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  • Early Modern Confraternities in Europe and the Americas: International and Interdisciplinary Perspectives
  • Matthew Thomas Sneider
Early Modern Confraternities in Europe and the Americas: International and Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Edited by Christopher Black and Pamela Gravestock. (Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Company. 2006. Pp. xii, 290. $99.95.)

Confraternities were among the most important groups in early modern society: they enriched devotional life and structured individual and civic piety; they provided spiritual and material aid to members and to communities; they fostered social and political association. Early Modern Confraternities in Europe and the Americas is a valuable addition to the growing scholarship on these institutions, gathering together essays that originally appeared as contributions to the 2003 Renaissance Society of America Conference in Toronto. Christopher Brown opens the book with an essay tracing the history of the [End Page 358] confraternity, its origin and its evolution, its relations with ecclesiastical power, its devotional and charitable activities, and the part it played in the Catholic Reform and the Reformation. This essay is a perfect contextual introduction to contributions whose strength lies in their diversity—they illustrate the broad thematic ographic range of modern confraternity studies. Unsurprisingly, many contributions focus on confraternal charity: its concern for bodies and souls, its preoccupation with social order, its creation of complex relations between donors and recipients. Pamela Gravestock's treatment of confraternal aid to the condemned in Bologna shows how confraternal ritual inscribed edifying religious meaning on the state theater of execution, while Andrea Vianello's treatment of confraternal home aid in Venice highlights the collaboration between state and confraternity in aiding the city's poor. Roisin Cossar's article is particularly fascinating, revealing the dynamics of power that underlay relations between Bergamo's Confraternity of the Misericordia Maggiore and the recipients of its charity. Much recent scholarship on confraternities has focused on their contribution to the forging of communal identity. This collection contains many reflections on this theme. Paul Trio points to the importance of confraternities in the articulation of a lay devotional culture in late medieval Flanders, while Colm Lennon's essay reveals how confraternities fostered "ritual kinship"in the Gaelic and English churches of late medieval Ireland. Emma Sordo's piece on the cult of the Virgin in Copacabana presents us with a Señora de la Candelaria whose profile was both Incan and European and whose verneration was a central element in the devotional practices of native confraternities. This collection reveals a special concern for the artistic heritage of the confraternal movement. Barbara Wisch provides a thematic overview of recent contributions by art historians to confraternity studies. Anna Beth Rousakis's essay on the changing decoration of a confraternal chapel in the Church of San Giacomo Maggiore in Bologna casts light on shifts in political identity and religious belief, while Susan Verdi Webster points out the importance of confraternities in the commissioning of monumental architecture in Latin America. Nicholas Terpstra's essay is an apt clusion to rk whose principal virtue is its breadth of vision. The contributions scan the wide horizons of confraternity studies and the concluding essay broadens these horizons by focusing on the principle that underlay the confraternity: fraternalism. It considers the importance of fraternalism as an instrument of acculturation but notes how confraternities—Latin American, Asian, Jewish—sometimes served as sites of resistance to acculturation. It explores how fraternalism provided a "thread of continuity"between medieval and Reformation religiosity. Terpstra sees fraternalism as a critical historical category, an ethos at the center of attempts by all early modern peoples—Europeans and non Europeans, Catholics and Protestants, the clergy and the laity, the elite and the common—to negotiate a radically changing world. The intellectual brio of this essay characterizes the entire collection—an important work for anyone interested in confraternity studies. [End Page 359]

Matthew Thomas Sneider
University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth


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