Premodern Religion

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Paul Lambert
Hum 251
Professor Horten
9 / 26 / 2012
The Façade of Pre-Modern Religion
During the pre-modern age there was perhaps no larger an aspect of everyday life than religion. Today’s day and age is a stark contrast, as religion has for the most part taken a backseat in importance. From the pre-modern age to now, religion has changed completely. Pre-modern religion held political power locally, and all across Europe. Today religion holds a mostly spiritual power for the truly devout. This essay will discover the role and importance that religion played in the pre-modern age, and how it permeated the lives of those living in it.

In pre-modern times there wasn’t a diverse society like the one we currently live in. In the pre-modern age everybody had their own role in the community. In this feudal society, there was very little opportunity for advancement. Because of the lack of education at this time people only had a few skills, which they would put to use to make a living. Most people were farmers who worked the land most of their lives to provide food for their village, and family. There were others that had specialty skills, who may have been a blacksmith, or a shoe maker; but what they all had in common was that they were all hard workers, who had hard lives.

In a pre-modern village the noble family, or the wealthiest families, would have presided over the village. These nobles would have essentially ruled over the villages and made sure things ran smoothly. About the only chance of becoming something other than a craftsman, or farmer, was to be born into one of these noble families. If you were privileged you could become a knight, but many of these people would become clergy.

These clergy were one of the biggest aspects of the pre-modern society. Each village had a church, and that church was the main center of community life. The priests or clergymen were at the center of this as well. The clergy played the role of intermediary to God. These men were also some of the only educated people around, although their education may have been still somewhat limited. In addition to the church, the clergy would have run the monastery. Monasteries were multifaceted facilities where the sick in the community could be cared for, the poor fed, and where monks would have studied, and also made copies of books. Clergy would have been at the head of religious ceremonies, as we saw in “The Return of Martin Guerre,” where at his marriage the priest performs the actual marriage ceremony; along with blessing of the bride and groom so that they may be fertile and produce many children. The largest role that clergy would have played though would have been as the spiritual leader of the community.

One of the biggest differences between religion in pre-modern times and today was the public nature of personal religious faith. Today our own personal religious beliefs are usually kept to yourself, unless you are talking with someone close to you, or are having a theological discussion. In pre-modern life everyone was religious, and your religious beliefs were a public matter. At a time when the mass public is so vastly uneducated, the need for counsel with clergy was in high demand. As we read in the book “Year of Wonders,” the local clergyman, Michael Mompellion, from the beginning of the book, because of his role of clergy, is always being asked for help. In the beginning of the book Anna has to work hard to keep Miss Bradford from bursting into the rectory to seek out the counsel of the Rector, Mompellion. Until the end of the book when we see Mompellion’s true colors show through, he does seem like a very good, level headed, leader for the community. Although his actual holiness may have been more of an act, due to some of his strange actions throughout the book; it seems that the village may not have made it through the plague without his leadership, both spiritual and actual.

Michael Mompellion is the one who first...
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