order that the light radiating through the stained glass windows would act like this mystical light. He wanted the light's glow to illuminate the mind of the worshiper and lead him or her to God. The Gothic church building itself was meant to be a critical part of the religious experience.[footnoteRef:8] [7: Holmes, G. 1992. The Oxford History of Medieval Europe. London: Oxford University Press. Chapters 8 and 14.] [8: Collins, R. 1999. Early Medieval Europe: 300 -- 1000 (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 142-211.]

The Gothic style emerged as a major style for churches, especially prominent cathedrals. It was initially adopted by cities in surrounding Paris and eventually throughout the rest of France, Spain, England, Italy and Germany. Since these churches were exorbitantly expensive and took decades, sometimes centuries, to build, they were always community enterprises. City guilds raised money to help build them. Some guilds even paid for their own stained glass windows. In turn, church construction created new jobs for city carpenters, stonemasons and many other workers.[footnoteRef:9] [9: Keen, M. 1991. The History of Medieval Europe. New York: Penguin History. Chapter 9.]

The tremendous contagions that ravaged Europe arrived at the worst possible time. The Black Death was a particularly virulent strain of bubonic plague that appeared in Genoa and spread to the rest of Europe by 1350. As a result of the fleas carrying the disease living on rats, the Black Death was particularly common in urban settings, where conditions were cramped and hygiene was poor due to a lack of water. In some cities, the Black Death… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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