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The Humanisation of Nature in the Middle Ages*


                                                                                                                                     Carlos Barros

                                                                                               University of Santiago de Compostela


The negative representation of the Middle Ages, which has spread from the Renaissance to the present day, equals medieval men and animals in savagery 1, but  does not go as far as to accusing medieval men of damaging nature. It would be out of the point to try to look for the current ecologic concerns in humanist scholars. Likewise, it would be equally useless to look for attitudes and practices against the environment which may be compared to the modern or contemporary effect of the destructive action caused by human progress on the environment. Feudalism is an ecologic form of production, a natural economy based on the dependancy among people instead of on the dependancy of nature on people. In fact, people could not  conceived outside nature. Thus, for instance, does not the medieval concept of ‘land’ usually include the men that inhabit it?


 This paper is about the humanisation of the land, about the natural environment at large during the Middle Ages. A case in point is the Cistercian Order, the  ploughing  monks who built up ‘human dwellings’ in the Middle Ages where formerly there was a ‘bare moor’or a ‘wild forest’2. Thanks to Chrisitanisation and, above all, thanks to the work of peasants, medieval men transform the ‘hostile nature’ of the ‘savages’ into the ‘friendly nature’ of civilised men, without destroying the essential ecologic equilibrium, unlike modern, civililied men. There lies the medieval originality: the desacralisation - another word for humanisation- of nature does not reach the point of fatally confronting men with their natural environment. Otherwise the Middle Ages would not have lasted a thousand years.

To paraphrase the creators of the term ‘Middle Ages’we could place it , as regards the  man- nature relationship betweeen the ancient, supersticious worship of nature and the modern, lay one of technological advance. Two beliefs which- in the ‘middle’ centuries- overlap and intertwine with a third one, typically medieval: the worship of God as maker of nature.


Marvellous nature


Animism is an inheritance which Middle Age men receive in different degrees depending on their previous level of Romanisation and the transition circunstances  both from pre-historic cultures and Roman paganism. It consists in endowing life to  natural objects- inanimate we would call them-  and, in particular,  spiritual life starting with the soul of things3, either organic or inorganic, up to the powerful deities of the pantheon in Rome.


In the 6th century, Martín de Dumio writes, in  Swabian Galicia, De correctione rusticorum, ‘for the amendment of peasants who still4 persist on the ancient superstition of paganity, worshipping demons instead of God’5. He denounces that  men after forsaking God ‘some adored the sun, some the moon or the stars, others the fire, undergound waters or watersprings in the belief that all these things had not been created by God for men to use but had been born out of themselves , and they were Gods’. More precisely, he adds, [they adored] devils , angels expelled from Heaven, who demanded sacrifices ‘ in the high woodlands and the thick forests, some  by the names of  Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Neptune, Nymphs y Dianas6. Mixing the primitive  surperstitions with the pagan Roman beliefs (both animisms come up against Christianisation in the High Midlle Ages) Martín de Dumio insists on claiming that the devil is worshipped by ‘lighting candles by the stones, the trees, the wellheads and at crossroads. . . ., by adorning tables and putting laurel branches’ or by paying attention, thus renouncing to the sign of the cross, ‘to other signs of the devil by the mediation of birds, sneezes and many other things’7.


Roman pantheism survived in the Medieval West in the names of the days of the week8, the exception being precisely the case of Portugal, the adoptive land of the Bishop of Dumio (Braga, the ancient bracarense Galicia), and to an even greater extent, survived the ancient superstitions across the Middle Ages9 -despite the medieval rationalism of the 12th century -and even of the Renaissance10 élites11-.


The Fall of the Roman Empire results in the  recovery of Germanic or pre-Roman religions and the upsurge of magic, astrology and alchemy. Prodigies, premonitions by means of signs in the sky and and other signs of nature are widespread in medieval chronicles from Idacio12 to Carlos V13 .In some specific instances these  signs orient the human actions of both ‘ grandees’ and ‘commoners’. For  ancient animism, nature is sacred.  For medieval animism, the Christianised, synthetic nature is not to be considered sacred in itself but as creation and representation of a higher power, the divine power. It remains, however, marvellous, subject to prodigies ,a ‘deposit of symbols’14.


Medieval Christianism has swung from a complete opposition to magic culture  to the adaptation and compromise,which will finally impose. The former is the (official) line held by Martín de Dumio15, which is frequently quoted in medieval synods16 and opuscules against all-time superstitions17.But the real church had little trouble in subtly but firmly adjusting  to popular religious practices: blessing the sacred places of pre-Christian religions18; vying for the control of commonly admitted natural prodigies19; dividing, in short, supersticious rituals into good and bad, legitimate and ilegimitate20, white and black magic, depending on who the intermediary was , either the Church or pagan sorcerers and astrologists.


The victory of the Church over magic and superstition demanded that it should take over their functions ‘Everything that can be naturally done is done by God’ writes a legislator in the 12th century and by the same token ‘God can make the dead alive’ which is known as ‘miracle, because when it occurs it is something astonishing for men and people’ because it is not natural ‘ as people see every day the deeds of nature and thus when something is done that goes against it, they are astonished’. ‘Miracle is something we behold but whose origin we ignore. That this is what the common people understand’. But it is different for the élites : ‘ Wise and learned men, however, know very well that whatever nature or the intelligence of man cannot perfom can only come from God and not from other’21.To summarise, the Church appropiates the extraordinary, miraculous phenomena of nature, competing with wizards and devils, when it considers it suitable as evidence of the power of God. It accepts therefore, a marvellous nature of divine origin but never a self-sufficient, god-like nature.


Medieval religiosity is therefore a consequence of the syncretism between the Catholic Church and a culture of ancient surperstitions,which not only existed among popular classes. It will not be until the Ancien Régime when elitist culture and popular culture come apart, the latter becoming the only refuge for animism and other superstitions22.


The Middle Ages shares with pre-Christian cultures the understanding of man as inseparable from his natural environment23, or in other words, the failure to distinguish between subject-man and object-nature, considering nature as a subject. It will not be until modernity that we will come across the ( external) view of nature as a landscape which delights our senses. Since humans belong in this landscape like the rivers and the rocks, it is not strange that we endow natural elements with characteristics of living beings, and even with supernatural characteristics. This makes any action against nature a sin24. The reason why nature is protected in civilisations based on harvesting or in subsistence husbandry is to be found in the deeply-rooted, automatic and conservative drives implicit in a mentality which considers as kin ( mother, father, brother) all the beings that share nature 25 with men .


The mystic of spiritualist poverty of Franciscans in the Middle Ages provides continuity and new muscle among the élites to that Christian animism which ,at the same time, is fought by scholastic rationalism, the hallmark of the new social system and the feudal culture, the crisis of which corresponds with the heyday in the 14th and 15th centuries of mendicant orders and their ‘heretic’conception of nature.


In the Cántico de las criaturas, Francis of Assisi calls the sun, the moon, the stars, the wind, the water and the fire bothers and mother to the earth ‘ which breeds and holds and governs us and yields us fruits such as colourful flowers and herbs’ 26. His biographer, Tomás de Celano, assures that  Saint Francis ‘ also blamed himself for the negligence of having up to then ignored the fowls in his preaching’ and proving a conservationist of the creatures of the Lord, ‘ to the brothers who collected wood he forbids to cut the whole tree, so that it might sprout again’27.


Franciscan animism goes from the medieval view of nature as ‘deposit of symbols’ to acknowledging it as a set of natural realities alive to such an extent that they need preaching to be saved, like their brother-men ( thus going further than the Old and the New Testament 28). Unlike primitive religions, Franciscanism ( radical nominalism) does not make the Pantheist mistake of confusing God and the world29. Natural beings as living subjects, gifted with knowledge, are also present in lay literature30 and, of course, in popular culture - the main target of the Franciscan message of return to evangelic poverty.


Dominated nature


The medieval heyday is also the zenit of the social and cultural influence of the Church, which plays a decisive role in the shaping of feudal mentalities. The three- order system (defenders, prayers and labourers) regulates the relationships among classes and social groups, together with a new man-nature relationship which replaces the worship of nature by the worship of God, thus favouring the development of agriculture and, consequently, upholding the three-functional system in an attempt - incidentally not very successful- to push animism into the margins of the traditions mentality, oblivious to the appearance of Christianism and Feudalism.


