Visual History of the World
The Middle Ages
5th - 15th century
The upheaval that
accompanied the migration of European peoples of late antiquity
shattered the power of the Roman Empire and consequently the entire
political order of Europe. Although Germanic kingdoms replaced Rome,
the culture of late antiquity, especially Christianity, continued to
have an effect and defined the early Middle Ages. Concurrent to the
developments in the Christian West, in Arabia the Prophet Muhammad
in the seventh century founded Islam, a new religion with immense
political and military effectiveness. Within a very short time,
great Islamic empires developed from the Iberian Peninsula and the
Maghreb to India and Central Asia, with centers such as Cordoba,
Cairo, Baghdad, and Samarkand.
The Cathedral Notre Dame de Reims, built in the 1 3th—14th century
in the Gothic style; the cathedral served for many centuries as the
location for the ceremonial coronation of the French king.
The Cathedral of Reims, by Domenico Quaglio
The Holy Roman Empire in the High and Late Middle Ages
The Prelude to the Investiture Controversy under the Salians
In their power struggle with the princes, Conrad II and Henry III looked
to the cities, the reformed papacy, and the ministeriales for support.
1 Seal depicting Holy Roman Emperor Conrad
5 Speyer Cathedral, built by Conrad II,
where kings of the Salian
dynasty are buried
In 1024 on the death of Henry II, 1 Conrad II, a Franconian relative
of the Ottonians, was elected king of Germany by the nobles and founded
the 5 Salian dynasty.
A hereditary contract concluded under the
Ottonians led to the annexation of the kingdom of Burgundy by
Germany during his reign in 1033. Though the king now controlled all the
passes through the Alps, the cities of Burgundy were becoming more
independent. As a counterbalance to the powerful princes, the Lombard
cities had been granted privileges by the king, but they too
had begun to oppose the royal claim to authority.The wealth of the
metropolitan bishops and the higher nobility created conflict with the
Conrad's son 2 Henry III, who ascended the throne in 1039, intervened
more directly in ecclesiastical affairs.
He thought he could control the
papacy by standing up for the Cluniac reform movement. He supported the
reformers in their fight against marriage of the clergy and simony.
Henry succeeded, despite the influence of the opposing Roman
aristocracy, in having several 3 reform-minded popes elected, among them
Clement II and Leo IX.
Although he was initially successful, his actions
created great problems for the Holy Roman Empire in the long run, as the
newly acquired self-confidence of the Church made it, in addition to the
princes, a powerful opponent of the king—as the reign of his son Henry
IV would show.
The German kings came to depend more and more on the ministeriales,
whose rise to power had begun in the eleventh century.
were originally servants working in the administration and the army who
were provided with nonhereditary fiefs. This dependency on their lords
made them trustworthy and so they were increasingly entrusted with court
offices and the administration of royal property at the state level.
2 Henry III and his wife before the Virgin Mary,
book illustration, 1050
3 Henry III designates Pope Clement II in 1046,
wood engraving, 19th
4 Ministers draw up documents, book illustration
from the Codex Manesse,
The Cluniac Reform
The Cluniac reform movement was a religious model that initially sought
to cleanse the Church of worldly influences.
It developed out of the
French Benedictine monastery founded in oioin Cluny and owed its
importance to thegreatness of its abbots, who werepious and
It insisted that the clergy must strictly observe
celibacy andprohibited simom—the sale of Church offices—cease.
Gregory VII gave the movement a political direction: The new moral
superiority was to be reflected in temporal dominance.
thereafter claimed supremacy over monarchies and fought the investiture of clergy by the king, particularly in the German empire.
Model of the Benedictine abbey of Cluny, ca. 1900
Congregation of Cluny
The Catholic Encyclopedia
The earliest reform, which became practically a distinct order,
within the Benedictine family. It originated at Cluny, a town in Saone-et-Loire,
fifteen miles north-west of Mâcon, where in 910 William the Pious, Duke
of Aquitaine, founded an abbey and endowed it with his entire domain.
Over it he placed St. Berno, then Abbot of Gigny, under whose guidance a
somewhat new and stricter form of Benedictine life was inaugurated. The
reforms introduced at Cluny were in some measure traceable to the
influence of St. Benedict of Aniane, who had put forward his new ideas
at the first great meeting of the abbots of the order held at Aachen
(Aix-la-Chapelle) in 817, and their development at Cluny resulted in
many departures from precedent, chief among which was a highly
centralized form of government entirely foreign to Benedictine
tradition. The reform quickly spread beyond the limits of the Abbey of
Cluny, partly by the founding of new houses and partly by the
incorporation of those already existing, and as all these remained
dependent upon the mother-house, the Congregation of Cluny came into
being almost automatically. Under St. Berno's successors it attained a
very widespread influence, and by the twelfth century Cluny was at the
head of an order consisting of some 314 monasteries. These were spread
over France, Italy, the Empire, Lorraine, England, Scotland, and Poland.
