2 Europe around 1400


The central theme of the Middle Ages was the Christian faith. Despite enormous exertions by the Church to keep her power and prestige, organised Christendom had come to a deep crisis around 1400. A politically motivated conflict within the Church resulted in a schism and in two rival popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon. From 1410 until 1415, during the last years of the lives of the Van Limburg Brothers and their uncle Jan Maelwael, there even were three popes, all three of them with their own organisation and their own supporters, also in the Low Countries. 
The abuses in the Church gave rise to criticism and counter movements. Around 1400, the three most important predecessors of Reformation were active: John Wycliff in England, Jan Hus in Bohemia and Geert Groote in the Low Countries. They challenged the abuse of power and corruption within the Church, and talked about a personal bond with God for each human being, without mediation by the Church.
Because many no longer took it for granted that the Church had exclusive rights to God and Salvation, the road was cleared for individual religious experience. Increasingly, piety was seen as something personal, in private prayer, in private devotion, in mysticism, in consecration of daily life and in the greatly rising cult of Maria. 
However, not only religious matters determined life around 1400. Successive epidemics of the Black Plague between 1350 and 1450 killed one in three of the inhabitants of Europe and caused a major economic and mental crisis. Especially in France, traditional society collapsed after the humiliating defeats in the war against England. For the first time, medieval class society came under attack. Social unrest arose in the cities. The country fell victim to degenerate gangs of robbers. This chaos was further increased by the civil war between the Houses of Burgundy and Orleans, which led to battles in half of Europe, reaching from the plains of the Po river to the Realm of Nijmegen.
All these events which sound apocalyptic; the Great Schism, the Black Death, and the Hundred Years' War, directly influenced the lives of almost all Europeans and virtually all Nijmegen citizens, and most certainly the lives of Jan Maelwael and the Van Limburg Brothers, heroes of this story.


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