Monday, July 8, 2013

Christianity in Late Roman and Medieval Europe

Christianity played a major role in Europe during the Medieval period.  The spread of Christianity and the rise of the Roman Catholic Church as a political, economic, judicial and spiritual leader in Europe unified much of Europe in many ways and also created persecutions of various pagan groups as well as of the Jews and Muslims.  I believe it is critical to understand the church influence (for good and bad) in this part of the world during history to truly understand events and ideas that came after the medieval period as well as to truly understand modern Christianity.  As such, I am mostly offering a variety of links to documentaries and cartoons that should help shed light on the earliest years of Christianity from a variety of perspectives and designed for a variety of ages.  The idea here, is to show how Christianity grew and evolved into the powerful force it became by the end of the medieval period.  I hope to add more resources over time.

Although I am a believer and love Christ, I also believe what he taught - a message of love for my neighbor.  This article is meant to link its users to a selection of resources taking a look at HISTORY and is not meant as a theological commentary, nor should it be taken as such.  This article does not attempt proselytizing, nor does it wish to bash Christianity.  As such, I would ask that I am able to leave the article open to comments with any commentary made in the same spirit.  

The Early Christians:

PBS Series: From Jesus to Christ  Chronicling the History behind the story of the Man Jesus of Nazareth and the Rise of the Christian Faith as a result (4 hours).

Crash Course in the Rise of Christianity - From Judaism to Constantine (Just Minutes)

Christianity - The First 1000 years.

Lost Worlds - The First Christians - This is done with the usual, overly dramatic flair served up with a side of exaggeration, but the basic story-line is true.  Just don't leave this as the only thing you watch.

Constantine and the Church - Yale Lecture definitely too dry for young children, but highly informative.

Of course, reading some of the Biblical Texts about the life of Jesus and just being familiar with some of the stories most cherished even by today's Christians is an option here.  If you are a believer, you probably already have done some of this, if not, the stories in The Bible, are still wonderful as literary works as well as texts, that even to the non-believer, should be comparative to reading the Aenied, The Odyssey, or Beowulf in terms of learning something about what the beliefs and values of the culture that initially celebrated these tales were.

The Power of the Church

The story of the conflict between the Church and the Crown at its height with Thomas Becket: Cathedral - Murder at Canterbury.  The movie is about a savage murder as well as the struggle for power between church and crown.  Despite this, it is relatively non-violent but, as usual, I suggest previewing before watching with any kids.

Mr Zoller's History Podcasts - How the Roman Catholic Church Operated including roles and Hierarchy AND the powers of the church over the population.  GREAT for a Middle School or high school student studying the period.

After completing lessons about the power of the church, have your students create a power pyramid as a way to practice understanding how the church operated on a political level.  It is especially important for later history for students to understand the conflict between the political monarch and the Pope that would eventually arise in Europe.

The Cathedral

Cathedrals are an amazing architectural element all over Europe and the Middle East that include the work of at least 40 different types of labor including the skilled labors of millwrights, rough and free masons, and artists in a variety of media.  The cathedral of the middle ages was not just a place of worship, but a place where religion, politics, and legal reckonings all converged.  It was the place where history was recorded, education given and birth and death were celebrated and remembered.  For most medieval people, church was the center of life.  Labors for food and survival may have occupied most of your time, but church was what occupied your thoughts - whether by free choice, or by force.

David Macauly's Cathedral  This video alternates between an animated story and documentary shots of a number of France's most famous cathedrals.  It shows the construction of one cathedral (Notre Dame de Beaulieu) as well as the semi-fictitious characters (some of the characters were real people, but they are given dialogue and character traits in the style of historical fiction for the animations)  surrounding its construction.  The movie will entertain and educated viewers about how important cathedrals were to the communities that built them and why as well as show the process by which the building occurred.

Great Cathedral Mystery  Created by NOVA and National Geographic, this documentary takes a look at the Florence Cathedral as brick layers and a professor try to figure out how the dome of the cathedral could have been built.  The cathedral was built at the time the Medieval period was giving way to the Renaissance.  For your more advanced students to fully understand and appreciated the information in this video, they will first need to understand the importance of the inverted arch so you may want to address this pre-viewing.  For younger kids, this detail can be skipped, however, after watching with your younger students, you might try having your students create a herring bone pattern "roof" using Popsicle sticks to see if they grasped this key technological technique while it was explained in the movie (I will include photos when Alice and I have watched the movie and completed the exercise.

Squidoo Window on Bridge Construction
I'll grant you this may seem a loose tie-in set of activities and books.  However, a little experience in building and the forces at play in building structures will deepen the learning your students gain. Understanding the challenges faced by the builders of the Cathedrals makes their accomplishments inspiring.  Understanding how knowledge aquired in the building of Gothic Cathedrals is still in use today, makes the lessons that much more relevant for kids.  There is a plethora of related resources and ideas listed on this thorough and thoughtful Window.

Stainglassed Cookies 
Rather than a movie, this link will take you to an activity to try with your students as a memorable, hands-on bridge activity.

Pilgramages, Crusades, Monks and Missionaries

Medieval Life and Times Basic descriptions and definitions.
Veggie Tales St. Patrick - The basics behind Patrick and his Day.

Crash Course - Crusades - Great for High school and College students and only minutes long.

The Crescent and the Cross - I have not yet watched the entire movie.  It is broken into two parts, this link will take you to the first portion and if you scroll through the list of "next" options, you will see the link for the second portion.

Terry Jones' Medieval Lives - The Monk This movie does contain sexual content.  As usual, I recommend previewing.  I did find the show to be quite eye-opening about what was once openly acceptable in the eyes of the church and how much has changed.

Pilgrims in Arms - First in a series about the Crusades with the title "The Crusades".  Also narrated by Terry Jones.  Again, I have not yet watched the entire series, but from the looks of the beginning, the series doesn't try to hide the fact that the the crusades were bloody, violent and vicious on both sides.  While it is hard on the medieval church, it is historically accurate (based on the little I know and on the research I have completed).

Bitesize History by the BBC  A Wonderful online resource for your Elementary Students (and a starting place for older kids too if you wish), this is a resource of pages with interactive elements (include video clips) and colorful visuals rather than a single video.

The History Channel  This link will take you to their page that focuses on the Crusades which includes many video clips and an article summarizing the entire collection.  It is nice to have the video broken into bits this way that can be discussed at the end of each clip when working with a second/third grade student, but having it so broken up may get annoying or frustrating to an older viewer.

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