According to the "Bibliotheca Cluniacensis" (Paris, 1614) 825 houses
owed allegiance to the Abbot of Cluny in the fifteenth century. Some
writers have given the number as 2000, but there is little doubt that
this is an exaggeration. It may perhaps include all those many other
monasteries which, though no joining the congregation, adopted either
wholly or in part the Cluny constitutions, such as Fleury, Hirschau,
Farfa, and many others that were subject to their influence.
During the first 250 years of its existence Cluny was governed by a
series of remarkable abbots, men who have left their mark upon the
history of Western Europe and who were prominently concerned with all
the great political questions of their day. Among these were Sts. Odo,
Mayeul, Odilo, and Hugh, and Peter the Venerable. Under the last named,
the ninth abbot, who ruled from 1122 to 1156, Cluny reached the zenith
of its influence and prosperity, at which time it was second only to
Rome as the chief centre of the Christian world. It became a home of
learning and a training school for popes, four of whom, Gregory VII
(Hildebrand), Urban II, Paschal II, and Urban V, were called from its
cloisters to rule the Universal Church. In England the Cluniac houses
numbered thirty-five at the time of the dissolution. There were three in
Scotland. The earliest foundation was that of the priory of St. Pancras
at Lewes (1077), the prior of which usually held the position of
vicar-general of the Abbot of Cluny for England and Scotland. Other
important English houses were at Castleacre, Montacute, Northampton, and
After the twelfth century the power of Cluny declined somewhat, and
in the sixteenth century it suffered much through the civil and
religious wars of France and their consequences. The introduction also
of commendatory abbots, the first of whom was appointed in 1528, was to
some extent responsible for its decline. Amongst the greatest of its
titular prelates were Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin, who tried to
restore it to some of its former greatness, though their efforts did not
meet with much success. Claude de Vert, Prior of Saint-Pierre, Abbeville
(d. 1708), was another would-be reformer of the congregation, inspired
no doubt by the example of the Maurists.
The abbey-church of Cluny was on a scale commensurate with the
greatness of the congregation, and was regarded as one of the wonders of
the Middle Ages. It was no less than 555 feet in length, and was the
largest church in Christendom until the erection of St. Peter's at Rome.
It consisted of five naves, a narthex, or ante-church, and several
towers. Commenced by St. Hugh, the sixth abbot, in 1089, it was finished
and consecrated by Pope Innocent II in 1131-32, the narthex being added
in 1220. Together with the conventual buildings it covered an area of
twenty-five acres. At the suppression in 1790 it was bought by the town
and almost entirely destroyed. At the present day only one tower and
part of a transept remain, whilst a road traverses the site of the nave.
The community of the abbey, which had numbered three hundred in the
thirteenth century, dwindled down to one hundred in the seventeenth, and
when it was suppressed, in common with all the other religious houses in
France, its monks numbered only forty.
The spirit and organization of the congregation was a distinct
departure from the Benedictine tradition, though its monks continued all
along to be recognized as members of the Benedictine family. Previous to
its inception every monastery had been independent and autonomous,
though the observance of the same rule in all constituted a bond of
union; but when Cluny began to throw out offshoots and to draw other
houses under its influence, each such house, instead of forming a
separate family, was retained in absolute dependence upon the central
abbey. The superiors of such houses, which were usually priories, were
subject to the Abbot of Cluny and were his nominees, not the elect of
their own communities, as is the normal Benedictine custom. Every
profession, even in the most distant monastery of the congregation,
required his sanction, and every monk had to pass some years at Cluny
itself. Such a system cut at the root of the old family ideal and
resulted in a kind of feudal hierarchy consisting of one great central
monastery and a number of dependencies spread over many lands. The Abbot
of Cluny or his representative made annual visitations of the dependent
houses, and he had for his assistant in the government of so vast an
organization a coadjutor with the title Grand-Prior of Cluny. The
abbot's monarchical status was somewhat curtailed after the twelfth
century by the holding of general chapters, but it is evident that he
possessed a very real power over the whole congregation, so long as he
held in his own hands the appointment of all the dependent priors. (For
the sources of information as to the rule, government, and conventual
observance of the congregation, see bibliography at end of this
article.) With regard to the Divine Office, the monks of Cluny conformed
to the then prevailing custom, introduced into the monasteries of France
by St. Benedict of Aniane, of adding numerous extra devotional
exercises, in the shape of psalms (psalmi familiares, speciales,
prostrati, and pro tribulatione) and votive offices (Our Lady, The Dead,
All Saints, etc.) to the daily canonical hours prescribed by the
The library of Cluny was for many centuries one of the richest and
most important in France and the storehouse of a vast number of most
valuable manuscripts When the abbey was sacked by the Huguenots, in
1562, many of these priceless treasures perished and others were
dispersed. Of those that were left at Cluny, some were burned by the
revolutionary mob at the time of the suppression in 1790, and others
stored away in the Cluny town hall. These latter, as well as others that
passed into private hands, have been gradually recovered by the French
Government and are now in the Bibliotheque Nationale at Paris. There are
also in the British Museum, London, about sixty charters which formerly
belonged to Cluny. The "Hotelde Cluny" in Paris, dating from 1334, was
formerly the town house of the abbots. In 1833 it was made into a public
museum, but apart from the name thus derived, it possesses practically
nothing connected with the abbey.
