Scholars have long recognized the significant role that confraternities, or lay brotherhoods, played in the religious life of medieval and early modern Catholicism.
As well as helping shape the devotions of a large section of the laity, confraternities became a focus for charitable giving and social welfare, cultural life, and political-religious struggles.
Taking a broad chronological and geographical approach, this collection of essays tackles these important issues, addressing the varied and fluid nature of confraternities and their relationship to wider society. The volume is organized so as to exemplify the diversity of confraternities across time and space, demonstrating their importance and interest to scholars from a range of disciplines.
In doing so, it brings out how confraternal associations might adapt to changing conditions and needs, and play roles against a background of tension (whether between Catholics and Protestants, Gaels and English, or local social factions).
Geographically, examples are cited from well-studied areas like Italy, and lesser-known ones like Ireland, the Netherlands and South America.
Contributors cover a whole variety of topics such as Marian devotions, treatment of the poor and condemned prisoners, religious painting, architecture, poetry and drama. By examining the broad range of confraternities, suggesting some comparisons with other types of fraternal organizations across time and space, this volume should encourage more interdisciplinary and international studies of these highly significant associations and institutions.