In fact, this idea of the Middle Ages still exists as a terrible, obscure time, of wars, of extreme violence.
This is one of those stereotypes that are created. The Middle Ages span a period of a thousand years – from the 5th to the 15th century. Over this period, a lot has changed – knowledge, mentalities, cultures, behaviors. Nothing is the same for a thousand years. The first part of the Middle Ages, roughly from the 5th to the 10th century, is really a complicated period, of invasions, of much death, of destruction. When we enter the second, which goes from about the 11th to the 15th centuries, things start to change. It was not always the obscurantism that is usually talked about. It is a stereotype that stuck to the Middle Ages, just like the story of love for children. [It is often said that] couples had so many children that, if one or the other died, no one would notice, the mothers did not feel disgust. It's not like this. I also investigated that and, really, whether I was a father, a mother, if I had one or ten children, the death [of one of them] was very much felt and everything was done to cure a child who was sick. It is sometimes difficult to remove these stereotypes from people's heads. Of course, there was love as it exists today, without a doubt. Conjugal, maternal, filial, fraternal love. Of course there was. Today we also have cases of parents who treat their children badly, of children who treat their parents badly. We can't put it all in the Middle Ages. There were situations similar to the current ones.
The conditions were different.
That's right, and so were the penalties. We must not forget the penalties of legislation, but also the penalties of the Church. Given the mentality of medieval people, so God-fearing, I don't know which ones would be worse.
Speaking of Church: life in monasteries and convents, just as life outside them, was not always governed by established rules, contrary to what one might think.
This is the story: when love knocked on the monastery door, perhaps the door would open [laughs]. In this investigation, I found many cases of friars and nuns who did not follow the path of chastity as religion required. Whether for love or for somewhat dissolute customs, what is a fact is that there were many situations of friars and nuns who loved and who had children.
He also found several cases of homosexuality.
Which are easily understood when they appear in exclusively male or female media. It was very penalized. In the case of homosexuality, the penalty was even death by fire to completely exterminate the transgression. But it is clear that there was a lot and it was very frowned upon, especially the male.
Was she more frowned upon than the female?
Yes. Notice, in general, what was the woman's destiny? It was getting married and having children. So, if he had an affair with a woman like that, nothing would be lost, because she was still married and still had children. In the case of man, no. It was an attack on male virility and, in the face of the Church, the seed was lost. The only function of sexual intercourse was procreation. There was no other justification. When two people of the same sex had sex, in this case the man, that seed that could be used to procreate was uselessly lost. For the Church, that was what was very serious. Male homosexuality was more frowned upon than female, without a doubt. Especially because, in relation to the woman, it was less visible. Homosexuality [female] appears in songs of scorn, as does male homosexuality, although this also appears in letters of forgiveness. The songs are a great documentary source.
Despite the rules that explained how relationships should be, even with regard to sexual relations, there were authors who showed a great concern with sexuality and with a healthy sex life.
This has to do with the various positions that the Church has taken over the ages. Little by little, the Church began to assume the need for sexual pleasure, and this has to do with the evolution of mentalities and with the history of the Middle Ages not always being the same. At first, any kind of pleasure was refused. Sexual intercourse was exclusively for procreation and pleasure was prohibited. If someone eventually felt any trace of pleasure, it should be answered with a penance. This was the early Church – never pleasure, only procreation. Little by little, the Church was assuming that pleasure turned out to be healthy for the couple, although love should be controlled, contained. The Church condemned a man who loved his wife very much. It was considered a sin, an adultery, for a man to love his wife with excessive love, with burning love. And we are talking about your wife, not the "other". You could not love a woman as if she were a lover, a way of thinking that was, unfortunately, still very late in our country. The woman was one thing, the lover was another. There were things you could do with a lover, but you couldn't do it with your wife.