Friday, September 24, 2010
The confrerie – a force for good in Corsica
Most visitors to Corsica and the wider Mediterranean area will remain ignorant of the work of the “confrerie” or lay brotherhoods in Corsican communities. But visit a Corsican town or village at Easter and it is quite likely that you will see a dramatic religious procession in which the brotherhoods are involved.
In these processions, penitents wearing white, black or red hoods walk through the streets singing hymns and in some instances dragging chains attached to their feet. They look strange and, frankly, a little scary with pointed hoods and just slits for eyeholes.
In my last blog I congratulated one of the brotherhoods, that of San Carlu in Monticello, for supporting a concert. But looking scary and supporting the arts are by no means all they do.
Today we went to an exhibition at the Museu di a Corsica in Corte which describes the work of the confrerie and outlines their history in the region. The brothers, rooted in the Middle Ages, are an attempt by devout but lay members of the Corsican community to create and manage an ideal society. They adhere to egalitarian principles and have written codes outlining their structures, and the rights and duties of each brotherhood’s membership. Their leaders are democratically elected.
They act as mediators, counsellors, activists, and financiers. While they are aligned with and support their local churches they act independently of them. A dramatic and very ornate spirituality becomes apparent at Easter, Good Friday, Palm Sunday and other religious festivals when they take part in and sometimes organise religious processions. They help the dying to achieve a “good death” not just in a spiritual way but by encouraging people to write wills and put their affairs in order. They will sometimes even foot the bill for funeral expenses.
The Exhibition, which started in July and runs up to 30th December 2010, is called “Les Confréries de Corse” and exhibits hundreds of documents, some 240 works of art and vestments used by the confreries in their processions and ceremonies. Intriguingly, it also places the Corsican brotherhoods in an international context which includes Spain, Italy and France.