PIETY AND CHARITY IN LATE MEDIEVAL FLORENCE Religious Confraternities from the Middle of the Thirteenth Century to the Late Fifteenth Century
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Devotional and charitable confraternities were a characteristic feature of late medieval Florence. The popularity of the former, and particularly the laudesi and flagellants, stemmed from the fact that they enabled the layman to participate in areas of worship which had been previously the exclusive dcanain of the clergy. The laudesi specialised in singing lauds which during the fifteenth century came to be perfomed by professional singers and musicians. This helped the companies to maintain their devotion, but at the same tine removed the necessity for members to attend daily services. Moreover the'laudesi societies' acceptance of bequests meant that some became as concerned to provide services for the dead as for the living. In contrast flagellant canpanies retained their vitality by emphasizing a strict penitential devotion and refusing to become involved in the administration of property. ) The most important charitable cccpany was Or S. Michele,, which was founded in the late thirteenth century to supervise the cult of the miraculous Madonna and to distribute the public's oblations to the poor. During the Black Death the conpany inherited a large fortune which changed the character of many of its activities. Successive governments sought to protect Or S. Michele from litigious heirs and corrupt carpany officials and then proceeded to borrow money to help cover its own debts and finance catrnunal construction projects including the oratory of Or S. Michele. After the Black Death alms were no longer distributed to a large number of paupers, but to a more exclusive clientele. By the end of the Trecento Or S. Michele had a tarnished reputation and the cult had lost much of its vitality except as a centre for public festivals. This decline was shared by the Misericordia, and Florence was thereby deprived of the services of any large private charities until the foundation of the Buonanini di S. Martino in the mid-fifteenth century.
AuthorsHenderson, John Sebastian
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