Thomas Aquinas gave validity and difussion to the philosophical mutation inherent to Christianism when he places God not as organiser or regulator of the world but as its creator31. God becomes, consequently, an absolute value whereas nature becomes a relative value 32, and an antromorphic value for that matter.  God creates man in his own image: He explicitly places man at the centre of the natural universe, created to dominate the animals 33. In such a way that, without separating man from nature, micro and macro cosmos, Christianism introduces an imbalance in relationships - parallel and intertwined with that derived from the three-functional system , which breaks with the traditional animist egalitarianism which, as we have seen, will be later circunstancially recovered by Franciscanism.  A necessary imbalance so that man to dominates nature through technology ( and not through magic or astrology). It is not by chance that scholastics - the relative desacralisation of nature by means of Thomist Rationalism- coincides with the ploughing surge and the expansion of cities at the height of the Middle Ages . Yet, labour is still- in the collective mind- the penance deserved because of the original sin34.


Medieval Europe inherits from Greeks and Romans the notion of ‘egalitarian natural state’ golden age when all men were equal and it was not necessary to work (it was enough with reaping): ‘ Earth herself without disturbance or action of the hoe, without being wounded by the plough, yielded everything for free’ (Ovid)35. From this state of innocence, identified in the Bible with the Garden of Eden, we proceed- because of the original sin - to the state of ‘fallen or corrupted nature’ ( Saint Bonaventure) where animals are divided into ‘ burden beasts and livestock’ to provide mankind with food, clothing and entertainment and ‘ wild, damaging beasts’ to punish, keep alert , defy or teach man36.  In both cases beasts serve man according to divine design, and if some of them are  hostile it is because they belong to the fallen nature ( like man): they have rebelled against man, after the latter had rebelled against God.


Economic historians have underscored the ocupation of land during the central centuries of the Middle Ages as a key phenomenon in history , only comparable to the neolitic revolution as a sucessful victory in taking over the natural environment which brought about the retreat of the woodlands , the taming of beasts and the dominance of space ( road links)37.  It is thanks to the technical advances that take place in the Middle Ages that Europe will later conquer technological leadership, which, among other things, will enable maritime expansion from the 16th century onwards38.  This technological expansion, which not all authors assess correctly, is related to a change in attitude towards manual work ( promoted from the 6th century onwards by the Benedictine Order) and nature, where the appropiately reminded divine mandate of dominating nature so as  to feed and clothe mankind is complied with. However, we should not take the argument too far because medieval tools are not able to fully substitute human muscular strength yet. They are merely an accompaniment39.


Werstern farming landscape is undoubtly the ultimate consequence of the Middle Ages40, which nevertheless, has not broken the essential ecological equilibrium  because of technical shortcomings - we are far from the great commercial and industrial revolution - and what is more important - far from the mentality of a time characterised by a natural law and economy, and by an all-powerful church which perfectly fulfils its social and ideological function , desacralises nature so that man may work it but which does not fail to sanctify the inexplicable, extraordinary and marvellous natural phenomena, cleverly combining reason and faith, elitist and popular culture.


The leap from the hermit monk to the resettling monk takes place within a system of natural economy. It is highly significative that  subsistance economy, which produces for consumption, is described as ‘ natural’, although  medieval ecomony was acquainted with craftmanship,commerce and the city while remanining essentially rural and self-sufficient in character.  The natural economy has evident limitations as regards the domination and degradation of nature, which will be irreversible when the land and its products become goods and machines substitute muscular strength. As long as this does not happen, man lives in ( relative but enough) harmony with his environment . The more technology and commerce advance and man’s dependance on nature decreases, the more aggressions against it will take place.


The medieval man does not mingle with nature like in primitive societies, nor does he confront it as in modern and contemporary societies, but he mantains his non-differentiation from the natural environment41.  It is for this reason that the medieval man calls ‘ natural law’ to the basic legal rules that regulate his life in society. Natural law rules for men and animals; is an eternal law and a natural instinct ; is above the rights of people, the positive law and the laws that men dictate for themselves, because it comes from God and follows man’s leaning towards goodness ‘ to natural law belong all provisions which contribute to preserving the life of man’(Saint Thomas)42. Let’s compare this with what major 19th rationalists propose: ‘ Human sociability does not come from nature nor consequently from God but from a free social pact of individuals and this is its effective cause’43


Feudalism is - as we have already noted - an ecologic form of production : it is able of making nature the object of its technological action and at the same time of seeing and feeling it as the subject of its economy, its law and its religion. What for a modern mind strikes as contradictory for the medieval man - cultivated or not, is perfectly coherent: he marvels at nature while he ‘wounds’ it with the plough;  fears the woodlands and the wild beasts while befriending burden and hunting animals;  exercises his free will while abiding by the natural law. In all this, he follows, to conclude, the Biblical discourse recovered, updated and spread by scholastics in accordance with their time.


Hostile nature     

In the same way that the harmonic replication of the three-functional system implies inequality (workers), sin (prayers) and violence (defenders), the new medieval relationship with nature demands- if it is to work out correctly: inequality  (man/nature), sin (corrupted nature) and, of course, violence. Both the violence which the hostile nature exerts against man and that which man exerts against the natural environment.  By regulating how ‘ people may conquer the land by force...  when  it should not be possible through expertise or skill", the legislator equals the violence of man over nature with the violence of man over man, and both are called ‘war’44: a) "they should have the resolution to defeat things by force and strength either when breaking huge rocks or boring great mountains or levelling out the high places and raising the low ones, or by killing the wild beasts ... hence such a conflict is called war’; b) "and if this they must accomplish, against all these aforesaid things they have to struggle, much more so against men when they were their foes ...  by coveting their lands  or   by spoiling them’45. It amounts to saying that if man must force nature to humanise it ‘ much more so’ he should prove violent against other men to ‘protect what it is his’ and ‘conquer that of his foes’46: in the first case to dominate the land, in the second to defend it.  This medieval approach to human life as a constant struggle- both internally and externally - to control nature makes quotidian and non-contradictory both the violence which man exerts over nature and the violence which nature exerts over man : a hostile nature is therefore a necessary factor for the balance of medieval life and mentality.


Middle Ages historians polarise their assessment on the man/ nature relationship  depending on their field of work: economy historians stress how man manages to dominate nature  (Fourquin, White, Fossier47), and the historians of mentalities speak rather of how nature subdues man out of his lack of technical implements to master it  (Bloch48, Le Goff49, Fumagalli50, the exception being  Delort51). Obviously there are empirical data that support both readings, coertion works both ways. Although the medieval innovation does not lie in the hostility of nature, apparent in preceding societies, notably in the most primitive , but in the power that man adquires over  his environment at the height of the Middle Ages. A global approach should be able to account for the ostensible imbalance between a primitive mentality and a relatively advanced economy.


The hostility of nature is a consequence of its active function as subject and previous requirement for its humanisation. If  nature offered its fruits without struggle  what sense would human labour make? Does not the fear caused by the wild unknown imply a kind of protection against human violence ? Does not the very fear caused by the earthly powers unleashed lead man to the lord that unleashes them, remaining faithful to a God who rewards the fair with the fruits of the earth and punishes the unfair with plagues52? To be sure, other hidden powers, gods or devils, control- according to popular belief - the natural powers, but under no circunstances do they contemplate the medieval notion of work ( consequence of sin ) and the medieval notion of reason ( ultimately conditioned by God).


Official medieval Christanism places on man the main responsibility of confronting nature, leaving for supernatural powers ( God and the saints) the control over the extraordinary, inexplicable and marvellous nature, ( for the human knowledge of the time).  What man does not dominate through his effort, skills or the medieval science, he does it by means of a monotheist, syncretic and anthropomorphic religion.


The second way, therefore, to humanise the medieval nature, corrupted by the sin of man, is by remembering that God has made man the centre of the world .


Genealogist  Aponte tells, at the beginning of the 16th century of a 15th century feudal  nobleman from Galicia (Pedro Álvarez de Soutomaior, "Pedro Madruga"): ‘He was one of the most uncomplaining labourers in the whole of Spain because were it raining, snowing, freezing or were there the worst blizzard ever, he would not fail to do what should be done’53. Another gentleman, however, Álvaro Pérez de Moscoso, not so likeable for the author, is the protagonist of a very different story with thirty armed men: they sought to steal the treasure of  Coruxa Cave but they ‘took so much  fright’ of some birds that attacked them and of a river that ran through the cave that they stepped back and the ‘ poisonous air’54 brought their deaths within a year55.  Depending on the subject of action , a hard-working gentleman in the first case and nature zelaous of its treasures ( superstitious fears protects it ) on the second case, so is the resultant of the action : dominated or dominating nature.


