Everyday Faith in the Middle Ages: Recommended Resources

BOOKS ON THE MIDDLE AGES are legion, and even narrowing the field to books on everyday faith doesn’t help much. The following represents a sampling of what’s available—mostly books the editors found helpful while putting this issue together.

Getting Oriented

Five hundred years of history covering an entire continent is no small chunk to bite off. To get your bearings, start with Joseph Lynch’s The Medieval Church: A Brief History (Longman, 1992) and Adriaan Bredero’s Christendom and Christianity in the Middle Ages (Eerdmans, 1994).

A penetrating analysis of the medieval world’s contribution to our own can be had in Christopher Dawson’s classic Religion and the Rise of Western Culture (Doubleday, 1957, 1991). Barbara Tuchman’s gripping narrative, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (Knopf, 1984), gives a great feel for the heart of this era.

Everyday Life

Religion played a prominent role in all of medieval life, so it’s helpful to read how people in the Middle Ages played games, went to market, raised children, and the like. Joseph and Frances Gies have produced the most accessible books in this area, including, Life in a Medieval Village (Harper & Row, 1990), Marriage and Family in the Middle Ages (1987), Life in a Medieval Castle (1974), and Life in a Medieval City (1969)

Other helpful books in this genre are A History of Private Lives: Revelations of the Medieval World, edited by Georges Duby (Harvard, 1988), which looks at how people created and used their living spaces, and Shulasmith Shahar’s, Childhood in the Middle Ages (Routledge, 1990).

Everyday Faith

In terms of how and why people practiced Catholicism, one can hardly do better than Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400–1580 (Yale, 1992), especially part one.

Overviews of this topic are provided by John Bossy in Christianity in the West, 1400–1700 (Oxford, 1985) and by Andre Vauchez in The Laity in the Middle Ages: Religious Beliefs and Devotional Practices (University of Notre Dame, 1993).

To discover why many people deviated from medieval Catholicism, see Malcolm Lambert’s Medieval Heresy: Popular Movements from the Gregorian Reform to the Reformation (Blackwell, 1977, 1992).

Up Close and Personal

If you want to look at representative individuals, look at the character sketches in Eileen Power’s Medieval People (1924) and Norman Cantor’s Medieval Lives: Eight Charismatic Men and Women of the Middle Ages (HarperCollins, 1994).

Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, translated by Neville Coghill (Penquin, 1951, 1977), is not only a classic work of literature but a gold mine of historical insights into late-1300s England.

Finally, Norman Cantor, ed., in The Medieval Reader (HarperCollins, 1994) has gathered a nice selection of letters, essays, church documents, and poetry of the era.

By the Editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #49 in 1996]

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