High Middle Ages: Clergy Instructions

Good day, brothers and sisters!

During the course of your individual work on this project, you will need to complete a series of challenges relating to your social status and your relationship with the rest of the feudal world of 1207 CE.  At this point, you should have completed the background work to better understand the geographic world of the High Middle Ages in western Europe in the 13th century.  You should have also decided where your fiefdom is located, your fief’s motto and heraldic colors, and its name.  You’ll need to keep that information handy, as you will be using it again during the course of these challenges.

The social world of the feudal High Middle Ages was one which was intensely hierarchical; every person in society had a role, and there really wasn’t a lot of movement within the various divisions of society.  If you would like a detailed explanation of the medieval social hierarchy or simply want more information about your social position in general, I recommend watching the following video on the origins of the European social order which persisted up until the French Revolution of 1789 CE.  You’re not required to watch this, but it is good information, and might prove helpful in your future work:

As a member of the clergy, your primary duty is to see to the spiritual and physical welfare of those who live and work on your fief.  This is a social and political order based around reciprocity and loyalty, and while your life may be more privileged than most– depending on your position in the Church– that in no way means your life is without its cares and obligations.

Clergy’s First Challenge

First, please download the Clergy First Challenge if you don’t have your hardcopy of the handout in front of you. As your first challenge, you will need to:

  1. Define a series of terms are that specific to your experience as a member of the clergy, or which might be significant in the medieval world of 1207 CE.  Please use your textbook and online resources in order to generate an original definition to each term.
  2. Create your character.  You will need to use the resources below in order to come up with an appropriate name for your character during the course of this project.  You will also need to determine what position within the Church you will hold.  You will need to read carefully about the different roles of the clergy in order to make your selection.
  3. Create a page from an illuminated manuscript.  Use the resources below in order help you better understand what should be included in this.  Remember: I don’t expect an artistic work of staggering genius.  I do, however, expect color, creativity, and neatness in the final product.

Medieval Naming Conventions

First, a bit of excellent background information from “Common Naming Practices: Being a Brief Guide to Bynames in the Major European Languages and Cultures” by Walraven van Nijmegen (2003).

Parts of names: In the majority of European cultures, personal names contain two basic kinds of name element, given names and surnames.

The given name is so called because the family bestowed it upon the child at birth or christening. Given names may be traditional names in the culture, saints, heroes, honored relatives, and so forth. The pool of given names differs from culture to culture. For example, Giovanni is the characteristically Italian form of John, the name Kasimir is almost uniquely Polish, and use of the name Teresa did not spread outside of Spain until very late [in the medieval period]. Because given names vary so much by place and period, describing them adequately is beyond the scope of this article. However, many collections of given names are available on-line at the Medieval Names Archive.

Surnames are the second major category of name element. Today’s surnames are inherited family names, but for most of [the medieval] period, surnames were not inherited but chosen to describe an individual and distinguish him or her from other individuals with the same given name. Such surnames are called bynames.

Byname origins and meanings: To understand how bynames originated, image that you lived in Amsterdam around 1300. You are listening to a friend sharing local gossip about a man named Jan. Now, one out of every ten people in Amsterdam is named Jan, so how will you know which one your friend means? Is it big Jan who lives at the edge of town? Jan, the butcher? Jan, the son of Willem the candlemaker? You need additional information about who Jan is to identify him, and that is what a byname does.

Bynames show up all over Europe in four basic flavors:

* patronymic – byname that identifies a person’s father. There are other bynames of relationship, but the patronymic is by far the most common of these in Europe.

* locative – byname that identifies where a person was born, lives, or has an estate. These can be formed using a proper place name or a generic feature of local geography.

* occupational – byname that identifies a person’s trade or occupation.

* nickname – byname that describes an individual’s personality, character, dress, physical appearance, or other outstanding trait. These are not chosen by the bearer of the nickname, but by friends, family, neighbors, or enemies, and becomes known through frequent use.

I strongly recommend that you read over the rest of the article, because it does an excellent job of explaining how naming conventions traditionally worked in the medieval period for most people.  Additionally, you might find the following site useful in order to better understand the social order of the medieval world and the positions within the medieval Catholic Church:

Common Medieval Given Names

You’ll want to make sure that the given name you select is appropriate for the region in which your fief is located, so pay attention to the potential for Germanic, Latin, Celtic, or Norse roots.  There’s an excellent site at “Medieval English Names” which might be useful to you, even if your fief isn’t located in England.  At any rate, here is a collection of fairly common given names from the 12th and 13th centuries, separated by gender:

Male Names

Adam Gervase Gilbert James Louis Ralf
Ademar Geoffrey Gerard John Walter Warin
Amaury George Bernard Matthew Jan Wulfirc
Alfred Guy Nicholas Lucas Thomas Richard
Bernard Hubert Aldous Roger Simon Reginald
Charles Ernis Henry William Percival Roland

Female Names

Agnes Agatha Alice Avice Aldith Astrid
Eva Beatrice Elizabeth Mary Martha Philippa
Gilia Helen Sybil Sadie Lavinia Isabella
Scholastica Julia Margery Margaret Molly Muriel
Joyce Cecily Urith Isolde Winifred Grace
Ann Jane Katherine Linette Wulfhild Rohesia


Creating an Illuminated Manuscript

During the medieval period in Western Europe, very few people were literate– those that were generally were wealthy or part of the Catholic Church (or were both!).  Reproducing written material was a slow, laborious process: books, edicts, legal documents, and any other writing was copied out by hand.  While it was possible to make woodcut prints to reproduce images, making a woodcut print of each page of a book was far too labor-intensive a process to be truly useful.  Therefore, many monks and scholars spent their time recopying the Bible, the writings of Church fathers, and some classical texts from ancient Greece and Rome (although those often posed a theological challenge for the Catholic Church). Using the motto of your fiefdom as your text, try your best to mimic the style and techniques used in illuminated manuscripts.  Your illuminated manuscript should contain the following:

  • Use your fiefdom’s motto as your central text. If you would like to add more to it, you certainly may.
  • Begin your text with a historiated initial (a letter at the beginning of a section of text which contains an identifiable scene or figure– ideally, this scene should relate to the theme of your text)
  • Use your fiefdom’s colors prominently in your manuscript.
  • Include at least three examples of marginalia around your text (illustrations in the margins which do not necessarily have to do with the immediate text)

In order to complete this task, you’ll want to review the following sources to gain a better sense of what illuminated manuscripts looked like and contained:

“The Art of the Book in the Middle Ages,” Department of Medieval Art and the Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2001.

“An Introduction to Illuminated Manuscripts,” British Library.  (This site has examples of illuminated manuscripts sorted by time period, so make sure you take a look at the examples from the 13th century.)

“A Brief History of Illuminated Manuscripts,” Phil Barber.