 The great revolution that takes place in the 11th -13th centuries as regards man - nature relationship consists in imposing a double direction : nature acts on human society , like in the ancient and Roman world but at the same time - and here lies the  first innovation - human society acts on nature both directly ( technology) and indirectly ( clerics instead of wizards: second innovation) without destroying the ecologic equilibrium  (third innovation as opposed to postmedieval world56). In other words, we are before a double subject : humanity and natura , which since they are inseparable are bound to take turns in the action of fighting each other : man invokes providence when he finds himself in a weak position (great disasters ). So as to make this double, alternating (object/subject) role of mankind possible, the Church introduces two practical and / or theological innovations when it updates its message, which coexist in the medieval minds, but which are hardly understable for the modern rationalist: scholastic rationality in high circles ( savante culture ) and white magic in low circles (popular culture), although any high/low distinction in practical terms should be seriously qualified.


The double approach to nature which derives from medieval sources, both malleable and  fearsome, baffles the contemporary observer, the professional historian included . One more medieval paradox . These ostensible contradictions are not such  if we place them in their concrete context, if we delve into our analysis and stay away from anachronisms.


Let us look at the double use that the medieval man makes of nature, ambivalent but not ambiguous in four concrete cases ( woodlands, animals, storms and  Black Death) depending on the subject of action ( man/nature) and on the means of action ( reason / magic).


The forest played a most relevant role in the Middle Ages : it encompassed everything . Fundamental in husbandry as provider of fuel ( wood) , as pastureland (swine) and of noblemen’s entertainment ( hunting) and religious life ( ermits and monasteries), it suffers the  action of agriculture in the central centuries of the Middle Ages, the ploughing- robbing it of a territory which to a certain extent recovers in the Late Middle Ages crisis57.  The medieval man  transforms the woodland into a familiar, frequented place58.  The image of the forest offered by the sources is, however, that of a feared place inhabited by bandits, beasts and wizards, linked with darkness and home of the fierce wolf. Bloch y Le Goff highlighted this two-faced medieval forest both repulsive and desirable59, something which certainly applies to the medieval nature as a whole.


Two-faced view, which strangely enough, in the case of animals is triple. On the one hand we have those animals which useful for men, like oxen, horses and lambs.  They have positive connotations60. They are necessary for work, war or hunting. And on the other hand wild beasts, representing the anti-human side of nature which has rebelled against the sinner. The former -like men- abide by natural law and their taming bears witness to the dominance of mankind over nature, although it is not this what the sources of the time stress. They portray animals mainly as a threat61, ‘wild animals’ which must be killed - especially wolves, the hallmark of the Middle Ages because of their number, strength and contact with men62. Yet , they seldom symbolise the devil.


The clash between man and wolf steems from the struggle for survival . It is not religious but practical. It is defensive hunting, not the scapegoat for human sin.  To represent evil, the Devil, the medieval man has a third type of animals: the cat63 and even other domestic animals64, which were not necessary for labour and were inoffensive enough to be among men, thus embodying the hidden power of the enemy. A role which neither the cow, for instance, or the wolf can adopt because the former is necessary for man and the latter is not compatible with him. The practical sense of the medieval man keeps the marvellous, divine or devilish away from economic or survival activies , and in this he is radically different from the primitive man. Medieval men believed to the letter  in  transcendence , but they reserved an important part of their everyday life to economy and the struggle for survival, without that implying a radical change in mentality.


 The wolf and the wild beasts at large are useful65 to medieval society in two ways: a) common interest66, defensive hunting67, where the three classes must take part: clerics, gentlemen, and peasants68, which clashes with the medieval tradition of (offensive) hunting as the business of noblemen b) punitive tool of human justice for plebeian convicted of gross offences, who were punished with the death penalty, ‘if he were serf, he should be given to the wild beasts to meet his death’69. This identification of the serf with wild beasts70 is indicative both of the state of domination in which nature should be and of the inhuman image that the prevailing culture may have of the feudal serf71. The paralelism between the representation of society and the representation of its relationship with  nature is again apparent. The serf , if he be docile is beneficial and lives among (noble) men, and if he should be ‘wild’ he must die like an animal, even better, in its claws: bad animals are , thus, useful to punish bad men. A way of closing the circle dominating / dominated nature which contributes to mantain  the social and natural medieval system stable.


The medieval man manages to establish a new balance with nature, which religion and nature endorse and hide. He responds to violence with violence , but has no qualms about using the violence of wild animals to mantain social cohesion.  The alternance in the action of man and animal, of man and nature at large is at the foundations of the harmomy of feudal relationships in the rural environment , but it  is asymetrical: the great catastrophes and epidemies show up ( as -to be sure- contemporaries believed), that medieval nature is eventually stronger than men. Emergency situations are too common to forget them , they wipe away laboriously achieved economic feats , and only religion - in combination with superstition - may account for  them and appease them . It is thus how the ‘ backward’ - from the point of view of modern rationalism- medieval  mentality dominates socially and economically. The instrumental reason is subordinated to the supernatural.


 The consequences of storms and other natural disasters on the medieval  survival economies are catastrophic .The inability to understand the natural causes of these phenomema and the lack of a protective state that compensates its social consequences only makes the problem more serious and leaves the solution  in the hands of God , the devil or the stars.


At the beginning of the 16th century , Pedro Ciruelo- in his struggle against superstitions- reminds us that Aristotle and the classical philosophers ‘ knew’   ‘ the natural causes’ of thunders , lightning and  hail, which had nothing to do with angels or devils , thus makings spells72unnecessary.  The medieval church competed successful - at least partially - with ‘ sorcercers of storms’ to appease the unleashed nature , to the expense of forgeting the classical philosophers and pointing to divine wrath73 as the origin of storms and other disaters74. Ciruelo himself is forced to admit -despite everything - that one in ‘one hundred thousand storms’ is caused by devils : ‘ but this God permits only very seldom, because He wants His creatures to make their movements in common’75.Which will not take place until the ‘ Enlightment frees man  of the ‘ darkness’ of magic, superstition and religion: enlightment which brought about  great advantages and some disadvantages , as we know only too well for humankind. 


 The divine wrath symbolised by a hostile nature is recovered in favour of ‘ social cohesion’, sometimes against the serfs (identified with wild beasts) and Jews 76, more often than not in order to strengthen the role of prayers in medieval society .


 The medieval man was very far from from the Stoicism of Pliny the Elder during the eruption of the Vesuvius ( 79 A.D.),which kills him77. Neither does he despair helpless before the earthly apocalipse78, nor does he take refuge in a temple awaiting God’s mercy79: he acts, through go-betweens, usually clerics80, who have curates strike the bells against hail 81, or by participating directly in processions and rogations82 or  by making individual iniciatives such as placing frying- pans and pots skyward when there is a storm83.  The Christianisation of ‘ gentile’ rites results in a Christianised white magic84 which, from the 16th century onwards, confined to folk culture, will be prosecuted by the Inquisition85.


 Now then, depending on divine reason or, even better, on superstitious-divine reason does not mean that human, instrumental, everyday reason does not count. What can the common man do - or his institutions for that matter - against natural disasters?  For one thing, he may try to palliate the material consequences of the catastrophe provoked by God or the Devil ( with God’s permission), which amounted to contradicting the religious viewpoint , since it exonerated men of the responsibility of sin : God punished and the secular power took practical measures.  It corresponds , under the provisions of the  Partidas, to the lord and not to the vassal who pays the taxes, to take upon himself the losses ‘ by fire or earthquake or flooding’86.  The king accepts after the 1348 Black Death a revision of royal taxes  since ‘ out of the deaths and the bad blizzards and the great disasters that have occurred . . . [commoners] cannot comply or pay the amounts they use to’87 and , again, in  1425, the tax on coins is abolished for a five-year period in Murcia and its lands because of the bursting of   river Segura , ‘ which wiped away up to six hundred houses and had destroyed all the wheat, barley, wine, oil and chattels’88. The socio-economic sphere and the mentality operate, as always, at different  but compatible levels in the medieval mentality : Were not those who asked  for and obtained exemptions from taxes the  same that  participated in rogations to the Lord so that the blizzards would stop or rain come ?  Middle Ages man succeeded, without much difficulty, used as they were to mixing the imaginary with the real, in giving rise to what are complex paradoxes for the current observer so that the spiritual beliefs and the material interests did not clash.


