Offbeat, Social Media

The Mass: Medieval Mass Media

The last time a pope resigned from office was 600 years ago. It was in the year 1415. The pontiff was Pope Gregory XII.

With no radio, television, or Internet around, how did people learn of his stepping down travel? There was, in fact, a form of mass media—the Mass.

The clergy of the day were not merely dispensers of religious and social homily, but were also the newspapers of the day. Thoughts shared by the priests at the pulpit were carried by those attending the sermon, outside the stone walls of the church to the outside world. Then, there were the mendicant friars—itinerant preachers, who’d opted out of a life in the monastery to bring the gospel to the people by foot—who trudged all over Europe.

Where did they hear the news?

In the instance of the papal resignation, Constance—a small town in present day southern Germany—where the papal conclave had convened to deliberate on picking his successor. Representatives from the ecclesiastical and the secular realm had converged there: courtiers, bishops, with their retinues, couriers. Plus, hordes of scribes, hired for the occasion, came from far afield.

From Constance, a network of messengers on horseback would travel outward, carrying documents. After arriving at the nearest town, 30 miles down the road, they’d hand it over to the next courier, and then the next, until it reached the cities, where it reached the ears of the kings and nobles.

And from there, it diffused to the folks on the street.



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