Construction labor, motives... Cathedral of NotreDame

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
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Dispargum
The workmen did it because that's where the money was. The Church built all of those thousands of churches because they could. Much of the productive capital in the Medieval European economy, which was mostly land, was controlled by the Church. The Church had the money. They were going to spend it on something. A Gothic cathedral is a logical choice, given the priorities of the Medieval Church. It's not all that different than today. Mayors and city councils always seem to want to build a new city hall. CEOs always seem to want to build a new corporate headquarters. Bishops would naturally want to build new cathedrals. That's what a cathedral is - it's the bishop's church as compared to a local parish church. The Church could have spent its money feeding the poor or sending out missionaries to convert non-Christians, but that's not how people in charge think. What's the point of being in charge if you can't spend the organization's money on yourself?
 
Oct 2019
6
NC, USA
Thank you for your generous response. So were there currency systems in effect as far back as say 800AD? I believe Notre Dame required 140 years or so to build.- is that so? As a guess (is it written anywhwere?), how many people were employed? Life expectancy was 40 years? No answers I suppose? Did they use wooden scaffolding? Is there a reading reference?

Thank you, Jim
 

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
35,233
T'Republic of Yorkshire
Thank you for your generous response. So were there currency systems in effect as far back as say 800AD? I believe Notre Dame required 140 years or so to build.- is that so? As a guess (is it written anywhwere?), how many people were employed? Life expectancy was 40 years? No answers I suppose? Did they use wooden scaffolding? Is there a reading reference?

Thank you, Jim
Notre Dame was built in the 12th century.

Currency systems have been around far longer than that. Roman coins are quite common.
 
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Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,471
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Construction of Notre Dame began in 1160 and it was mostly finished by 1260. Most of the labor and building materials were probably paid for in cash as opposed to feudal obligations or other methods of exchange. I can't find figures for how many people worked on it. At times there were probably over a hundred, or possibly even several hundred if you count people working in the quarries and forests cutting wood and stone and those people transporting the materials to the work site. Wooden scaffolding long predates Notre Dame. I wouldn't pay much attention to the 40 year life expectancy. It's a much misunderstood statistic. Certainly people who started the job didn't live long enough to see it finished.
 
Oct 2019
6
NC, USA
I want some ideas, to help me understand (in at least a simple beginning way) the net effect of endeavors of the humans, the clergy as "owners" and the myriads of dirt poor who toiled. In summary does the wealth and spendor of the cathedrals we see amount to solid evidence of exploitation of the poor by the wealthy. Was there slave labor?
 
Mar 2019
1,811
Kansas
I want some ideas, to help me understand (in at least a simple beginning way) the net effect of endeavors of the humans, the clergy as "owners" and the myriads of dirt poor who toiled. In summary does the wealth and spendor of the cathedrals we see amount to solid evidence of exploitation of the poor by the wealthy. Was there slave labor?
Generally the workers were highly skilled, one of the reasons these things took so long to build.

Here is a modern version. They started in 1886. Expect to finish by 2026. You do the maths :)

Sagrada Família - Wikipedia
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
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There probably was not any slave labor. The Church had always been opposed to slavery. In the fifth and sixth centuries I know the Church would often spend a lot of money to buy slaves and set them free. Most of the Church's wealth came from the ownership of land which was worked by serfs. To the extent that serfdom resembled slavery, there is a case that the Church exploited its workers, however, there are significant differences between slavery and serfdom. If anyone was working to improve the lot of the working classes it was the Church. However, there is no denying that the Church profited from serfdom and so was not especially motivated to reform the system. A good Marxist revolution would have reformed the system a lot faster than the Church ever did.

In the Medieval Period the gap between rich and poor was much greater than it is today. There was also only a small middle class. There were a few wealthy individuals - the royal family, the nobility, a small number of people who made themselves useful to the royal family and the nobility, and a few merchants. The great mass of society, probably somewhere around eighty percent of the population, worked long days, ate an inadequate diet at least part of the time, was cold in the winter, never saw a doctor, lived their entire lives within twenty miles of where they were born, and died before reaching age 60.

Did the Church exploit the poor? Yes, but so did the king, the nobility, and everyone else who get away with it. Did the poor know they were being exploited? Yes, but they didn't see any alternative. They lived their lives as best they could and tried to get would they could, when they could. People who worked on the church were probably glad for the work. If Notre Dame hadn't been built, all of those workers would not have been paid. Did anyone resent that their taxes or feudal obligations were going to pay for a church? Possibly, but it's not like the money would have been spent on something else that would benefit the masses, and everyone knew it.