Most Gothic cathedrals were built in Western Europe between 1100 and 1400. Gothic refers to the style of architecture. A cathedral was the church of a bishop, an important leader of the Roman Catholic Church. During the Middle Ages, Nearly all people in Western Europe were Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholic Church had so much influence that it was known simply as "the Church." The medieval Church touched nearly all aspects of life. Think of any major event-birth of a child, a serious illness, a marriage, or a death. During the Middle Ages, the clergy were almost always in attendance to offer a blessing or to perform a service. The clergy helped people follow Church rules about how to live. They also listened when people came to church to confess their sins. In the name of God, the clergy then forgave them for the wrongs to which they had confessed. During the Middle Ages, life was short and hard for most people. They were comforted by the Christian belief that they would enjoy the rewards of heaven after death if they lived according to Church teachings. The Church also held that if people didn't obey those rules, they would be punished after death. The promise of reward combined with the threat of punishment made most people follow the teachings of the Church. The Church also had great economic power. It gained great wealth by collecting taxes. It also took fiefs from lords in exchange for services performed by clergy. In fact, the Church was the single largest owner of land in Europe during the Middle Ages. The combination of religious and economic power enabled the Church to take on many of the roles that government performs today. It even made laws and set up courts to enforce them. People who did not obey the Church were threatened with being excommunicated. Excommunication was a very serious threat. Few people would associate with someone who had been excommunicated. High Church officials were advisors to kings and lords. The ever-present threat of excommunication gave Church officials great influence in political matters. The Church used its authority to limit feudal warfare. It declared periods of truce, or temporary peace. That was one reason warfare began to decline during the 1100s.