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The Peace and Truce of God (Latin: Pax Dei, Tregua Dei; German: Gottesfrieden, French: Paix de Dieu, Catalan: Pau i Treva de Déu.) was a medieval European movement of the Catholic Church that applied spiritual sanctions to limit the violence of private war in feudal society. It began with very limited provisions in 989 AD and survived in some form until the thirteenth century.
Georges Duby summarized the widening social repercussions of Pax Dei:
The Peace and Truce of God, by attaching sacred significance to privacy, helped create a space in which communal gatherings could take place and thus encouraged the reconstitution of public space at the village level ... In the eleventh and twelfth centuries many a village grew up in the shadow of the church, in the zone of immunity where violence was prohibited under peace regulations.
The eighteenth-century historian Edward Gibbon, interpreting Tacitus, Germania §40, detected a parallel among the pagan German tribes who worshipped a goddess of the earth (identified by modern scholars with Nerthus) who in Gibbon's interpretation resided at the island of Rügen, who annually travelled to visit the tribes. "During her progress the sound of war was hushed, quarrels were suspended, arms laid aside, and the restless Germans had an opportunity of tasting the blessings of peace and harmony. The truce of God, so often and so ineffectually proclaimed by the clergy of the eleventh century, was an obvious imitation of this ancient custom."
Gibbon's assertion has since been largely discredited, given that the canon law of Pax Dei derives no foundation from pagan customs, but rather from rational principles of Roman Law regarding violence. The Christian concept evolved from the earlier concept of Pax Romana.
The Peace and Truce of God movement was one of the ways that the Church attempted to Christianize the feudal structures of society through non-violent means. After the collapse of the Carolingian empire in the ninth century, France had degenerated into many small counties and lordships, in which local lords and knights frequently fought each other for control. At the same time there were often attacks from the Vikings, who settled in northern France as Normans but continued to raid territory further inland.
The two movements began at separate times and places, but by the eleventh century they became synonymous as the "Peace and Truce of God". "Germans looked with mingled horror and contempt at the French 'anarchy'. To Maintain the king's peace was the first duty of a German sovereign." The movement, though seemingly redundant to the duties of the crown, had a religious momentum that would not be denied. Holy Roman Emperor Henry III issued the earliest form of this in his empire while at Constance in 1043. In the Holy Roman Empire it subsequently developed into the similar concept of Landfriede.
The Peace of God or Pax Dei was a proclamation issued by local clergy that granted immunity from violence to noncombatants who could not defend themselves, beginning with the peasants (agricolae) and the clergy. A limited Pax Dei was decreed at the Synod of Charroux in 989 and spread to most of Western Europe over the next century, surviving in some form until at least the thirteenth century.
At the Benedictine abbey of Charroux in La Marche on the borders of the Aquitaine "a great crowd of many people (populus) gathered there from the Poitou, the Limousin, and neighboring regions. Many bodies of saints were also brought there" bringing miracles in their wake. Three canons promulgated at Charroux, under the leadership of Gombald, Archbishop of Bordeaux and Gascony, were signed by the bishops of Poitiers, Limoges, Périgueux, Saintes and Angoulême, all in the west of France, beyond the limited jurisdiction of Hugh Capet. Excommunication would be the punishment for attacking or robbing a church, for robbing peasants or the poor of farm animals – among which the donkey is mentioned but not the horse which would have been beyond the reach of a peasant – and for robbing, striking or seizing a priest or any man of the clergy who is not bearing arms. Making compensation or reparations could circumvent the anathema of the Church.
Children and women (virgins and widows) were added to the early protections. The Pax Dei prohibited nobles from invading churches, beating the defenseless, burning houses, and so on. Merchants and their goods were added to the protected groups in a synod of 1033. Significantly, the Peace of God movement began in Aquitaine, Burgundy and Languedoc, areas where central authority had most completely fragmented.
The participation of large, enthusiastic crowds marks it as one of the first popular religious movements of the Middle Ages. In the early phase, the blend of relics and crowds, and enthusiasm stamped the movement with an exceptionally popular character.