 The weakness of medieval rationalism is precisely that it finds it extremely difficult to relate causes and ends, to be properly rational. The failure to know the natural causes of natural disasters and the lack of knowledge about nature at large make astrology, magic and religion essential, as providers of the fundamental certainties that man needs to live and die . The case of the Black Death is telling.  God punishes sinning mankind with the plague but how does the plague reach mankind?  Today we know that bacillus Yersinia pestis (isolated in 1894) comes from  rats which transmit the disease to man through fleas and lice, which is facilitated during wet and hot periods . In the Middle Ages the transmitting agent was wrongly identified with  foul air ( hypochratic thesis developed by Galen and Avicena), which tied in well with the convertent explanation of astrology and religion : the fouling of air was induced  by the conjunction of planets / or God’s wrath ,or is it not the clean air an element which receives "pure the light of the sky’89?  Both the responses and the measures to be adopted have to do with this certainty. It was believed 90 that the climate by the end of summer facilitates the fouling of air, like the unburied corpses and the dejecta in the channels and the streets, whereas it is advisable to bury the corpses, be hygenic91,  make fire to purify the air and give off pleasant smells . Some of these hygenic measures contribute indirectly to getting rid of rats, lice and fleas, while others  - such as avoiding contact with women or penitent processions  - have a direct incidence on guilt and sin as main causes, although common sense also imposes other types of iniciatives such as locking city gates to prevent the entrance of fleeing plague victims  ( for instance, Alcoy in 1489)92.  Little else can be done, except invoking the Almighty  to find the remedy when the source of the evil they are suffering is unknown.

 The medieval man is rationalist in so far as his scientific, philosophical and mental development allows him. He has learnt to profit from his ambivalent relationship with nature to the point of integrating the hostile nature in his mental and social  system. But this control over nature, direct or indirect, has its limits as regards the great disasters. It is then that the Christianity -magic symbiosis direct  thought and human action in such a way that they provide the whole medieval thought, predisposed to the marvellous by inheritance, with its hallmark .


The man- nature relationship offers  a different perspertive depending on who the main subject of action is . Economic historians, as we have remarked above, view the medieval man as a producer of goods , a trader, a builder and deduce that he dominates nature ; the historian of mentalities comes across a view of the medieval world which subordinates man to an active, harrowing and man-dominating nature, driven by the supernatural. It is not just that medieval economy is scarcely developed , neither are philosophy or mentality if our reference is the modern world ( although the best reference to understanding the Middle Ages is the Middle Ages itself). The humanisation of nature during the Middle Ages is a real, irrefutable historical fact but it is a humanisation limited by the skills and the onmipotent power of a providence whose foundations are in the power of nature (divine natural law) . In other words, a controlled humanisation, with its positive and negative consequences . Negative in that man is not fully free to advance and conquer welfare. Positive in that nature, and ultimately man, mantains under control the use humans make of it.


Friendly nature


Medieval economy  produces goods only indirectly . It does not aim at profit as it is understood in a capitalist economy. Medieval economy produces mainly for consumption and its ruling classes seek above all to ‘increase their states’, that is to say,  to increase their lands and vassals - as it is them who produce -via taxes- the lords’ incomes- through donations ( Church) or war ( gentlemen). In this context of natural economy, the human pressures on nature are of a lesser signicance in comparison with what will come later, but perceptible nonetheless because of the technological advancement in farming and fishing, which will give rise to protective measures for the natural heritage. These measures are imposed by a common ( non-productivist) sense  and ultimately by an animist-providencialist view of nature . Both motives are intertwined . Economic sources, however, do not reflect the superstitious motivations whereas  narrative sources seldom speak of ecomony . It is the task of the historian to attempt such synthesis, to make global history.


 The three-year shift in crops is the most outstanding farming innovation during the Middle Ages . A third of the lands is left fallow, another third is devoted to winter  cereals and the remaining third is reserved for spring cerceals. Previously, with the two-field system, half of the field remained unploughed each year. The increase in productivity was remarkable , because lands were worked most of the year and there was a reduction of unploughed surface93. Saint Francis ‘ exorts the farmer to leave the sides the orchard unworked so that the green of the grass and the beauty of the flowers hearld the beauty of the Father of all things’ 94. This administration of the farming resources to prevent their exhaustion is based on need and common sense - which will disappear with technological advancement, let us not forget it,- and it is favoured - and ultimately determined - by religious animism , which never entirely disappeared and will will be offically acknowledged  by Franciscan spirituality.


             ‘How should the King  protect his lands?’ promulgate the Partidas-, by making sure that ‘villages or other places do not die away . . . . and also by ensuring that trees, vineyards or any other thing man that lives on is not felled, burnt, or damaged in any way,  not even out of spite’95.


             This protection of productive means and life is a staple in medieval economic documents.  The medieval man cares for the nature which provides him with a living and for the means of working it : the land, the aminals and the plants that yield fruit . ‘ Neither oxen  nor cows nor other ploughing beasts’ may be pawned ( neither the plough nor the serfs), the same as the ‘ sacred things’ and unlike the fruits of ‘ cattle, trees and inheritances’96.  Cattle may neither be pawned nor left as security97, nor stolen (capital punishment)98.  The protection measures for beneficial animals even encompass  pigeons99 and falcon and partridge eggs 100. "Trees or vines, or vineyards are things which must be most protected because the fruit they yield is profitable to mankind and cause much pleasure and consolation when they are seen ’101.  However, this love  (with a supersticious and religious veneer to it ) of living beings and nature points out that their defence does not limit to a mere utilitarian attitude and is able to look beyond the here and now ( which is no little achivement).


The felling of fruit trees102 is, therefore, prosecuted.  It is ordered that those which ‘were brought down or dried up’103 were replaced and likewise ‘ two trees yielding fruit’ must be planted within three months for every aranzada (4,47 m2)104. Protection measures even apply for products elaborated from trees : thus the de Fuero Viejo of Vizcaya (1452) punishes with death the intentional spilling of cider from casks 105, a penalty typically applied to gross offences against people and properties . For the medieval mentality, the cattle, the trees and their fruits could be as important as people. After all, the medieval man saw himself as insepareable from living nature.


So as to understand the relationship of man with his ecological environment in the Middle Ages, it may be particularly useful to pay  attention to the forest , which as late as the 19th century still covered 40 per cent of the lands of Saint-Germain-des-Près Abbey, a particularly advanced area as regards agriculture106.  As a general rule, in late medieval Europe forests cover the great mayority of lands and the peasant’s economy depended on them for survival . In the 12th century, the first remark on the Códice Calixtino about the Galician land is that ‘ it is rich in forests’107 and, four centuries later, another traveller, Fernando de Colón, shows his amazement at the miles of oak and chestnust forests that envelop its villages108.


How has the advancement of agriculture affected these medieval forests ?


 The upsurge in forest ploughing (and in building) during the central centuries of the Middle Ages breaks, according to commonly admitted opinion, the late medieval balance between ploughing lands, pastures and forests resulting in an imbalance which - for some authors -will be one of the causes of the late medieval crisis109.  The inmediate consequences of forest retreat will be soon evident: social conflictivity in an attempt  to control the forest, increased aggresivity of wolves110 and other wild animals; bursting of rivers as trees do not retain rain 111 and, what is more revelant for us here, the tightening of measures to protect forests . Such measures will enable, together with the late medieval crisis, the recovery of the forest in the 14th and 15th centuries112. Evidence of this is the fact that in 1457, Enrique  IV, by request of  Guipúzcoa councils,  is forced to order that the plantation of oaks, walnuts, chesnuts, ashes and beeches   be kept at sixteen feet of ploughed land113.  The final balance of this advance-retreat-advance process is undoubtly favourable for the conservation of medieval forests.


Protection measures, therefore, arise when they are necessary114. They defy the utilitarian sense and, more importantly, the medieval men’s animist feeling of nature . It is, from the late 12th century onwards, when the new form of production is consolidated . Men begin to grant forests with a special protection: ‘in the 12th century the forest became a sort of protected cultive of trees’115.  The social struggles for forest control  became a staple; in the 13th century communities ( use and reaping ) and lords (hunting) lodge complaints because of forest retreat 116and , by the mid-fifteenth century,  Castillian Courts protest because lords would not stop cutting wood freely; because  their neighbours occupy their forest; or because royal guards appropiate them117.


