The Cultural Legacy of the Feudal System: Pilgrimages and Crusades

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3, The cultural legacy of the feudal system: pilgrimages and crusades.

Routes of Pilgrimages

During the Middle Ages people didn't travel much. When they did travel, it was often for a religious reason: to go on a pilgrimage, or to fight in a crusade.

A pilgrimage was a journey to a place where a saint was buried, or where important relics were kept. The most important destinations for pilgrims were Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela. Usually, people start this journey looking for help to their problems, because they wanted to see holy places or to pay for their sins (penance).

The routes of Pilgrimage were very important economical and cultural centres, where towns developed and the pilgrims helped to spread knowledge and trade across Europe. For instance, it helped to spread the Romanesque style as many churches were built across the routes.

The Crusades

At the 11th century, the Pope said it was the duty of Christians to recover the Holy Land from the Turks. He called it a crusade. Many nobles from Europe took part in the First Crusade to take Jerusalem. There were many more crusades, but gradually the Muslims took back the land that they lost.

Probably the most famous was the Third Crusade (12th century) when Saladin, Sultan of Egypt, took Jerusalem from the Christians. The king Richard I of England “Lionheart” led the crusade, that ended with Saladin defeating the Christians but allowing them to visit the city.

The crusaders were organized in military orders, like the Knights Templar, that received money to protect the Christians in the Holy Land and became very rich and powerful.

From the 11th century, Romanesque, a new style of art, spread from France all over Europe. Romanesque art was aimed to spread religion, most of the buildings were churches and monasteries, while most of the sculptures and paintings were used to teach the Bible. The artists were mainly anonymous craftsmen, that moved to another place when they finished their work.

The Romanesque Architecture

Most of the churches had a Latin cross plan as a symbol of Christ's crucifixion. The main buildings were made of stone. They used Roman elements such as the semi-circular arch, the barrel vault and domes. When two barrel vaults crossed they formed a groin vault.

The Romanesque Painting and Sculpture

Most people were illiterate (could not read or write) so they decorated the churches with symbolic images showing scenes from the Bible, like a “picture Bible”. In painting, images were non-realistic. They used bright and flat colours with no background, outlined in black, so the picture looks two-dimensional. In sculpture and reliefs they showed rigid figures, with no perspective, organized hierarchically according to the importance of the character.

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