The Medieval Catholic Church was exceedingly corrupt during the Middle Ages. Although faith was the foundation of the Church, throughout time, the Church became more about making money and worldly living than living strictly for God. This corruption led to the slacking of the rules for priests and clergymen. Religion and the Church plays an important role in Chaucer’s poem, The Canterbury Tales. Some of Chaucer’s characters’ attitude toward worldly morals is simply horrendous. Although clergymen of the Catholic Church needed to be a shining example for the congregation, the personalities of a select few of Chaucer’s characters suggest that the Medieval Catholic Church was corrupt.
At a first glance at Chaucer’s prioress, whose name is Madam Eglantyne, one learns that she obsesses with earthly pleasures. One of the vows a medieval nun took was the vow of poverty, which forbad all types of jewelry or intricate clothing that could distract women of God from a completely holy life with God. The prioress wears an elegant cloak and has a coral trinket on her arm. Also, a prioress was supposed to love God with all her heart, but Madam Eglantyne is infatuated with the concept of courtly love. She wears “a golden brooch of brightest sheen, on which there first was graven a crowned A, and lower, Amor vincit omnia” (Chaucer 164-66). The saying, “Amor vincit omnia”, is Latin for the aphorism, “love conquers all”. This head nun is also very wealthy. She feeds her little dogs roasted meat, milk, and fine white bread. If a medieval prioress is supposed to live a life of poverty, how could Madam Eglantyne afford to give her dogs such extravagant food? Eating a very restricted amount of food was another well-known rule for nuns. Moreover, they must fast often. According to Chaucer, the Prioress is certainly not undergrown, which implies that she is pleasantly plump. For a nun to be voluptuous, she must be eating a great deal of food.
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