THE HIGH MIDDLE AGES
During the first millennium of Christian history, the eastern half of the Roman world enjoyed every advantage — demographic, economic and cultural — over the western. Moreover, in the long centuries of 'barbarian' government that succeeded the old Roman order, Western European society may have excelled in many practical technologies and in the arts of war, but by comparison to the Byzantine East it could scarcely be called a civilization.
In the second Christian millennium, however, Western Christendom came fully of age. The period extending roughly from the late 11th century through to the mid-14th is often - and justly - called the 'High Middle Ages'. It was a period of extraordinary cultural creativity (in part fertilized by increased contact with the Byzantine and Muslim East), demographic and economic expansion, and urban growth.
This period saw the rise of new architectural styles and new methods in the decorative arts; and the grandest achievements in both fields were the great cathedrals of the Middle Ages. The so-called Romanesque (or 'Norman style') cathedrals of the 11th and 12th centuries - with their barrel vaults and groin vaults, large supporting piers, rounded arches, massive carved facades and high roofs - were imposing structures. One need only visit some of the more impressive examples of the style — such as the cathedral of Pisa, whose construction began in 1064 — to appreciate how ingeniously and attractively Romanesque architecture could succeed in combining a variety of influences, and of blending the classical with the new.
The most glorious examples of Medieval architecture, however, were the great cathedrals built in the 12th century and after in the (misnamed) Gothic style. Massive as many of them were, they possessed a quality quite different from the heavy monumentality of Romanesque structures. They were so constructed as to allow as much light as possible to penetrate their interiors, and appeared almost delicate in form. Flying buttresses, apiculated 'ogival' arches, ribbed vaults and tall tenuous columns allowed for vast, high ceilings and numerous large window embrasures, allowing abundant sunlight to flow through their stained glass.
The earliest example of a large church in the Gothic style was the Abbey Basilica of St Denis outside Paris, commissioned by Abbot Suger of St Denis (c. 1080-1151), almost as if to give tangible form to his own lyrical metaphysics of the divine light. The church was so splendid and so ethereal in its effect that it sparked an
[A doctor in a painting taking the pulse of a student, in an illumination from a manuscript of 1345. The growth of universities from the late 12th century onwards promoted a flourishing of scholarship in the arts and sciences throughout Western Europe]
architectural revolution, first in France and then throughout Western Europe. It led to the magnificent French cathedrals of Notre Dame de Paris, Amiens, Rouens, Chartres, Bourges and others, and to many of the finest churches, chapels and cathedrals of Spain, Portugal, Germany, England and elsewhere.
One of the few benign consequences of the Crusades was the migration into Western Europe of the Byzantine model of the hospital, as well as of the more advanced medical techniques known to Byzantine, Syrian Christian and Muslim physicians. There was, of course, a long and honourable Christian tradition of building hospitals for the ill and destitute, in both East and West, generally as monastic establishments. The first public hospital in Western Europe was founded in the fourth century by the Roman noblewoman St Fabiola (d. c.399), who herself assisted in the care of its patients. But it was in the later Middle Ages that a great 'hospital movement' took shape.The Benedictines, for instance, obedient to the precepts of their founder, founded more than 2000 hospitals.
Perhaps most important for the rise of organized medical care in Medieval Europe was the Order of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitallers. Beginning in 1099, this order established a great number of hospitals in the Holy Land and in Europe — most famously, the immense Hospital of St John in Jerusalem. In addition to the traditional facilities of older Christian hospitals — shelters for the poor, hospices for the sick and dying, almshouses, food kitchens and orphanages - these establishments offered regimens of systematic diagnosis and remedy, and apparently even included areas of specialization, such as treatment of injuries and diseases of the eye.
One of the most important medical establishments of the 12th century was the Hospital of the Holy Spirit in Montpellier, founded in 1145, not only on account of its size, or of the quality of the care it provided, but on account of its role in training physicians. It was, in some ways, the first great teaching hospital of Western Europe and in 1221 it became the medical school of the University in Montpellier. By the end of the 13th century, a great many municipalities employed trained physicians for the care of the poor; and many of the best of these physicians were trained by the faculty in Montpellier.
Perhaps no accomplishment of the High Middle Ages was ultimately more significant for the later development of Western civilization than the cultivation of a new dedication to scholarship, not only in the abstract disciplines of philosophy and theology, but in the humane, natural, physical and theoretical sciences. From at least the time when the Cathedral School of Chartres reached its apogee, in the 11th and 12th centuries, the devotion of Western scholarship to 'natural philosophy' was pronounced. The bishop of Lincoln Robert Grosseteste (c. 1175—1253), for instance, was the first known expositor of a systematic method for scientific experimentation. St Albert the Great (c. 1200—80), the insatiably curious student of all disciplines, might justly be called the father of biological field research. He also undertook studies in mechanical physics, studying the velocity of falling bodies and the centres of gravity of objects; and he insisted that empirical experience - rather than metaphysical speculation - was the only sure source of true scientific knowledge.
