The Gothic period, which began at millennium 1000 with unity of spirit and society, reached its peak under Frederick II in the 13th century. Then it plummeted so quickly in the 14th that everything was shattered. Society! Spirit! Everything!
God was still in his heaven—perhaps—but certainly not here on earth with His people. Dante’s Inferno enveloped the living. Black plague entered Europe when infected rats jumped ship in Palermo, Sicily, in 1347. Plague quickly spread and killed more than a third of the population between India and Ireland in two years. The cold of the Little Ice Age, after five warm centuries, diminished crops and brought famine. The Baltic Sea froze twice during the first years of 1300. Plague returned four more times during the 1300s. Europe’s population of the five balmy centuries was cut in half to 30 million.
As labor became scarce, peasants and burghers scraped together the money to buy their freedom. Serfs became uneconomic because they had to be fed precious food, so were given their freedom. In spite of labor shortages manufacturing did not lag, thanks to labor saving innovations of the past two centuries such as the windmill, watermill, compass, clock, spinning wheel and treadle loom. The same amount of goods spread among fewer people meant a higher standard of living for all.
The clergy and nobility had an exceedingly high standard with many special privileges, even though they failed to tend the spiritual and military needs of the people. Brigands terrorized Europe as the Hundred Years’ War between France and England continued. Crusades became exercises in futility with many aimed at “heretic” Christians. Now in lieu of a crusade or pilgrimage to the Holy Land, monetary contributions could be made for the indulgence of a purgatory bypass.
With the sale of indulgences, the church grew ever more wealthy and corrupt, but did nothing for the people. Yet it turned against “heretics” who cried for reform.