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HIST7212: The Friars in the Medieval World

Dr Cornelia Linde

The early thirteenth century saw the foundation of a group of religious orders that would revolutionise many aspects of medieval religious, cultural and intellectual life. These mendicant orders, whose members are called friars, filled a void in the Catholic Church and in society. They satisfied religious needs by preaching and hearing confessions, had an impact on art and architecture and played a leading role in the early universities. In addition, popes and secular rulers relied on the friars for worldly tasks such as going on diplomatic missions and collecting taxes. As a result, the mendicant orders spread quickly across the whole of Europe and became important and influential actors on the European stage and beyond. Yet the mendicants were not universally welcome, but elicited criticism and threats from their non-mendicant opponents and also from each other.

The two largest of these orders, the Dominicans and the Franciscans, shall be the focus of this module. We will start with a look at the two founders of the orders, St Francis and St Dominic and compare their lives and the organisation of their orders. We will examine what made the mendicants so attractive – and what made them an object of criticism. One session each is devoted to the relationship between the friars and the secular rulers and the friars and the papacy, respectively.

The aim of this course is to introduce students to one of the most important religious movements of the Middle Ages that still survives to this day. We will analyse under what circumstances new religious movements can emerge and what prerequisites have to be met for poverty to be desirable. Throughout the module, students are encouraged to think comparatively by comparing Franciscan and Dominican perspectives.


Assessment methods


HIST7212A: 2 X 2,500 word essays

Page last modified on 03 apr 14 11:09 by Jasmine Gane