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VNC Fellow (1 September 2003 - 30 June 2004)
The project of Paul Trio and myself (as VNC Fellows) was a comparative study of confraternities or religious guilds in the Low Countries (13th - 16th century), one of the main forms of socio-religious life in the Western World. It was necessary to limit ourselves to published material and, mainly local, studies during the course of our work.
However, archival material was the main source for case studies of three key elements of the confraternities: burial customs and the care for the soul (memorial services), votive masses, and the annual festive meal that all brothers (and sisters in the case of a mixed confraternity) had to attend. A remarkable difference between Flanders and the regions of the Northern Netherlands was the occurrence of the annual festive meal: there were hardly any in Flanders and almost everywhere in the North. A comparative study of the historiography of confraternities and their contribution to charity and social assurance also revealed interesting similarities and differences, some of them due to the different developments in these regions during and after the upheavals of the sixteenth century. In the case of charities, for instance, there was a much bigger task for confraternities in the North, either in directly organising distributions to the poor or in running hospitals and almshouses. This divergence can partly be explained by the fact that towns in the North developed much later than in the South, where an effective system of charity was already working at the time the confraternities were being founded. Another explanation might be the difference between German models of hospital care and those of the Romance world. Local circumstances and local influences are probably as important as the dichotomies of 'old' versus 'new' towns. This could also explain why there were sometimes so many confraternities in the northern towns of Leiden, Gouda and Utrecht, in comparison with the populous cities of the south, like Ghent.
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