The Investiture Controversy and the End of the Salians
Henry IV struggled with the revitalized papacy for political
supremacy, but no compromise was reached between the two powers until
his son Henry V took the throne.
When 6 Henry IV, the son of Henry
III, assumed power in 1056, he sought support from the ministeriales, as well as from the increasingly
important 7 cities.
In the cities, a self-confident middle class had
emerged whose capital provided a counterbalance to the nobility's
control over the countryside.
The reform papacy favored by his father had grown to be the chief
opponent of Henry IV.
6 Emperor's seal of Henry IV with the
inscription "Heinricus D(ei)
Gra(tia) Rex "
(Henry, king by the mercy of God)
7 View of Nuremberg, city of the Holy Roman Empire, founded in the
with the emperor's castle, wood engraving, late 15th
9 Pope Gregory VII demanded the papacy's complete
control over all interests of the Church, particularly over
investiture—the right to appoint clergy to their offices.
9 Pope Gregory VII is liberated and dies in exile in 1085;
Henry IV with
the antipope Clement III,
wood engraving, twelfth century
consequently declared the pope deposed at the Synod of Worms in January
1076, Gregory responded by excommunicating the king, freeing Henry's
subjects as well as the princes from their loyalty oath to the king. An
assembly of princes held at Tribur demanded Henry's abdication should
the excommunication remain in effect. This conflict precipitated the
breakup of the feudal system in the Empire and destroyed the sovereignty
of the German monarchs. The nobles took advantage of the struggle
between emperor and pope to enrich themselves with the wealth abandoned
by the bishops.
In 1077 Henry went to see the pope at Canossa, where he regained his
right of regency.
This put him in a position in 1080 to defeat the
rebellion of princes who had elected 8 Rudolf of Swabia as their king in
Later, Pope Urban II repeated the ban on lay investiture
at the Synod of Clermont in 1095, and even Henry's own children turned
against him. Conrad, his oldest, disempowered him in Italy in the 1090s,
aided by a rebellion of the Lombard cities. Henry, his second son, whom
he had chosen as his successor, pressured by an uprising of the princes,
forced his father to abdicate in 1105, becoming Henry V. Henry IV died
the following year.
Following revolts, 11 Henry V brought about an
agreement with the princes at the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire at Wurzburg in 1121.
8 Rudolf of Swabia is killed in battle in 1080,
wood engraving, 19th
11 Henry V captures Pope Paschal II,
wood engraving, 19th century
The 10 Concordat of Worms of 1122 finally brought an
end to the investiture controversy: The Church would choose who would
hold the offices of bishops and abbots, while the king would invest them
with their temporal jurisdictions. The imperial Church could therefore
not be used as an instrument of power.
10 Cathedral of Worms,
built in the 12th—13th century
The Journey to Canossa
Henry IV went to Canossa in northern Italy to meet Pope Gregory VII and
have his excommunication rescinded. The pope is said to have made Henry
wait barefoot in the snow and cold of January for three days and nights,
as proof of penance.
Although a "journey to Canossa" proverbially means
to admit defeat, this was actually more of a victory for Henry IV, who
regained his freedom to act with the blessing of the Church through the
revocation of his excommunication.
Henry IV in Canossa in 1077, Eduard
Schwoiser , 1852
Walk to Canossa
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Walk to Canossa (sometimes called the Way to Canossa; German, "Gang
nach Canossa"; Italian, "l'umiliazione di Canossa") refers to both the
trek itself of Henry IV of the Holy Roman Empire from Speyer to the
fortress at Canossa and also to the events surrounding his journey.
These events took place in and around January 1077.