The advancement of cultivable land, the fellings and the fires are dangers that loom over medival forests .The 1351 Courts denounce that ‘ five or six pines are brought down to make three or four torches which are worhtless’ and that ‘ those living in counties rich in pinewoods and groves fell and burn them to sow and thus everything is destroyed’. The king’s response cannot be  harder and indicative of the new scenario. He claims the death penalty: ‘ whoever felled or uprooted  pines in the pinewoods or holm trees in the groves of local councils, as it is claimed, with intention of sowing must be killed for it and shall furthermore lose all his properties’118.  The very farming crisis, aggravated and sharpened by the Black Death provides new muscle to forest protection measures119, whose recovery will soon enable (1380) the Monarchy to authorise fellings120 ( the preceptive authorisation is indicative of the existing control).  In the 15th century there will be an alternance between the habitual protectionist measures121 with occassional measures intended to promote agriculture122, always within a framework that that makes mandatory the authorisation of the local council, the lord or the King to fell trees or make fires which may be a potential threat to the forest.


In the 13th century, Alfonso X prohibits all uncontrolled fires 123, and punishes with death those who burn the forests: ‘The king orders that fire must not be set to forests, and should anyone be caught doing it, he must be thrown into the fire, may he not be aprehended, all his possesions be taken’124. Measures against potential forest fires and against those who breach them are issued later in the 14th125 and 15th 126 centuries, despite the lack of information about great provoked fires like those which  currently devastate our forests.


The great deforestation of pre-industrial Europe does not take place during but after the Middle Ages from the 16th to the 17th centuries127. New advancements in crops ( corn and potato) and the upsurge in the building of houses and ships are linked to the demographical increase, which demanded more wood and had more mouths to feed . This, together with a decrease in ecological corncern led to a huge retreat in woodlands and to the substitution of autochtonous species . In fact, the Industrial Revolution  utilises as basic energetic supply solid fuel ( vegateal coal) and not wood from the forest, whose definitive and irreversible crisis can be located in late 18th and early 19th centuries 128.


A prolonged social conflict, which stretches -with ebbs and flows - from the 15th century up to the 20th century( very relevant ecologically129), is that of fishing nest in Galicia.Wall fishing as an industrial way of fishing130 as opposed to more traditional  handicraft methods like those used in sardine fishing ( known locally as  sacada, espinel and xeito). The main argument , which both sides use in the discussion, is ecologic, despite the evident social and economic implications of the conflict , which results in the opposition of ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ groups of fishermen and the villages were they ply.


In the exchange of accusations,  it is claimed of the contrary fishing tackle that: a) ‘ kills and destroys any spawing"131; b) “ ‘infects’ sea water’132; c) disturbs‘ the tranquility’ of fish133.  The first argument corresponds with the habitual medieval protectionist argument whose concern is to guarantee reproduction as opposed to maximising  the explotation of resources in the short run.  The fear of ‘ infecting’ water reminds us that of fouling the air which transmitted the plague134.  The polluting of the air and the waters kills living beings: this medieval certainty, which seldom had an objective basis, takes us directly to animinst superstitious mentality which homologates all natural elements as living entities, liable to corruption and ailing. Finally, that perceived necessity of mantaining the sardine ‘quiet’ so that it does not escape from the ria135, does it not attribute fish an excesive degree of ‘ consciousness’?


To summarise, so that the sea offers its products to man we cannot break its biological development, nor pollute its waters, nor disturb excessively maritime creatures. An abusive, inconsiderate exploitation is avoided, not because there is scientic knowledge about causes and effects but because the reaction of nature is feared  and the responses by living beings are intrepreted superstitiously as active subjects   of a bidirectional relationship with mankind. The limit to utilitarism is set, therefore, by a friendly nature ready to metamorphose into a hostile nature and deny man of his upkeep, the function assigned by the Holy Scriptures, which also use nature to mantain man subdued.


In the other man-nature relationship we have analysed, the symbiosis pragmatism- superstition ,the controlled character of the humanisation of medieval nature by mankind136, the dominating- dominated nature, friendly / hostile nature interfaces are not so clearly perceived as in the case of fishing.  Why? Because neither the land nor the trees have the capacity to act as true living subjects, they cannot escape, like fish if they are badly-treated ( without the due respect to creatures which are also of God).  Hunting animals do not have such a massive relationship with men as hunting is ( except for defense) a privilege of the nobility in the Middle Ages137.


Urban pollution in the Middle Ages is a common feature that accompanies the creation of walled cities. In the 13th century several measures were promulgated 138 which nonetheless will not be enforced until mid- fourthteen century. Firstly because the  Partidas are not mandatory until the  Ordenamiento de Alcalá in 1348139 and, secondly, because it is the Black Death, also in 1348, what sparks awareness about the need for greater domestic and collective hygene140, when dirt is associated religiously and superstitiously with and the fouling of air, land and bodies . The corruption of nature has in the Middle Ages the double sense- equivalent and interrelated but not very explicit in the sources-  of sinful nature of man on the one hand and on the other of nature physically stained by the dirt and the stench.


In 1367, the king- under the threat of heavy fines- orders not to litter the backyard of the Church of Santa María la Mayor in Zaragoza: " showing no respect to the divine offices which are celebrated in the aforesaid church . . . . they throw rubbish, relieve themselves, and leave there carcasses among other things, ...  an unbearable stench during the religious services’ . The Councils’ prohibitions continue - along with the problem into the 15th century141- and by the end of the 16th century remained unsolved142.


Modern nature

The transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age brought about a new approach to nature by man fuelled both by a bourgeoisie of traders in an essentially rural economy and the city, in an esssentially rural society . The development of the city is a challenge to nature, a proof of the capacity of man to dominate it143. In the city, the man lives free from the tyrany of nature , the oppresion of the cold, the night, the famine. Of course, it is exaggerated to make the city into a sort of Garden of Eden144, but it is true  that the medieval city introduces remarkable transformations in mentality.  There is a loss of intimacy with nature, which is now beheld from a window, with greater psychological distance , replacing the magic- marvellous medieval vision by aesthetic enjoyment and a desire to study it empirically to dominate it better145.


Later it will be society as a whole that will share this new attitude towards the natural environment whose main charactistic is  to seek the irreversible separation of man ( subject) from nature ( object) . From now on, irrational creatures are subject to to no law (Francisco de Vitoria, 16th century)146. Superstitious mentality and medieval religiousity, which were felt as something alive, are energically fought - more succesfully so in learned circles than in popular ones- thus objectively holding down  the absolute domination of nature through technology to ensure man’s advancement.  The concern to keep the natural environment, typical of the Middle Ages, is pushed into the background. Rationalism and the Enlightment thus prepare the path for the Industrial Revolution, the great protagonist of the most significantive ecologic restructuration ‘of the natural environment history in our planet’, the most outstanding consequence of the substitution of religion by science and economy; of God by the market in the man-mature relationships147.


Naive notions such as indefinite progress or ilimited natural resources  underlie the new ideology of the conquest of nature, which will have a profound ecological impact in Western societies. The iniciatives against the deforestation of Europe and America,which go back to mid-nineteenth century, have had little success: the plundering of natural resources and the rise in pollution get diversified at an ever-increasing rate148. Modern science implies an astonishing development in our knowledge of nature, but a similarly astonishing backward step in our understanding of the ecological consequences of our actions: ‘ religion and tradition as resources utilisation ideologies are perharps better adapted to face a situation of imperfect knowledge than one of ostensible ‘scientific’ management’149.


The quick, ever-increasing deteroration of the natural environment has given rise -over the last years- to a strong ecologist movement   which questions whether there was an ecologic awareness in the past .  It is disappointing to see how some writers anwser  this question negatively 150, in oppostion to the natural environment historians mentioned in this paper.


                If by ecological awareness we understand being aware of the risks that human activity imply for the environment and consequently being prepared to protect nature,  then that kind of mentality not only has existed but, in this sense, any past period has been better than the Contempary Age, especially  the Middle Ages and generally speaking, any non- predator society or society regulated by natural economies. It has been said that the reason why, in the Middle Ages, the ecological impact was so moderate is to be found in the lack of technical means to provoke an ecologic disaster. There lies the heart of the problem. We project our current economicist, hiper-rationalist mentalities onto the past without realising that the medieval man thought not so much in economic terms as in religious and magic terms, however hard it is for us to understand it.


The man-mature interface in the Middle Ages has more to do with mentality  than with economy. This is also true for the scholastics.  That is why the historian of mentalities does not  find traces of human domination over medieval nature  ( the image of nature that emerges from the sources remains that of dominating rather than dominated factor) . Such traces are not valued because they are seen as quotidian, intrandescent.  Nature was much more than a plot of land or a stretch of sea used by peasants or fishermen to earn their daily bread.  It was the work of God and inseparable from man. It had a soul, and it yielded marvellous things. How would be possible to attack it with impunity? What purpose would it serve if it yields, by divine mandate, its fruits to man? To be sure, man-nature relationships were not idyllic, but was this not what God had disposed on expelling Adam and Eve from Paradise ? and, likewise, were the relationships among men not conflictive ( feuds, war and revolts)? Man was the friend-foe of man in the same way that he was the friend-foe of nature. Did not they make up a unique ecosystem?  The protection of nature on the part of the medieval man stemmed from a powerful instict of self-preservation. Will the men and women of the 21th century be able to recover it  mutatis mutandis ?


