The Church played a significant role in the lives of medieval peoples during the Middle Ages. Religion was involved in almost every aspect of daily life, so much so that during this time the laws of Europe were governed by the Church. When the Black Death devastated Europe from 1347 onwards, the damaging consequences meant that the reputation of the Christian church suffered as a result as they were unable to provide any answers or reasoning for the pestilence. The Medieval Europeans turned to the Church and its officials in a time of crises searching for an explanation that provided a degree of order and solidity. The faith and overall confidence in the Church and its followers from the laypeople diminished during the plague and following outbreaks that showed no signs of hindering. Consequently, the people have presented the “human” side of the Church that was unable to save them from the onslaught of the plague (McLaurine, 2017).
It is important to note that prior to the plague the church had already begun to experience a decline in faith. The institution had progressively become more secular as its focus began to turn towards wealth and abusive political power, thus, it was already in a weakened state. Hence why the plague had such damaging effects due to the deterioration of hierarchal bureaucracy already in occurrence. The increasingly corrupt system was forced to respond when its spiritual and informative capabilities were so heavily depended on. Europeans did not experience a decline in their faith in God, but rather a decline in their confidence in the ability of the institution of the Church (Kelly, 2006). In addition to this, the church had experienced a major deterioration in the quality of its clergy. Great numbers of church officials succumbed to the plague, and consequently, the individuals selected to replace these could not adequately complete the roles. Because of this, there was also a significant upsurge in the flagellant movement, in which groups of both men and women would publicly flog their bodies in an attempt to reconcile with God whilst preaching their own Christianity when without permission, posed a serious threat to the church. Another disturbing exploit that emerged in the wake of the pestilence was the extensive violence directed at the Jewish population. The Christians and Jews had a longstanding tension and with the arrival of the plague, it was believed that the Jews were responsible and so violent attacks were inflicted upon them. Though Western society ultimately recovered from the presence of the black death, its population had been significantly reduced, however, more importantly, the structure of society and the foundations that had been relied on for many years was changed in lasting ways (McLaurine, 2017).
Although at the time it seemed as though it was the end of the world, the benefits derived from the devastating pestilence were numerous. The Black Plague brought immense scientific and economic benefits to the people of Europe through a series of breakthroughs in medicine and technology that revolutionized the medieval world. The black death has been estimated to have wiped out a third of the European population and as a consequence, there was a shortage of people available or willing to carry out labor services. There was a high demand for service among the nobles and so, taking the opportunity to improve their lifestyle, laborers began to demand higher wages along with better working conditions with fewer responsibilities (Kelly, 2006). Moreover, the high rate of mortality allowed for the minority of survivors to benefit through inheritance which when distributed through fewer hands and higher wages, meant the European population was able to earn a considerably larger amount of money. Prior to the plague, there was a distinct social hierarchy, with the new redistribution of concentrated wealth this structure began to crumble as the differences between the poor and the wealthy became fewer. Depopulated parishes consolidated, Large neighborhoods replaced small villages, infrastructure grew in size and quality, and large regional centers and cities were constructed and expanded at a rapid rate as laborers, apprentices, and servants were drawn in from the countryside (Braxton-smith, 2009).
During the continuous outbreak of the Plague, Europe became a labor-scarce environment, which encouraged the creation and development of labor-saving technology as people had to come up with new and innovative ideas to meet the growing economy. Because of this, countless useful devices were invented in a time of need, many being the foundation for advanced technology in modern society. One was Johann Gutenberg’s printing press, developed to replace the extensive amount of monastic copyists who had perished as a result of the black plague, allowing books to be produced in mass, at a lower price as it required less physical labor. The high rate of mortality and need for physical labor meant that there was a lack of men readily available to fight in the army, subsequently, the wages of soldiers increased and so did the cost of war. However, this led to the development of various firearms, some including canons and muskets, weapons able to cause a great deal of damage to compensate for the limited soldiers available. Due to the increased demand for bullion and metal for guns, there was a general expansion in mining and metallurgy, the developments that instigated the creation of many other technologies including water pumps, and new techniques in shaft shoring (Gottfried, 1983).