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12 - Thought and Learning

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

David Luscombe
University of Sheffield
Jonathan Riley-Smith
University of Cambridge
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a wealth of material illustrating beliefs and thought, magic and ritual, knowledge of this world and other worlds – imagined or believed – survives in painting, sculpture, chronicles, sermons, penitentials, collections of miracles, synodal legislation, saints’ lives, romance literature and elsewhere, but this chapter is principally devoted to the more structured, formal patterns of teaching and learning which no doubt impinged less closely on the lives of the many than of the few. The levels of knowledge (practical and theoretical, profane and religious) attained and enjoyed by people who did not undergo a formal education outside of their family circle is not directly our subject here, but laypeople and clerics did not live in wholly separate worlds, and literacy among the laity, especially the nobility, should not be underestimated. Many laypeople received at least an elementary education and sometimes continued with study. Important as the role of the better-educated clergy was in promoting literacy and especially the reading and writing of Latin, laymen who might be ignorant of Latin and unable to write manually were sometimes able to read their own vernacular language. Peter Valdès, a layman, asked two clerics in the late twelfth century to translate the gospels into the vernacular so that he could read them and share them with his community of lay people in Lyons. Nobles, whether able or unable themselves to read or write, were served by clerics or monks who acted as scribes and tutors, lawyers and administrators. Firm distinctions between elite, clerical, literate, Christian, normative culture and popular, lay, uneducated outlooks and practices have been largely softened by recent scholars.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2004

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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats