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Middle Ages: Churches and Book Illustration Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Mar 26th, 2021

How do some of the churches built in the central and high middle ages reflect the ideals of the monastic reform movement?

During both the central and the high Middle Ages, the church increasingly played an important role in people’s lives. Churches were impressively built everywhere and were widely seen as monuments of pride. The middle ages period also witnessed the growth of the monastic reform movement. The monasteries and monks developed arts and architecture, which significantly reflected the ideals of their reform movement. One of the prominent monastic ideals was the notion of running away from the material world, abandoning one’s worldly possessions, and practicing devotion to worshiping in a secluded place. Consequently, many of the churches built during these periods as well as the manuscripts and artwork all manifested their spiritual dedication to worship.

The medieval monastic architecture was designed to be places of worship, prayer as well as to offer residence to monks who attempted to cut themselves off from the distractions of the world. As a result, the churches built during this period were usually designed in a way that provided some form of seclusion. Most medieval churches were also designed like courtyards, and they contained chapter houses for meetings of the worship community, storage facilities, and dormitories.

Additionally, some churches also contained schools where children wanted by their parents to become monks were taught. In short, the ideals of the monastic reform movement during the medieval periods such as total devotion to worship and seclusion from the material world were generally manifested in the architecture of the churches in terms of their designs and heavy artistic adornment.

For the Middle Ages, book illustration changed in both size and content. What do these changes suggest about the changes in literacy and spiritual devotion?

During the Middle Ages, devotional literacy substantially increased, and consequently, as more people were able to read and write books significantly reduced in their size as the content of books changed from the previous pictorial illustrations to the use of texts. Additionally, the advent of printing technology in the fifteenth century made books more affordable and increased the availability of books with textual content rather than books with illustrations.

Before this period, books were more pictorial because most people, particularly the commoners and the peasants could not read and write. The early books were made from pages of animal hides sewn together and containing pictorial illustrations with scribed texts below them. Most biblical teachings were therefore presented in pictorial illustrations so that the illiterates could understand.

With the rapid rise of the middle class, literacy significantly grew, and more people began to own books. The popularity of the books was particularly due to the high levels of devotion and piety that existed during the period. The book illustrations were reduced in size, and sometimes the illustrations were replaced with texts. On the other hand, huge multi-volume bibles and liturgical books became common in the monasteries, churches, and libraries during the middle ages.

Finally, the increased devotion to worship particularly as a result of the activities of the monastic reform movements also increased the demand for textual gospel books. These books were used for daily preaching, singing, and spiritual guidance. One of the most popular smaller books during this period was known as the book of hours.

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