Construction labor, motives... Cathedral of NotreDame


Ad Honorem
Sep 2012
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.
Truly, Marx stated Religion was the opium of the masses. Christianity was most certainly that.