After a lull in the first two decades of the eleventh century, the movement spread to the north with the support of king Robert, the Capetian. There, the high nobility sponsored Peace assemblies throughout Flanders, Burgundy, Champagne, Normandy, Amienois, and Berry. The oaths to keep the peace sworn by nobles spread in time to the villagers themselves; heads of households meeting communally would ritually swear to uphold the common peace.
The tenth-century foundation of the Abbey of Cluny aided the development of the Peace of God. Cluny was independent of any secular authority, subject to the Papacy alone, and while all church territory was inviolate, Cluny's territory extended far beyond its own boundaries. A piece of land 30 km in diameter was considered to be part of Cluny itself, and any smaller monastery that allied itself with Cluny was granted the same protection from violence. This grant was given at a Peace of God council in Anse in 994. The monastery was also immune from excommunications, interdicts, and anathemas, which would normally affect an entire region. The abbey of Fleury was granted similar protection. Not coincidentally, many of the Cluniac monks were members of the same knightly class whose violence they were trying to stop.
"Peace of God" can also be used as a general term that means "under the protection of the Church" and was used in multiple contexts in medieval society. For example, pilgrims who traveled on Crusade did so under the "peace of God" i.e. under the protection of the Church. This general usage of the term is not always related to the Peace and Truce of God movement.
While the Truce of God is a temporary suspension of hostilities, as distinct from the Peace of God which is perpetual. The jurisdiction of the Truce of God is broader. The Peace of God prohibited fighting on Sundays, and ferial days (feast days on which people were not obliged to work). It was the sanctification of Sunday which gave rise to the Truce of God, for it had always been agreed not to do battle on that day and to suspend disputes in the law-courts.
It confirmed permanent peace for all churches and their grounds, the monks, clerks and chattels; all women, pilgrims, merchants and their servants, cattle and horses; and men at work in the fields. For all others peace was required throughout Advent, the season of Lent, and from the beginning of the Rogation days until eight days after Pentecost. This prohibition was subsequently extended to specific days of the week, viz., Thursday, in memory of the Ascension, Friday, the day of the Passion, and Saturday, the day of the Resurrection (council 1041). By the middle of the twelfth century the number of proscribed days was extended until there was left some eighty days for fighting.
The Truce soon spread from France to Italy and Germany; the oecumenical council of 1179 extended the institution to the whole Church by Canon xxi, "De treugis servandis", which was inserted in the collection of canon law, Decretal of Gregory IX, I, tit., "De treuga et pace". Aquinas challenged the Truce, holding that it was lawful to wage war to safeguard the commonwealth on holy days and feast days.
Beginning in the 11th century, knighthoood developed a religious character. Prospective knights underwent rigorous religious rituals in order to be initiated. An initiate had to fast, confess his sins, was given a symbolic bath, had his hair cut to represent humility, and he spent a night praying, his weapons upon an altar representing the dedication of his weapons to the Church and God. Advancements in metallurgy allowed inscriptions and pictures of holy symbols to be engraved on helmets, swords, shields, a horse’s saddle and bridle. Relics and objects with religious symbols, often of saints, on them were routinely carried into battles by knights in medieval times. The symbols allowed for a physical reminder to knights and military men that God was supporting their efforts, providing protection to those soldiers as well as the assurance of a victory over their enemies.
In addition to the Peace and Truce of God movement, other non-violent, although less direct, methods of controlling violence were used by the clergy. By adding the religious oaths of fealty to the feudal act of homage, and in organizing rights and duties within the system, churchmen did their utmost to Christianize feudal society in general and to set limits on feudal violence in particular.
Louis IX of France was famous for his attention to the settlement of disputes and the maintenance of peace, at least within Christian lands. He issued the first extant ordinance indefinitely prohibiting warfare in France, a text dating from January 1258 that outlawed guerrae omnes as well as arson, and disturbances to carts and to agricolae who work with carts or plows. Those who transgressed this prohibition were to be punished as peace-breakers (fractores pacis) by the king's officer and the bishop-elect of le Puy-en-Velay. Louis IX promulgated this text as a simple royal act on the basis of his authority as king.
The Bianchi was a religious movement that swept through Italy for several months in 1399. Tens of thousands of men, women and children could be found travelling across the country to pray and promote peace. It was a shock to many observers and caught authorities off guard. It also brought peace, at least for a few months, to much of Italy.