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Museum of History: The lessons of the Middle Ages resonate today in new exhibition

From the fall of the Roman Empire in about 400 AD to the start of the Renaissance in about 1500, lies a span of years that looks like a dark age … a time when lives were seemingly nasty, brutish and short.

There certainly was a lot of that in the Middle Ages (remember the Black Death?), but it was also a time in which many of the institutions with us today were begun from universities to churches, cities, fashion and the nation state.

That really is the point of the eye-opening exhibition Medieval Europe – Power and Splendour which opens to the public on Friday.

More than 200 artifacts show the depth of the creative and political culture that emerged in Europe after the fall of Rome to the invading tribes that left Asia and crossed into Europe in the time. There are pieces of armour, tapestries, small exquisite pieces of jewelry, sculptures and other items that hint at the diversity of the cultural output of Europeans of the time.

It was a time of great kings such as Charlemagne and Richard II of England. Churches such as Notre Dame and Westminster Abbey were built in this time.

The exhibition was assembled by the British Museum in London and the pieces of the past come from other institutions as well, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Eng., the Royal Armouries in London, the National Gallery of Canada, McGill University and the Canadian Museum of History. This will be the only appearance in North America of this show which has also been seen in Queensland, Australia and in three locations in Spain. About 350,000 people have viewed it so far. The British Museum is actively sharing the artifacts of its collection around the world as part of its mandate of being a museum of the world for the world. The two museums have been planning this particular show for about the past four years.

‘The Middle Ages have been viewed as a period that was backward and stagnant (in the wake of the fall of the Roman Empire),” said Jean-Marc Blais, director general of the Canadian Museum of History, before a media preview of the show on Wednesday. “It was actually a vibrant place, a civilization on the move.”

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