Throughout the course of the 13th and 14th centuries, moreover, a number of Christian scholars began developing mathematical models by which to understand the laws of physical motion. Early in the 13th century, Gerard of Brussels ventured to measure the motion of physical bodies without reference to any received causal theories. After him, a succession of scholars in Oxford such as William of Ockham (c.1285-1348). WalterBurleigh (1275-1343),Thomas Bradwardine (c. 1290-1349),William Heytesbury (fl. 1335), Richard Swineshead (/?. 1348), and John of Dumbleton (d. c.1349), while others in Paris such as Jean Buridan (1300—58), Nicholas Oresme (c. 1320-82) and Albert of Saxony (c. 1316—90) pursued the same course with ever greater sophistication.
Buridan, for instance, broke with several of the (erroneous) principles of Aristotelian science, developed a theory of 'impetus' and even ventured the speculation that the Earth might revolve on its axis. Oresme put forward the same hypothesis, fortified by even better arguments; his studies of physical movement allowed him to devise geometric models of such things as constant and accelerating motions, and also allowed him to answer objections from his critics to the theory of terrestrial rotation.
[A fresco by Dotnenico di Michelino (1417-91), from the Church of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, shows Dante holding a copy of "The Divine Comedy." On the left of the painting is the entrance to Hell, while behind the poet rise the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory. The dome of the cathedral in Florence can be seen on the right]
None of these studies would have advanced very far, of course, had it not been for the institution of the Medieval university. The first university established in Christendom - or perhaps in the world — was in Constantinople (849).The first true university in Western Europe, though, was probably that of Bologna in northern Italy, founded late in the 11th century. And the first major universities in the West were the late 12th-century universities of Paris and Oxford. Both taught theology and philosophy, law (ecclesiatical and secular) and the liberal arts. In the 13th century, the most notable foundations were those of Cambridge, Salamanca, MontpeUier and Padua; and, in the 14th century, those of Rome, Florence, Prague, Vienna and Heidelberg.
(THE AUTHOR OBVIOUSLY HAS NEVER STUDIED THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM OF THE DRUIDS AND THEN CHRISTIANS, IN THE FIRST CENTURIES A.D. IN BRITAIN - Keith Hunt)
Universities were principally ecclesiastical institutions, and dependent upon popes and princes for their charters. Even so, they not only tolerated but encouraged a remarkable freedom of inquiry and debate. They governed themselves, were legally and financially independent of their cities and were integrated with one another (i.e. they recognized each other's qualifications and certifications). And, since they all shared a common language - Latin - together they constituted a unified European intellectual community, transcending national boundaries.
THE DIVINE COMEDY
Among the literary monuments of the High Middle Ages, none is greater in scope and originality - or achieves a more comprehensive expression of all the spiritual, intellectual and social dimensions of its time - than the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), the Florentine polymath, poet, classicist, political philosopher and (in his later years) champion of the imperial rather than the papal party.
Written in the 'vulgar tongue' - that is, Italian - rather than Latin, and composed when Dante was forced on account of his political sympathies to live in exile from his native city, the Comedy is an immense epic recounting the poet's journey through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, beginning on Good Friday and ending just after Easter 1300.
In the first part of the Comedy, the Inferno, the poet finds himself in a dark wood from which ultimately he is able to pass over the border between this life and the next. The first part of his journey - for which his guide is the Roman poet Virgil - allows him to see the torments of the damned and even to converse with the spirits of those who have been imprisoned in Hell (including a certain number of persons he had known during their lives). It is in the Inferno that Dante's genius for dramatic characterization first becomes evident, especially in such episodes as the poet's meeting with Ulysses.
Many regard the second part of the poem, the Purgatoho, as the dramatically and spiritually richest, in large part because the souls Dante encounters upon the mount of purgation are not fixed forever in misery, as are the denizens of Hell, but rather are flawed persons engaged in a long and arduous process of spiritual regeneration.
Moreover, Dante himself participates in this process, slowly shedding many aspects of his past - including certain unworthy attachments - so that he might be prepared for the vision of Heaven. At the top of the mountain he finds the Earthly Paradise, where he meets and is gently chastened by the Lady Beatrice.
Beatrice was, in life, a young and lovely girl with whom Dante had little direct contact, and who died young, but with whom Dante was deeply fascinated; in the Purgatoho, she has been transformed into an allegorical figure of such radiant power that it is impossible to reduce her significance to any single symbol. And, since Virgil is a pagan who cannot enter Heaven, it is she who guides him on the final stage of his journey.
Dante's ascent through the planetary heavens to the divine empyrean beyond is the most dreamlike portion of the poem; the heavenly spheres are thronged with the spirits of saints and heroes, few of whom are as dramatically interesting as the souls Dante encountered below. But the poem ends when Dante - now under the guidance of St Bernard - is granted an ineffable vision of the divine Trinity, and the poem ends in an ecstatic failure of language.
WE SEE THAT FROM DANTE'S WORK SPRINGS THE EVER PRESENT TEACHING OF TORMENTING FOREVER IN HELL TO UN-REPENTANT SINNERS OR, AS SOME TAUGHT [TEACH] TO THOSE PREDESTINED FOR HELL. THEN AS THE ROMAN CATHOLICS STILL TEACH.... A PURGATORY, A MIDDLE GROUND THAT THROUGH PRAYERS OR OFFERING OF MONEY TO THE RC CHURCH, CAN ESCAPE AND GO TO HEAVEN. LASTLY, WE HAVE HEAVEN, WHERE IT IS TAUGHT THAT UPON DEATH ALL WORTHY SAINTS GO TO, AND LIVE WITH THE TRINITY GOD FOR EVER.