Blood Brothers: Guilds and Easter Processions

The 1812 Liberal Constitution of Cadiz was a landmark in Spain's history insofar as it played a crucial role in determining the turmoil that persisted for at least as long as the outcome of the Civil War 127 years later. Branch lines of liberalism were to be formed. There was a conservative liberalism; there was the liberalism which favoured a republic. Inherent to the philosophy was an assault on the absolutism of the monarch, Ferdinand VII, on the power of the church and on privilege.

Ferdinand rejected the Constitution and set about persecuting liberals, who wrested power back for a three-year period from 1820, only to suffer even worse persecution when Ferdinand reasserted his control. An irony of Ferdinand's reign was that he was to overturn the principle of male succession. His four-year-old daughter Isabel became queen, and thus started the divisions that were to spawn the Carlist wars. The attitudes of the arch-conservatives, the Carlists, were to still be a factor when Franco appeared on the scene.

This background is important in understanding the rise, fall and eventual revival of the "brotherhoods", the professional guilds which had first emerged as long ago as the thirteenth century. The brotherhoods play a key role in Majorca's Easter celebrations, but their powers were to be intimately linked to the repercussions of the original constitution.

Faced with Carlist rebellion, the Queen Regent Maria Cristina believed that a liberal prime minister would be able to hold back the arch-conservatives. In 1835, Juan Álvarez Mendizábal became that prime minister. His period in office was only brief, but he had sufficient time to pass a set of decrees that were to have a profound impact. In Spanish these were the "Desamortización Eclesiástica de Mendizábal": the ecclesiastical confiscation.

These decrees are known mostly for the expropriation of church properties. Less well known is the fact that the brotherhoods were dissolved. Having previously been targeted during the Liberal Triennium from 1820 to 1823, their monopolies were definitively removed and so were their dependences on religious orders. They were to lose their privileges and were positioned in a secular environment - they were in theory exclusively reliant on town halls for their existence but were also offered sanctuary to worship inside parish churches but not outside. Some restoration of their basic features was granted in 1885, but it took until the 1920s and the time of the first dictator, Miguel Primo de Rivera, for there to be a genuine resurgence and a revival of religious associations, which were again threatened by the Second Republic from 1931.

At the end of the eighteenth century, prior therefore to the Cadiz landmark, there was a host of brotherhoods in Majorca - 48 of them. The wind millers; the rope makers; the velvet makers; the blanket makers; the hat makers; the butchers; the fishermen; the carpenters; the shoe makers; the bakers; the blacksmiths; the tailors; the weavers; the building masons ... . Each of them was associated with a biblical event, and this meant something to do with Easter and in particular the processions on Holy Thursday - the procession of the Blood of Christ - and Good Friday. The bakers, as an example, were responsible for the image of the crowning of Jesus with thorns.

Although the guild brotherhoods had started to form in the thirteenth century, great impetus was given to them in the mid-fifteenth century and to what has been described as the "popular fervour" for Sant Crist de la Sang, Christ of the Blood, transposed as the Blood of Christ. This was a representation of Jesus on the cross and over time it has come to be known simply as La Sang, as indeed has the church where it is housed - Anunciació de Nostra Senyora.

In 1456, King Alfons II of Majorca (the Magnanimous) authorised the bringing-together of hospitals in Palma in order to establish a single entity. These hospitals, to look after the needy and the sick, were typically operated by the guilds. Papal approval of this was given, and the hospital and church were all but indivisible both in a spiritual way and also physically. La Sang was the church of the Hospital General.

Financial support for the hospital was to come from a later brotherhood - the Cofradía de la Sang, which was founded in the sixteenth century. The Brotherhood of the Blood was in a sense an overarching body for the guilds and it became inextricably linked to the escorting of the image of Christ, especially on Holy Thursday. A motivation for forming new guilds was to be able to not only accompany the image during the processions but to assist with their organisation. The brotherhoods, with the Cofradía de la Sang as their figurehead, oversaw the organisation until they were dissolved under the Mendizábal decrees.

There are now thirty-three brotherhoods. Reconstituted, renamed, they retain aspects from the past, when requests to the Bishopric of Majorca used to be made for their to be "canonically constituted" for their joint religious and professional purposes. The "Prohomenia" is basically the board. The "Sobreposat" is the president. The leading members head the processions, and there is a pecking order for where the brotherhoods come in the processions - they are arranged according to how old they are, with the oldest at the back. And the very oldest is the retinue of Sant Crist de la Sang, the Blood of Christ.

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