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Catholic monks and nuns

Catholic monks and nuns – European religion

Christians, Jews, and Muslims

In 1500 AD, most people in Europe were Christians. A fair number of Europeans were Jewish, and some were Muslims, especially in Eastern Europe. The Christians were split into two big groups – the Orthodox Christians, who mainly lived in Eastern Europe, and the Catholics, who mainly lived in Western Europe.

History of Christianity
Jews in medieval Europe
What is Islam?
Medieval European religions
All our modern Europe articles

Eastern Europe converts to Islam

During the 1500s, the Ottoman Empire conquered much of Eastern Europe, and millions of Orthodox and Catholic people living in Eastern Europe converted from Christianity to Islam.

What’s the Ottoman Empire?

Martin Luther in 1526

Martin Luther in 1526

The Reformation in Europe

At the same time, many young people in Western Europe began to try to change Christianity. These young people thought old rich guys had too much power over Catholicism. Like the earlier Francis of Assisi and Jan Hus, these young people didn’t like priests telling them what to do.

Who was Francis of Assisi?
Savonarola in Florence
The Albigensian Crusade

People call this effort the Reformation, because the young people were trying to reform – change – the Catholic Church.

Martin Luther and Calvin

The two main leaders of the Reformation were Martin Luther and Calvin. People called their followers Lutherans and Calvinists, but together they were Protestants, because they were protesting. Even the King of England, Henry VIII, became a Protestant in 1534.

Why did Henry VIII convert?

Catholic beating a Protestant in England (Foxe, about 1550 AD)

Catholic beating a Protestant in England (Foxe, about 1550 AD)

Wars of religion in Europe

The Catholics fought back. In the late 1500s and early 1600s, the Catholic rulers of Europe tortured and killed hundreds of thousands of Protestants.

Reformation politics in Europe

The Counter-Reformation

Catholic groups like the Jesuits also started a Counter-Reformation, which aimed to fix some of the Catholic Church’s problems while still being Catholics. In Germany, this fighting is called the Thirty Years’ War.

Who were the Jesuits?
The Thirty Years’ War

Protestants kill Catholics in France (Hubert, about 1607)

Protestants kill Catholics in France (Hubert, about 1607)

Northern Europe and Southern Europe

But by 1650, the fighting was pretty much over – some people, mainly in northern Europe and especially in England and Germany, were Protestants, and other people, mainly in FranceSpain, Italy, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, were Catholics. Some of these English Protestants – the Puritans and the Quakers – left Europe because of the fighting and settled in North America in the 1600s.

Who were the Puritans?
What do Quakers believe?

But almost immediately a new reform movement started! We call this one the Enlightenment.

More about the Enlightenment

Bibliography and further reading about European religion:

More about the Enlightenment
Reformation home