7.3 The Medieval Christian Church

Religion was woven into the fabric of the medieval world. Indeed, the Middle Ages has often been called Europe's “age of faith.” The commanding force behind that faith was the Christian Church.

Illustration of men on horseback traveling along a road.

Pilgrims, like these characters in an illustration from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, were a common sight on the roads of medieval Europe.


  • Explain how the Christian Church shaped medieval life.
  • Understand monastic life and the influence of medieval monks and nuns.
  • Analyze how the power of the Church grew during the Middle Ages and how reformers worked for change in the Church.
  • Describe the situation of Jews in medieval Europe.
  • Analyze how Christianity in the Byzantine empire differed from Christianity in the West.

Key Terms

  • sacrament
  • Benedictine Rule
  • secular
  • papal supremacy
  • canon law
  • excommunication
  • interdict
  • friar
  • St. Francis of Assisi
  • icon
  • Great Schism
  • anti-Semitism
  • usury
  • schism

The Church Shapes Everyday Life

The Spread of Christianity

During the early Middle Ages, the Church sent missionaries to spread Christianity to the diverse peoples of Europe. In 597, Pope Gregory I sent Augustine to convert the Anglo-Saxons in England. Other missionaries carried Christianity to Germanic tribes elsewhere in Europe.

By the late Middle Ages, Western Europe had built a civilization based on Christianity. Differences in language, culture, and government divided the peoples of Europe, but they shared a common faith and viewed non-Christians with suspicion and hostility.

The Parish Priest

Christian rituals and faith were part of the fabric of everyday life. In villages, the priest of the parish, or local region, was often the only contact people had with the Church. The priest celebrated the mass and administered the other sacraments, the sacred rites of the Church. Christians believed that they needed the sacraments to achieve salvation, or the deliverance from sin into everlasting life.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments