Thinking of the Middle Ages as a “dark” era in the history of mankind is a hackneyed cliché. This accusation, originally put forward by the Renaissance humanists who wanted to understand themselves as direct heirs of classical antiquity (completely disregarding 10 centuries of history and tradition built on precisely the same inheritance — just think of Neoplatonism and medieval scholastic Aristotelianism, to give only two more than evident examples), is but a prejudice. To undo it, it would suffice to note that the “dark ages” gave birth to, among many other things we enjoy today, universities.
The university system as we know it was developed in Europe around what were then called “cathedral schools”: academies, usually attached to a monastery or cathedral, for clerics who would study canon law, theology and philosophy. Soon, these schools opened their doors to the laity, thus becoming became literacy centers, granting (under papal charter) the very same degrees we still strive for today: bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. We present you the ten oldest universities in Europe, all of them founded by the Catholic Church, as listed on the Catholic Distance University blog.