Medieval Professors and Students

Medieval Universities

In the early Middle Ages, education was offered primarily to the clergy and to a few members of the ruling classes. Prior to the 5th-6th centuries C.E. scholarship and education were put primarily into the service of translating, organizing, copying and codifying of sacred texts, as well as materials from the classical era. Education was conducted primarily in cathedral and monastry schools, or in the private homes of the wealthy. Part of the emergence of cathedral and monastry schools came about through the reforms of Charlemagne. Charlemagne recognized that his empire would require the services of a body of well-educated clerical bureaucrats to survive. His decree and the creation of cathedral schools allowed intelligent boys from humle families to pursue an education that would eventually put them in line for the adminstrative tasks of the Carolingian empire.

The teachers in these schools such as those of those of Chartres, Orleans, and Reims were usually clerics, and the curriculum was generally infused with doctrinal themes and perspectives. Scholars and would-be scholars were expected to delve into the intepretative studies of sacred texts by the church fathers in exercises known as patristic exegesis. However, depending on their different regional locations and the composition of their teachers, the curriculum of cathedral schools tended to vary widely. School with teachers from Spain or who were recipients of the Islamic traditions in education would include mathematics, astronomy and the natural sciences into their teaching. Other schools proceeded in different directions: the school at Orleans offered studies in the classics, while Chartres specialized in mathematics and music.

Some of the earliest institutions of higher education to emerge in the early part of the middle ages were those in eastern Europe: the university at Constatinople was founded in 2 C.E. and others existed during the same period in cities such as Alexandria, Antioch and Athens.

One of the key figures in the rise of the medieval university was Pope Gregory VII. In 1079, he issued a papal decree mandating the creation of cathedral schools that would be responsible for educafting the clergy. This decree ultimately led to the proliferation of educational centers which evolved over time into the universities of medieval Europe. In Italy,the University of Bologna was founded in 1088 while the University of Paris coalesced out of a loose conglomeration of various monastry schools and the center at Notre Dame some time around 1119. In 1231 under the sponsorship of Robert Sorbon, a theological college was established. Over the centuries this theological college would evolve and emerge as the Sorbonne University of Paris.


Corpus Christi College, Oxford

Magdelan College

Trinity College

In England various different colleges were established in Oxford between 1167-1185, and in 1209 the first college of the University of Cambridge was established. Some of the earliest colleges to have been formed included Balliol College founded in 1260 by John Balliol in Oxford. At Cambridge, Pembroke College was founded by Mary de St. Pol, wife of the Earl of Pembroke in 1347, and Corpus Christi College in 1352.

In the next century, colleges such as King's College (1441) and Queen's College (1448) were added to Cambridge University.

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