How did the medieval church contribute to the economic structure of Europe?

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Collecting tithes from its laypersons (traditionally one-tenth of an individual's earnings or produce) and being exempt from taxation, the medieval church was incredibly wealthy. The church owned a great deal of land as well. The church also made economic profit from indulgences, which were essentially payment in exchange for having...

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Collecting tithes from its laypersons (traditionally one-tenth of an individual's earnings or produce) and being exempt from taxation, the medieval church was incredibly wealthy. The church owned a great deal of land as well. The church also made economic profit from indulgences, which were essentially payment in exchange for having one's punishment in purgatory after death lessened. This practice was lucrative but later became controversial as it became more and more commercialized. (Martin Luther famously protested against them in his 95 Theses.)

The church's wealth was no small part of its major influence over medieval life. It owned large portions of land all over Europe, making it the single greatest landowner on the entire continent by the midpoint of the medieval period.

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The church collected tithes, or money representing one tenth of income, from each Christian person, from peasants up to lords. Tithes could be paid in goods or money, and many peasants provided the church with animals, seeds, or crops that were stored in tithe barns. Even though many people struggled to pay tithes, they believed failure to do so would cause them to be sent to hell. Some peasants worked for free on lands owned by the church. Churches also collected fees for conducting rites such as baptisms and burials. 

By collecting so much money, the church became an economic power and controlled a great deal of land. They played a major role as landowners and landlords in medieval Europe. Many people willed lands to the church, and they collected large holdings and built magnificent structures such as cathedrals that reflected their wealth. In addition, churches did not have to pay taxes, leading to their increased wealth. Finally, many churches in Medieval Europe played a role in establishing borough rights, which were given by the king to enable that town to trade and have guilds. 

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