When, in his early papacy, Gregory VII attempted to enact reforms to
the investiture process, he was met by much resistance from the Holy
Roman Emperor. Henry insisted that he reserved the right to 'invest'
bishops and other clergymen, despite the papal decree. Henry renounced
Gregory as pope; in return, Gregory excommunicated and deposed Henry. He
stated furthermore that, one year from that day, the excommunication
would become permanent and irrevocable.
Fearing rebellion among the German aristocracy (violence had already
broken out at Langensalza a year earlier), Henry felt he had to have his
excommunication lifted. He arranged to meet with the Pope in Augsburg.
Gregory, however, feared that Henry would bring his army and attempt
to remove the Pope from power. He spent some time on his journey
northward from Rome in towns in the south of the Empire, trying to gain
support among the people.
While still in the northern reaches of present-day Italy, he met
Mathilda, Countess of Tuscany. She offered to bring him to a location
safe from attack by Henry. They traveled together to the fortress at
Canossa and shut themselves inside.
Coming southward from Germany, Henry found his position precarious.
He was still popular among the common people, but his nobles were still
threatening to elect a new king. He had to secure his position in the
church before the rapidly approaching deadline given by the Pope.
Once he crossed the Jura Mountains, Henry took on the behavior of
penitence. He wore a hair-shirt, the traditional clothing of monks at
the time, and allegedly walked barefoot. Many of his entourage also
supposedly removed their shoes. In these conditions he crossed the Alps,
a long and harsh journey in late January. On 25 January 1077 he reached
the gates of Canossa.
At the fortress
When Henry reached Canossa, the Pope ordered that he be refused
entry. According to the first-hand accounts of the scene (letters
written by both Gregory and Henry in the following years), Henry waited
by the gate for three full days. During this time, he allegedly wore
only his penitent hair-shirt and fasted. Although no contemporary
sources report this, it has since been speculated that Henry spent much
of his time during these three days in the village at the foot of the
On 28 January (the feast of Saint Paul's conversion) the gates were
opened for Henry and he was allowed to enter the fortress. Contemporary
accounts report that he knelt before Pope Gregory and begged his
forgiveness. Gregory absolved Henry and invited him back into the
Church. That evening, Gregory, Henry, and Mathilda shared communion in
the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas inside the fortress, signaling the
official end of Henry's excommunication. [This series of events is
compiled by Zimmerman (see below) as the most likely, through comparison
of original sources on the subject, including letters written by both
Henry and Gregory to the German bishops and princes. For a discussion of
this, and for other proposed timelines, see Zimmermann's chapter 5]
Henry quickly returned to his empire, but Gregory remained with
Mathilda at the fortress and in other locations in Tuscany for several
months. Later historians speculated upon a romantic or sexual
relationship between the two (an accusation sometimes raised by
Protestant historians in the 17th century) although if there was ever
any evidence for this it has not survived. [Struve, 44ff] .
The immediate effects of the Canossa meeting were limited. Although
Henry was restored to the Church, the Pope did not restore his support
of Henry's right to the throne. His deposition still in effect, Henry
was forced into civil war with Duke Rudolph of Swabia. Gregory levied a
second excommunication against Henry, who ultimately won the civil war,
invaded Rome, and forced Gregory to flee, replacing him with an
antipope, Clement III.
The meaning in the greater history of Germany and Europe, however,
was much more significant. During the Protestant Reformation in the 16th
century, Henry was heroized as a defender of the rights of both Germans
and opponents to the Pope. Many German Lutherans considered him the
"first Protestant" and looked to his example for guidance in their
struggle against what they saw as a tyrannical and unjust institution.
Later in German history the event took on a more secular meaning: it
came to stand for Germany's refusal to be subjected to any outside power
(although still especially, but not exclusively, the Roman Catholic
Church). Otto von Bismarck, during his so-called "Kulturkampf," assured
his countrymen that "We will not go to Canossa – neither in body nor in
spirit!" That is, Germany would stand for itself and not abide any
outside interference in its politics, religion or culture. [For more
discussion on cultural references to the Walk to Canossa, see
Zimmermann's chapters 1 and 4]
On the other side, Canossa is remembered in Italy by some historians
(like Benedetto Croce) as the first concrete victory of the Pope (who
represented the Italian people) against the domination of the Germans
after the fall of the Roman Empire. Croce considered Canossa as the
initial retreat from Italy of the Holy Roman Empire, starting the
Italian Renaissance in which the Germans lost control of northern Italy
by the 15th century.
Today, "Canossa" refers to an act of penance or submission. To "go to
Canossa" is an expression (used often in German: "nach Canossa gehen",
in Swedish: "Canossavandring", in Danish and Norwegian: "Kanossagang",
and in Italian language: "andare a Canossa") to describe doing penance,
often with the connotation that it is unwilling or coerced.