* This paper was submitted at the conference Mensch und Natur im Mittelalterlichen Europa, organised by the Friesach Academy (Universidad de Klagenfurt, Austria)   September 1-5  1,997.

1Men are the scum of the world, and their depth is among the beasts, covered in fog Fernán PÉREZ DE OLIVA, Diálogo de la dignidad del hombre, Madrid, 1982, p. 80.

2 Louis J. LEKAI, Los cistercienses. Ideales y realidad, Barcelona, 1987, p. 385.

3Everything is full of souls says one of the witnesses at the  Fournier Register, Emmanuel LE ROY LADURIE, Montaillou, alde saccitana de 1924 a 1324, Madrid, 1981, p. 427.

4The editor points out that some 60% of superstitions quoted in the book have reached us, Martín de BRAGA, Sermón contra las supersticiones rurales, Barcelona, 1981, p. 16; see also Carmelo LISÓN, Brujería, estructura social y simbolismo en Galicia, Madrid, 1983.

5ídem, p. 23.

6ídem, pp. 27-29.

7ídem, p. 43.

8are so indecisive that they give the very names of the demons to each day of the week and thus they call them of Mars, of Mercury, of Jupiter, of Venus and of Saturn,who made no day but were despicable, infamous men in the nation of Greeks, ídem, p. 31; as we know these god, in fact Roman, correspond to the correpondant Greek:  Ares, Hermes, Zeus, Afrodite y Chronos.

9 The traditional superstitions linked to concrete places ( woodlands, mountains, wellheads) lose their meaning as they disappear or because the peasants’ relationship towards them changes  (Franco CARDINI, Magia, brujería y superstición en el Occidente medieval, Barcelona, 1982, p. 33); a reorganisation of the territory which, in comparison to that which will follow, has little relevance in the Middle Ages.

10Sky phenomena had the same meaning in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance , which favours a cultivated, humanist paganism open to prodigies and omens, Jacob BURCKHARDT, La cultura del Renacimiento en Italia, Madrid, 1985, pp. 407-408; as modern science explains the causes of natural phenomena, superstition retreats taking refuge in popular culture ( or esoteric circles) .

11Vito FUMAGALLI, Cuando el cielo se oscurece. La vida en la Edad Media, Madrid, 1988, p. 23.

12IDACIO, Cronicón, Salamanca, 1984, p. 134; Crónica Najerense, Valencia, 1966, p. 34; "Crónica Albedelse", Crónicas asturianas, Oviedo, 1985, p. 188; "Crónica de Alfonso III", ídem, p. 115.

13Alonso de PALENCIA, Crónica de Enrique IV, BAE nº 257, I, pp. 250, 257; Lucio MARINEO SÍCULO, Vida y hechos de los Reyes Católicos, Madrid, 1943, p. 18; They believes in omens, made up some demons, I don’t know what profecies . . and are so many their outandish ideas that they do not deserve to be included here but we should show our bewilderment that the men of that time were so simple [1520, almost a thousand years after Martín de Braga’s denunciation ], to believe such things, Prudencio de SANDOVAL, Historia de la vida y hechos del emperador Carlos V, BAE nº 80, pp. 259-260.

14Jacques LE GOFF, La civilización del Occidente medieval, Barcelona, 1969, p. 443.

15Trees considered hallowed by people were felled in the High Middle Ages, Vito FUMAGALLI, op. cit., p. 22;on current people’s struggle against the felling of trees in Galicia, especially oak trees, which according to tradition, contain healing pedras do raio [ lightning  stones] popular culture thus meeting ecologist groups’ concerns , see for instance  La Voz de Galicia of   May 28th  1997.

16Enrique BANDE RODRÍGUEZ, "Supersticións, bruxería e maxia na Galiza medieval", II Coloquio Galaico-Minhoto, I, Santiago, 1985, pp. 357-368.

17For instance, Pedro CIRUELO, Reprobación de las supersticiones y hechicerías [1538], Barcelona, 1977.

18Franco CARDINI, op. cit., pp. 23-24.

19 At the same time that Martín Dumiense wrote  a sermon against rural superstitions, Benito de Nursia made water spring from a rock on top of a forest for the service of one of the first Benedictine monasteries, Antonio LINAGE CONDE, La regla de San Benito, Zamora, 1989, pp. 177-178; at the middle of the 13th century the master of the Santiago Order invokes the Virgin : Sancta Maria stop your day- successfully- so that she stopped  the sun, thus having more timeto defeat the Arabs in battle, Francisco de RADES, "Chronica de Sanctiago", Chronica de las tres Ordenes y Cauallerias de Sanctiago, Calatraua y Alcantara, Toledo, 1572, fol. 32, col. 3; In 1,446, an anonimous German traveller goes on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and tells of the miracle of the Virgin of the Boat ( the procession to this sanctuary in Muxía is still celebrated every Sunday after September 8th): a huge stone that moves on the touching of a finger if you are free from sin, Fernando DÍAZ-PLAJA, Historia de España en sus documentos. Siglo XV, Madrid, 1984, p. 100.

20Alfonso de la Torre wrote  in 1480-1483 that, except for evil purposes, stars are, or may be, tools of God, thus making astrology and magic licit if it is for a good purpose, Francisco GARROTE, Naturaleza y pensamiento en España en los siglos XVI y XVII, Salamanca, 1981, pp. 91-92; even more representative is title XXIII of the seventh Partida on soothsayers and other sorcerers, which sentences wizards to death but praises those who performed witchery or other things with good purposes (Partidas VII, 23, 3).

21Partidas I, 4, 67.

22Michel MULLET, La cultura popular en la Baja Edad Media, Barcelona, 1990, p. 22.

23Aaron J. GOUREVITCH, Les catégories de la culture médiévale, París, 1983, pp. 50, 59.

24Manuel GONZÁLEZ DE MOLINA, Historia y medio ambiente, Madrid, 1993, p. 24.

25R. GUHA, M. GADGIL, "Los hábitats en la historia de la humanidad", Ayer, nº 11, 1993, p. 58.

26San Francisco de Asís. Escritos. Biografías. Documentos de la época, Madrid, 1980, pp. 49-50.

27ídem, pp. 177, 325.

28The closest to this we have found in the Bible are the beasts of burden subject, like the men they serve, to the mosaic law of keeping the Sabbath  (Exodus 23, 12; Deuteronomy 5, 14); anyway, Jesus Christ did not include animals in the Sermon on the Mount.

29Gonzague de REYNOLD, "Cristianismo y Edad Media", La formación de Europa, VI, Madrid, 1975, pp. 122, 159.

30Oh flowers, oh  flowers of pious green, / have you heard of my beloved? / oh, God, where is he ? Cantigas de amigo dos trovadores galego-portugueses, II, Lisbon, 1973, p. 19.

31Raimundo PANIKKAR, El concepto de naturaleza. Análisis histórico y metafísico de un concepto, Madrid, 1972, p. 103.

32Aaron GOUREVITCH, op. cit., p. 69.

33Let us make man  in our image, after our likeness and let them have dominion over fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air and over the cattle  and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creepth upon the earth , Genesis 1, 26.

34For disobeying God  Adan will de dammed: cursed is the ground for thy sake, in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life, Genesis 3, 17.

35Norman COHEN, En pos del Milenio, Madrid, 1983, pp. 186-187.

36Restituto SIERRA, El pensamiento social y económico de la escolástica, II, Madrid, 1975, pp. 329-330.

37Guy  FOURQUIN, Histoire économique de l’Occident médiéval, París, 1979, pp. 109-134;  Robert FOSSIER, La infancia de Europa. Aspectos económicos y sociales. 1/ El hombre y su espacio, Barcelona, 1984, p. 33.

38Lynn WHITE, "La expansión de la tecnología, 500-1500", Historia económica de Europa.  1. Edad Media, Barcelona, 1981, pp. 152-185.

39Aaron GOUREVITCH, op. cit., p. 59.

40Robert DELORT, La vie au Moyen Age, París, 1982, p. 31.

41Aaron GOUREVITCH, op. cit., pp. 59, 70.

