The medieval era is generally defined as the period of European history from the fall of Rome (5th century) to the Renaissance (15th century). The Medieval era is often given only limited attention in histories of the West. In fact, the medieval era by far is the longest period of European history, spanning millennia. The impact on the Western mind and our modern society was enormous. Modern scholarship is increasingly focusing on the so-called Dark Ages which, as a result, has received an historical reappraisal. Many authors object to the term as misleading. Other scholars increasingly see in the so called Dark Ages the foundation for many of the basic beliefs and social institutions of the West. While the era is generally treated as a single era, this millennium long era was extremely diverse. The pace of social change began to quicken in the 12h century. The Christian Church which dominated the medieval era was, after the fall of Rome. One notable trend was the endurance of fashion. Before the mass marketing of our modern age, fashions endured for decades if not centuries. Changes in fashion were glacial compared to the coming and going of modern fashions. A real problem when talking about medieval chronology is this: Renaissance began at Firenze around 1300. At that period France, England and Germany were still for two centuries in the middle Ages. There were three prominent cultural influences affecting Medieval Europe. The old civilization of imperial Rome left a powerful cultural footprint. The Church became the dominant influence during much of the medieval period. The Church provided an ethical dimension that involved moral responsibilities lacking in classical society. The asceticism of the early Church, however, rejected the worldliness of pagan culture. The Western Christian Church strongly influenced all areas of life because the spiritual concern of the age was the attainment of immortality to the exclusion of nearly everything else.
The Papal Monarchy, 1050-1300: Medieval popes able to challenge and best such secular kings as Henry IV of the Holy Roman Empire in the 11th century and Henry II of England in 12th because of power of the papal monarchy, particularly from the 11th to the 13th centuries. By the beginning of the 14th century, the ability of popes to challenge successfully the power of kings was on the wane.
Decline in Religious Life: 9th-11th centuries, European religious life declined, both at the local level and in the upper ranks of the clergy. Parish priests were frequently illiterate and immoral; higher ranking clergy were often appointed by powerful lords, and they served their interests rather than those of the church. In the 10th century, the church undertook to reform itself, a movement that began in the monasteries and then spread to the papacy.
Monastic Reform Movement: Began with the founding of Cluny (910); by 1049, there were 67 monasteries. Reform received new life from the Cistercians (early 12th century), founded by Bernard of Clairvaux: the order had five houses in 1115, 328 in 1152, and 694 in 1300. Other monastic orders flourished in the same centuries, and they ranged from the mendicant or begging orders to the Franciscans, founded by the legendary Francis of Assis (1182- 1226). Called “God’s own troubadour”, St Francis preached a life of total poverty, charity and good works, and love for all; the Franciscans ironically became one of the largest and most powerful of the monastic orders.