What it Was Like to Be Single in Medieval Europe (and What We Can Learn From It)

One of my young nephews James recently went on a pilgrimage, walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

He was studying abroad in college this semester and the group took a trip to Spain to go on pilgrimage. He is twenty years old, a college junior, studying at the University of Dallas in Texas.

Whether we know it or not, we are all on a pilgrimage in life. In fact, life can be viewed as a pilgrimage.

Medieval Singles & The Act of Pilgrimage

Medieval Singles || The Act of Pilgrimage

In the Middle Ages, life was certainly viewed as a pilgrimage.

The medieval single usually went on one pilgrimage in his or her lifetime-usually to England, the tomb of Thomas a Becket, or to Rome, to the tomb of St Peter and St Paul, or to the Holy Land, to Jerusalem to see the Church or the Holy Sepulchre, where the tomb of Christ was.

The medieval single usually went on a pilgrimage to give thanks for a favor received from God or to pray for a miracle in his or her life.

Many times, the medieval single did not come back alive from the pilgrimage. He or she might have died on the journey to the Holy Land.

Medieval Single’s Work Life

Medieval Single's Work Life

Did you ever think how much we have as singles today versus in the Middle Ages?

A single in the middle ages, let’s say in France, would not had nearly as much as we do in our twenty-first century world. The life expectancy in medieval Europe was around thirty to forty years for a medieval single.

He or she did not have the job opportunities we have today, not to mention the opportunities for travel, education, or material possessions. He or she most likely would have been a peasant, tilling the land all day long, working hard.

The medieval single might get a day off on the weekend during which he or she might view a rooster fight for entertainment. He or she might get to have a beer at a pub, but for ladies, travel to the pub may have been considered inappropriate.

Medieval Single’s Lacked a lot of Creature Comforts


In terms of daily life, a medieval single would have only travelled within a few miles of their home. They would never have travelled as widely as we do today.

Summers spent touring Europe or trips to three different cities in Italy would have been out of the question. So would have the modern concept of World Youth Day started by St. John Paul II which many of us singles have been to.

No, the medieval single would not have cruised down to Brazil for two weeks or to Toronto for a week with other Catholic singles or to Madrid, Spain for a visit with Pope Benedict or to Krakow Poland.

Health concerns ran rampant in the Middle Ages. There were outbreaks of plague and famine. The usual daily meal for a peasant was gruel or some type of bean soup. Water would not have been pure so the medieval single would have had ale or wine. Spices enhanced cooking. Baked break would have been quite typical or some type of baked partridge or chicken.

Homes were drafty with dirt floors during the Middle Ages. An entire family might sleep in one room.

You might have only a couple of outfits if you were part of the peasant class. You usually could not read or write. You went to church to worship God but you might learn about God through the beautiful stained glass windows in the Church.

A peasant in France might have seen the glorious architecture of the beautiful Chartres cathedral if they lived near there. They might have heard Gregorian chant. So they had access to beauty.

But life was difficult if you were a medieval single. In the Middle Ages, your dating options might be limited to the village within three to four miles of where you lived.

Life expectancies were short, even if you were to marry, it could not be uncommon for the plague to take the life of your wife or children.

Death was a daily reality.

And so, medieval peasants thought of God often, their eternal destination, and their glorious inheritance in heaven.

Swinging Singles in Twentieth Century Europe or America

Swinging Singles in Twentieth Century Europe or America

If you are a single in America or Europe or South America, you have far more than anyone has ever had in history.

God has given you tons of blessings.

You probably have a good education. You either have a trade or a university education. You can read and write, in fact you are probably highly educated.

You might live on your own or have your own condominium or you might live with your family.

You have clean water, electricity, and a roof over your head. You have three meals a day. You can either cook those meals or you can choose from wonderful premade meals at gourmet eateries.

You probably have a good job, one that does not entail tilling the soil from morning until dusk.

You have things like health insurance, a 401K, and discretionary income. You have friends at work who bring you joy each day. You probably have a cubicle.

You might have your own car. You can cruise into the city or take a road trip to the next state over. You get a vacation in the summer. You may even travel overseas for your summer vacation, going to Europe or elsewhere.

You can read the daily newspaper. In fact, you have access to tons of news.

You probably have many friends and family and a way to make new friends. You are probably part of a wonderful Catholic parish that needs your gifts and talents. You might be part of the choir there.

Modern Day Singles: So Much to Be Grateful For

Modern Day Singles: So Much to Be Grateful For

In terms of dating options, well it is in some ways better than it has ever been.

We have theology of the body, we know that marriage is a vocation and a path to sanctity.

You can marry for love and you really have so many places to meet someone special ranging from in-person meetings to catholic dating websites like this one, to hobbies, church, tennis, or many other groups you can be a part of.

We also have so many ways to heal and grow before marriage to be the best possible spouse we can be, including Christian counseling, monthly confession and the sacraments, good books and literature, and Jesus Christ Himself, who is our best friend.

Singles of today, we are truly so blessed to live in these times.