42Restituto SIERRA, op. cit., p. 355.

43ídem, p. 899.

44Marc Bloch had already noted how war and - for instance- the tempest intermingled at the same level, in the medieval mentality, La sociedad feudal, Madrid, 1986, p. 105.

45Partidas II, 21, 7.


47see footnotes 37, 38

48La sociedad feudal, p. 94.

49La civilización del Occidente medieval, p. 661.

50Cuando el cielo se oscurece, pp. 15, 24.

51See footnote 40.

52Gonzague de REYNOLD, op. cit., p. 100.

53Vasco de APONTE, Recuento de las casas antiguas del reino de Galicia, Santiago, 1986, p. 261.

54A recurrent issue that of foul air when the Black Death is striking , as we will see further on .

55Vasco de APONTE, op. cit., p. 177.

56We do not have to wait until Industrial Revolution : from 1942 Medieval Europe inaugurates modernity with an ecological and bicultural cataclysm in America, Manuel GONZÁLEZ MOLINA, Historia y medio ambiente, Madrid, 1993, pp. 18 ss.

57Georges DUBY, Economía rural y vida campesina en el Occidente medieval, Barcelona, 1973, p. 190.

58Vito FUMAGALLI, Las piedras vivas. Ciudad y naturaleza en la Edad Media, Madrid, 1989, pp. 106-107.

59Jacques LE GOFF, Lo maravilloso y lo cotidiano en el Occidente medieval, Barcelona, 1986, p. 32.

60Emmanuel LE ROY, Montaillou, pp. 432 ss.

61Vito FUMAGALLI, Las piedras vivas, pp. 121-122, 132.

62Robert DELORT, La vie au Moyen Age, pp. 23-24.

63Santo Domingo visto por sus contemporáneos, Madrid, 1947, p. 422; Emmanuel LE ROY, Montaillou, p. 431; Robert Darnton has studied the continuity of this tradition in Modern Europe, La gran matanza de los gatos y otros episodios en la historia de la cultura francesa, México, 1987.

64 The monkey and the lizard, for instance, Santo Domingo, pp. 467, 472.

65In the sense of the quotation by Saint Bonaventure, that is, to pusnish, to test and to teach ( see footnote 36).

66In 1225, Alfonso IX grants a privilege to the neighbours of the banks of River Sil and forces them to comb the Lord’s land for two days every year to hunt bears, Julio GONZÁLEZ, Alfonso IX, II, Madrid, 1944, p. 570.

67Also the foxes , José María MONSALVO, Documentación histórica del archivo municipal de Alba de Tormes (siglo XV), Salamanca, 1988, p. 280; see footnote below.

68Bishop Gelmírez decrees, in 1113, in the territory of Santiago that every Saturday with the exception of  Lent and Pentecost, Presbyters, Gentlemens and peasants, who are not legitimately busy, shalt gather together to hunt wolves, a custom still alive in 1299 and 1326, Antonio LÓPEZ FERREIRO, Fueros municipales de Santiago y su tierra, Madrid, 1975, pp. 160, 398-399, 530.

69Partidas VII, 14, 22; see also Partidas VII, 31, 4, 6 y 7.

70 Partidas VII, 15, 9, 15 and 18.

71Which the Renaissance will, of course, make extensive to all medieval men (see footnote  1).

72Reprobación de las supersticiones, p. 151.

73 A rethinking of medieval philosophy endorsed by the  Council of Trent in 1551,  Martín GELABERTÓ, "Tempestades y conjuros de las fuerzas naturales. Aspectos mágico-religiosos de la cultura en la Alta Edad Moderna", Manuscrits, nº 9, 1991, p. 327.

74In 1464 the earthquake in Seville is subtly interpreted as against the Jews a poweful, cruel punishment against infidels by God’s will. / Which brought the Jewish quarter down,  La historiografía en verso en la época de los Reyes Católicos, Salamanca, 1989, p. 185.

75Reprobación de las supersticiones, p. 153.

76See footnote  74.

77François ELLENBERGER, Historia de la geología, I, Barcelona, 1989, p. 46.

78It appears in the New Testament that Jesus said: there will be stench and famine and earthquakes but do not despair because these things are necessary and it shalt not be the end yet, "Relación de todo lo ocurrido en las Comunidades de Castilla", Ramón ALBA, Acerca de algunas particularidades de las Comunidades de Castilla tal vez relacionadas con el supuesto acaecer Terreno del Milenio Igualitario, Madrid, 1975, p. 181.

79Martín GELABERTÓ, op. cit., p. 339.

80Saint Augustine strengthened the power of medieval priests : the heaven takes fright, the earth marvels...  and each and every creature made by God shudders before you, Alonso de CÓRDOBA, Un sermón castellano del siglo XV, Barcelona, 1983, p. 91; and medieval saints like Saint Benedict ( see footnote 19) and Saint Dominic, prove with miracles that they can dominate the Earth: Domingo de Guzmán, according to his biographers, was able to stop the rain, the fire and the bleeding, Santo Domingo de Guzmán, pp. 202, 361, 401, 417, 565, 568, 597.

81Enrique BANDE RODRÍGUEZ, "Supersticións, bruxería e maxia na Galiza medieval", II Coloquio Galaico-Minhoto, I, Santiago, 1985, p. 364; Juan Carlos MARTÍN CEA, El mundo rural castellano a fines de la Edad Media, Valladolid, 1991, pp. 392-394;

82See previous footnote and  Iñaki BAZÁN, Delincuencia y criminalidad en el País Vasco en la transición de la Edad Media a la Moderna, Vitoria, 1995, p. 384; in order to avert a recent earthquake, which had its epicentre in Sarria (Lugo), locals improvised the Sacred Heart Procession, which had not taken place for ten years, using the medieval arguments of guilt (we are evil) and divine power  ( when there are quakes I think of Jesus, who is the only one who may be of any help), La Voz de Galicia, June 1st 1,997.

83Synodicon hispanum. I. Galicia, Marid, 1981, p. 76.

84Whoever made a spell with the good intention of  ridding us of clouds, which throw hail or fog so that they did not spoil the fruit ...  Is for that deserving of reward, Partidas VII, 23, 3; white magic is is supported by  doctrine from Isidoro de Sevilla to Bacon, including Roman Law, Franco CARDINI, Magia, brujería y superstición en el Occidente medieval, Barcelona, 1982, pp. 45 ss.

85Weather magic whas not disappeared altogether : The Local Council of Barcelona are to send to the  nuns  belonging to the order of Saint Clare at the monastery of Pedralbes a dozen of eggs the week previous to the wedding of  Infant Cristina and Iñaki Urdangarín so that on October 4th it does not rain and the day is bright , La Voz de Galicia, June 20th 1,997; see also footnote  82.

86Partidas V, 8, 28; it was not always complied with. In 1376, a forum contract establishes that a payment must be done regardless of freezing or whatever other fortuit event, Anselmo LÓPEZ CARREIRA, Ourense no século XV, Vigo, 1991, p. 37.

87 Valladolid Courts in 1351, request  nº 46.

88Palenzuela Courts in 1425, request nº 39; that same year, the king of  Navarra and the lord of Alba reduces in a third the order out of scarcity of bread, since the neighbours could not comply nor pay without great perjuice for their properties, Documentación histórica del archivo municipal de Alba de Tormes (siglo XV), p. 141.

89Diálogo de la dignidad del hombre, p. 80.

90Velasco de TARANTA, "Tratado de la peste" (1475), Tratados de la peste, Madrid, 1993.

91Following the 1348 plague, attention was increased throughout Europe to public hygene, Agustín RUBIO, Peste negra, crisis y comportamientos sociales en la España del siglo XIV, Granada, 1979, pp. 76 ss.

92 José HINOJOSA MONTALVO, Textos para la historia de Alicante. Historia medieval,  Alicante, 1990, p. 319.

93Lynn WHITE, Tecnología medieval y cambio social, Buenos Aires, 1973, pp. 85-89.

94San Francisco de Asís. Escritos, pp. 325-326.

95Partidas II, 11, 3.

96Partidas, V, 13, 2, 3 y 4.

97Order by Alfonso X in 1252 for the territory of  Santiago, article LX: that labour oxen be not left as security, Fueros municipales de Santiago y su tierra, pp. 383-384.

98Partidas VII, 14, 19

99Salamanca Courts in 1465, petition nº 23; Documentación de Alba de Tormes (siglo XV), pp. 237-238 (1460).

