Sacred Conquest and Ecclesiastical Politics: The Normans and the Church in the Eleventh Century

Sacred Conquest and Ecclesiastical Politics: The Normans and the Church in the Eleventh Century

By Sean McGee

Janus: The University of Maryland Undergraduate History Journal (February 2001)

Introduction: Ecclesiastical sanction is a common feature of the Norman conquests in Sicily and Southern Italy during the eleventh century. The various Norman conquerors all sought to legitimize their domination in this region by gaining the support of the Church. Their concern with adding a holy aspect to their military and political achievements shows the amount of importance they and those they sought to dominate placed on religion as a source of power. An examination of the strong relationship Norman rulers established between themselves and the churches Sicily and Southern Italy illustrates a key aspect of the way in which they came to be such a great force in Medieval Europe. The Normans’ success hinged upon their ability to appear as divinely appointed rulers who served, protected, and guided the Church in the countries they held. They derived authority from the Church, and they also exercised authority over it.

When discussing the ways in which medieval rulers used the Church to strengthen their power base, it is important to think about the broader factors that shaped the relationship between the secular and the sacred in Europe during the Middle Ages. At the time, these two realms were so intermingled that it often became rather difficult to distinguish the one from the other. Princes and prelates constantly debated the complex issue of where exactly the boundaries between their spheres of influence ought to be drawn. A great amount of confusion arose whenever the jurisdiction of lay rulers seemed to overlap or conflict with that of ecclesiastical authorities, and vice versa.

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