Preaching Orders

A different approach to reform was taken by friars, or monks who traveled widely preaching to the poor, especially in Europe's growing towns. The first order of friars, the Franciscans, was founded by a wealthy Italian later known as St. Francis of Assisi. Giving up a comfortable life, he devoted himself to preaching the Gospels and teaching by his own example of good works.

The Spanish reformer St. Dominic also set up a preaching order of friars to work in the larger world. He called on friars to live in poverty, as the early Christians had. Dominic was particularly concerned about the spread of heresies, or religious beliefs that differed from accepted Church teachings. The Dominicans worked to teach people about official Christian doctrines so they would not be tempted into heresies.

Some women responded to the call for reform. They became Dominican nuns or joined orders like the Poor Clares, which was linked to the Franciscans. Often these orders welcomed only well-born women whose families gave a dowry, or gift, to the church. Another group, the Beguines (BEHG eenz), welcomed poor women who could not be accepted by other religious orders.

Illustration of a canopy held by four men over several other men carrying candles and a standard walking through the street.

A Jewish religious procession winds its way through a medieval European street in the 1400s.

Jewish Communities in Medieval Europe

Medieval Europe was home to numerous Jewish communities. During Roman times, Jewish communities had sprung up all around the Mediterranean. After Rome put down the Jewish uprising in A.D. 70, Jews scattered farther afield. In their new homes, Jews preserved the oral and written laws that were central to their faith.

Communities in Spain and Northern Europe

Many Jewish communities thrived in Spain. The Arab Muslims who gained control of Spain in the 700s were generally tolerant of both Christians and Jews. Jewish culture flowered in Muslim Spain, which became a major center of Hebrew scholarship. Jews also served as officials in Muslim royal courts.

Jews also lived in northern Europe. During the early Middle Ages, Christians and Jews often lived side by side in relative peace. Many Christian rulers valued and protected Jewish communities, although they taxed them heavily. Early German kings had given educated Jews positions in their royal courts.


Often, however, medieval Christians persecuted Jews. During the Middle Ages, the Church and local rulers barred Jews from many occupations such as trade and handicrafts. More damaging, the Church forbade Jews from owning land. Popes and rulers still turned to Jews as financial advisers and physicians, but in much of Europe, Jews lived in increasingly isolated communities.

By the late 1000s, as the Church's power had increased, anti-Semitism, or prejudice against Jews, grew. Christians blamed Jews for disasters such as epidemic diseases, famine, or economic hardship. Christians saw Jews as unfamiliar people and were suspicious of their culture and beliefs.

In some areas, Jews were required to wear identifying clothing, or to live in a specific crowded and forcibly segregated part of a city called a ghetto.

The Church forbade Christians from usury, or the practice of lending money at interest. Because Jews were barred from so many other professions, some Jews became moneylenders. Moneylenders played a key role as the medieval economy grew, but nobles and others who borrowed heavily resented their debts, which further added to anti-Semitism.

Between 1096 and 1450, Jews were persecuted and expelled from major European cities and states, including England, France, and parts of what is today Germany, Italy, Austria, and Hungary. In response to growing persecution, and after these expulsions, many thousands of Jews migrated into Eastern Europe.

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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