Religious Education During the 8th & 9th Century

During the 9th and 10th centuries, there were several types of schools available for the education of young people. The schools mentioned in this post were primarily connected with and controlled by the church. These schools are the Claustral/Inner school, the Outer school, and the Cathedral/Episcopal school

Types of School

The Claustral or inner school was a school run within the monasteries of Europe. The inner school was inside the monastery and was for the training of future monks. In relation to cost, tuition was free since these boys were dedicating their lives to the church. The behavior of the students was strictly monitored and controlled due to their future vocation as a monk. As such, there was little individualism as uniformity was the expectation. This was probably not an education for the free-spirited.

A second school associated with monasteries was the outer school. The outer school gets its name from being outside the monastery but often near one. These were schools for future priests. However, it was also common for laypeople to send their children for education there as well. Since these schools had a dual purpose, costs were covered through tuition and also scholarships.

The final school was the cathedral or episcopal school. Each diocese of the church had episcopal schools scatter throughout it. The cathedral and episcopal schools were for the laity. Teachers came from the main cathedral school to the episcopal schools. To do this, the teacher needed to pay for a “facultas” or license to teach from the head of the cathedral school. This word “facultas” is where the word faculty comes from.

Curriculum & Instruction

The Bible, or what people said about the Bible, was one of the chief subjects of these schools, especially the monastic schools. The church did not support the study of the classics or other forms of secular literature at this time. Instead, the focus was always on what the church said was spiritual truth because this was considered immortal and unchanging. This dogmatic position stifled thinking and development in the sciences.

However, this position would change with the reemergence of Greek thought with the Reconquista of Spain and the crusades. When Aristotle was encounter among the writings of the Arabs, he was translated from Arabic into Latin and began to influence Europe. This left the church in a challenging situation in which the world wanted more secular thought that was not considered beneficial by the church elite.

Discipline in school would be considered harsh by today’s standards. Children were frequently beaten for minor problems. For example, it was common for students to be beaten for failing to memorize something. At this time, the only way a person knew something was from their ability to remember it. This may have been one reason for the severity of forgetting.

By the end of the 10th century, many within Europe were convinced the world would end in 1000. This is similar to how people thought the world would end in the year 2000. With this focus on the impending end of the world, churches, houses, farming and schools were neglected.  This contributed to a temporary decline in education.


Education was primarily focused on spiritual development rather than for secular means. This does not mean that people were not educated for other more mundane reasons. With the focus on clerical training, there were certain restrictions placed on learning. With the reemergence of ancient secular thought led to a change in learning that would be weakened with a focus on the end of time.

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