3. Church was often the most fun peasants had all week
In the Middle Ages, religion – and by that, we mean Christianity – was a very big deal indeed. It didn’t matter if you were a lowly peasant, a nobleman or even the King himself, your life would have been dominated by the Church. As well as all the major events of your life, from baptism through weddings and funerals, the Church was also central to the key stages of the peasant year, most notably those relating to the growing and harvesting of crops.
By all accounts, going to Church once a week was a central part of peasant life right across Medieval Europe. Notably, it’s likely that many people would have enjoyed it. Of course, it offered a break from routine, plus most people at that time believed fully in what the Church was teaching. But it was more than this. For many poor people, going to church on a Sunday was a social occasion. It was a chance to meet up with friends, maybe enjoy some ‘Church-ale’, a more potent brew than the weak beer they would be brewing in their own villages.
The weekly trip to church was also something of a Medieval leisure experience. Peasants might walk for several hours to get to an abbey or a cathedral. There, they would be able to enjoy the splendor of the architecture and the interiors. They would also be able to enjoy the choral music, hear readings and generally enjoy a break from the monotony of life working the fields. On occasion, peasants would be able to see a ‘mystery play’, a theatrical re-enactment of a biblical story. These would have been the summer blockbusters of the time.
It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that, despite being very poor indeed, most peasants gave a portion of their income to the Church and then took great pride in the cathedrals and other holy buildings that they had helped fund. The more devout would even go on a pilgrimage, perhaps to Canterbury, Rome, Santiago de Compostela or even Jerusalem – though tough, such a journey would have been the only ‘holiday’ a Medieval peasant would be ever likely to enjoy.