100 Fueros municipales de Santiago y su tierra, pp. 378-379 (1252); Valladolid Courts in 1258, petition nº 34;  Jerez Courts in 1268, petition nº 17.

101Partidas VII, 15, 28.

102 Fueros municipales de Santiago y su tierra, p. 367 (1252).

103A. MARTÍNEZ VEGA, El monasterio de Santa María de la Vega, Oviedo, 1991, doc. nº 53 (1322).

104Documentación de Alba de Tormes (siglo XV), p. 129; this measure taken in 1429, is confirmed in  1498, ídem, pp. 280-281.

105Iñaki BAZÁN, op. cit., p. 562.

106Georges DUBY, Guerreros y campesinos. Desarrollo inicial de la economía europea (500-1200), Madrid, 1979, p. 7.

107Codex Calixtinus, Santiago, 1951, p. 523.

108Writes Javier RUIZ ALMANSA, La población de Galicia, 1500-1945, Madrid, 1948, pp. 35, 36, 39; see also  FERREIRA, Galicia en el comercio marítimo medieval, A Coruña, 1988, pp. 59-60; today oaks and chesnuts- Galicia’s autochthonous species- have virtually disappeared , but not the close relationship of people with them: at Carballedo, some two hundred people organised  a few weeks ago a picnic around an oak an electric company intended to cut down, La Voz de Galicia, August 4th 1997.

109Robert FOSSIER, Historia del campesinado en el Occidente medieval, Barcelona, 1985, p. 113.

110 Vito FUMAGALLI, Las piedras vivas. Ciudad y naturaleza en la Edad Media, Madrid, 1989, pp. 141 ss.

111 ídem, p. 42.

112 Emmanuel LE ROY LADURIE, Les paysans de Languedoc, I, París, 1966, p. 149; see also footnote  57.

113Jesús ORELLA, Cartulario real de Enrique IV a la provincia de Guipúzcoa (1454-1474), San Sebastián, 1983, pp. 52-53.

114Abusive ploghing gives rise to concerns about rational and sustained explotation of forests, Robert  FOSSIER, Historia del campesinado en el Occidente medieval, p. 112.

115Georges DUBY, Economía rural y vida campesina en el Occidente medieval, Barcelona, 1973, p. 194;see also Carlos M. CIPOLLA, Historia económica de la Europa preinsdustrial, Madrid, 1979, p. 124; Charles-E. DUFOURCQ, Jean GAUTIER-DALCHÉ, Historia económica y social de la España cristiana en la Edad Media, Barcelona, 1983, p. 180.

116Robert FOSSIER, Historia del campesinado en el Occidente medieval, p. 111.

117Valladolid Courts in 1447, petition nº 27; Valladolid Courts  in 1451, petition nº 28;  Salamanca Courts in 1465, petition nº 16.

118Valladolid Courts in  1351, petition nº 61.

119Isabel TORRENTE FERNÁNDEZ, El dominio del monasterio de San Bartolomé de Nava (siglos XIII-XVI), Oviedo, 1982, document nº 65 (1362).

120Amanda LÓPEZ DE MENESES, "Documentos acerca de la peste negra en los dominios de la Corona de Aragón", Estudios de Edad Media en los dominios de la Corona de Aragón, VI, 1956, pp. 432-433 (1380).

121Documentación de Alba de Tormes, p. 217 (1458).

122 See footnote 113.

123Whoever sets fire on a windy day near straw, wood or ripe grain is considered responsible and liable for the damage hence originated,  Partidas VII, 15, 10.

124Valladolid Courts in 1258, petition  nº 42; this order was repeated at the  Jerez Courts in  1268, petition nº 39.

125In 1385 a shepherd confesses to unintentionally causing a fire, for which he was imprisoned, Textos para la historia de Alicante, pp. 319-320.

126From 1494 fires in the fields are prohibited from June until November, Documentación de Alba de Tormes, pp. 251-252.

127Carlos M. CIPOLLA, Historia económica de la Europa preindustrial, p. 124; Historia  Social y Económica de España y América, II, Barcelona, 1974, p. 244.

128Manuel GONZÁLEZ MOLINA, Historia y medio ambiente, Madrid, 1993, pp. 17-18, 35.

129Protectionist medieval mentality is thus mantained in popular culture and survives the Ancien Regimé.

130Defended in the 18th century, against the tide, by the learned Padre Sarmiento, Documentos para la historia de Pontevedra, III, Pontevedra, 1904, pp. 542, 544, 691.

131 ídem, pp. 9, 390, 691; Jesús GIRÁLDEZ RIVERO, "El conflicto por los nuevos artes: conservacionismo o conservadurismo en la pesca gallega de comienzos del siglo XX", Ayer, nº 11, 1993, p. 240;  Courts prohibited as well the fishing of trouts at the reproductory season from October to November because it causes the depletion of rivers, Madrid Courts in 1435, petition nº 45.

132Documentos para la historia de Pontevedra pp. 13, 14, 268; for the protection of water and river fish it was also prohibited to throw herbs or lime into the rivers least the fish die,  Valladolid Courts in  1258, petition nº 43, and Madrid Courts in 1435, petition nº 45.

133ídem, pp. 11, 14, 22, 23, 24, 102.

134Another remarkable case is the opposition of Galician fishermen to the hunting of whales, which was done off the Galician coast by Basque and Cantabrian fishshermen as early as the 13th century, and which Galician fishermen sought to expel from their waters and finally accomplished because the blood of those whales inflects all fish, which with the stench escapes from the coasts where the said whales are killed and so much of it is wasted,  Elisa FERREIRA, Galicia en el comercio marítimo medieval, A Coruña, 1988, pp. 137-139.

135The superstitious motivation is disguised and intertwined with religion: from Friday to Monday it was fobidden to go to sea so that sardines may be quiet without being disturbed... and to keep the Sunday , ídem, p. 22.

136Killing and fishing more than it is necessary to live is seen as a sin against nature ( see footnote 134).

137Alonso de Palencia, at the end of the Middle Ages, is outraged that peasants also hunt: Behold those yokels!  What formerly was privilege of very noble gentlemen, now the rough peasants and men with no refinement whasoever do not hesitate to indulge in, Prosistas castellanos del siglo XV, BAE nº 116, p. 348.

138Those who throw out of their windows water, bones , dung . . . are very lightly punished ..., Partidas, VII, 15, 25.

139María PAZ ALONSO, El proceso penal en Castilla (siglos XIII-XVIII), Salamanca, 1982, p. 37.

140Jean-Pierre LEGAY, La rue au Moyen Age, Rennes, 1984, pp. 53-63.

141Textos para la historia de Alicante, p. 441 (1414); Documentación de Alba de Tormes, p. 255 (1498).

142  that no person dares throw into fountains, troughs and pools, any dirt nor wash there hides, clothing, meat, greens , fish (...)  No person must empty chamberpots into fountains or pools ...  Nor should they carry water in the chamberpots (...)  That no person feed the swine in the street or square (...) That no person throws water- clean or dirty out of the window (...)   That all persons who throw water cease to do it(...)  That every Saturday of every week everyone cleans any filth out of his door (...) Nor rubbish nor land nor any other thing is left at the barriers, or gates of the said city (...)  That the streets be free from wood, stones and whatever other things, "Ordenanzas de Santiago de Compostela de 1569", Boletín de la Real Academia Gallega, 1931, pp. 32-34, 53, 71.

143José Luis ROMERO, La revolución burguesa en el mundo feudal, Buenos Aires, 1967, pp. 340, 411.

144Free for ever from death, they shall remain in eternal rest where there shall  be neither pain, nor disaster, nor sadness nor cold nor heat nor darkness nor night, Sermón contra las supersticiones rurales, p. 39.

145José Luis ROMERO, op. cit., p. 426.

146 Restituto SIERRA, El pensamiento social y económico de la escolástica, Madrid, 1975, p. 618.

147Manuel GONZÁLEZ MOLINA, Historia y medio ambiente, Madrid, 1993, pp. 45, 63, 70.

148R. GUHA, M. GADGIL, "Los hábitats en la historia de la humanidad", Ayer, nº 11, 1993, p. 87.

149ídem, pp. 94-95.

150Joachim RADKAU, "¿Qué es la historia del medio ambiente?", Ayer, nº 11, 1993, p. 130; Piero BEVILACQUA, "Las políticas ambientales: ¿qué pasado? Algunas reflexiones", Ayer, nº 11, 1993, p. 148; usually historians who have actually studied the issue give an afirmative answer, Carlo M. CIPOLLA, Historia económica de la Europa preindustrial, p. 123.