The Mysteries of the Penitents of Girona
The three oldest fraternities from the time of the Counter-Reformation - up to modern times.
In the course of modern times, particularly since the sixteenth century, the "Ajuntament" of Girona; which literally includes the city itself as well as the surrounding towns and villages, has seen various brotherhoods created, who organised themselves around mortuary rites, superstitions tinged with Arianism and more recently heretical contributions made of the same substance which originated in Italy. These fraternities, well before creations or recreations which will be spread during the early decades of the second half of the twentieth century, derive their origins deep within Catalan country, and are the result of a surprisingly bold syncretism combining both the spirit of Chaldeo-Bulgary and semblances of Christianity. Of the oldest of them, we know we need to count three different organisations, the first of which, the Royal Arch-Confraternity of Our Lord Jesus Christ (La Sanch or La Sang of Girona), gave birth in the eighteenth century formed their first autonomous penitential organisation. called "Pia Unió de Jesús Crucificat" (Pious Union of the Crucified Jesus). Five years later this experience would help the new Manaies in reaching the long sought after official status of the brotherhood, and again took the name "Confraria de Jesús Crucificat " (Brotherhood of the Crucified Jesus).
The two other oldest fraternities from the epoch of the Counter-Reformation are the Confrérie de la Vierge des Douleurs (Brotherhood of Our Lady of Sorrows) and l’Archiconfrérie de la Passion et Mort (the Confraternity of the Passion and Death).
Christ Mortuaire Pénitentiel
Christ Tombal aux Encagoulés
The Virgin of Sorrows
Sanch Procession featuring the Creu dels Improperis
La Sanch of Spain occupies a prominent place among the fraternities in Girona, since documents trace its inception back to the year 1568 and that during its history, it has emerged as an inevitable attraction, capable of influencing the evolution of other penitential brotherhoods, sometimes subjecting them to absorbtion and sometimes instead favoring their emergence.
It was precisely on the 5th October 1568 that an important meeting took place in the cloister and church of the Carmelites of this city. On this occasion the statutes were re-written the content being intended to define the guidelines and the organisation of the Brotherhood who were named "La Sang." The following year on October 24th 1569, the foundation of the brotherhood was ratified in Barcelona thanks to a royal privilege which gave them the primary task to "mercifully attend and assist the convicts in their final hour and to provide for their burial". The other mission alloted to the brotherhood was clad, from the outset, in a funerary character identical to that which we have already seen in the articles about La Sanch of Perpignan, whose existence we should noted, came well before that of the Girona group. The similarity in function, their exclusive and religious character allows us to assume that a relationship existed between these two Catalan brotherhoods, and that La Sang of Girona which is more recent, had it's parentage in La Sanch of Perpignan. This point taken along with other evidence concerning the origin of La Sang, will be documented later in this study. On the subject of the founding of La Sanch, we must specify that its statutes were modified a few years after its creation. In fact we can determine that in 1584, the number of colleagues who, in a somewhat similar manner to what can be found in Freemasonry, numbered 33, the number of years of Christ's life. We have here a symbolic figure, which as far as the penitents are concerned the significance is totally unrelated to the life of Christ, having only a connection with the concepts of astrology, the cycle of the seasons, the pagan hell and of course,repentance. The number thirty-three (33) is in fact interpreted in their own way, as the specific number of the fallen angels who were thrown down from heaven. It represents all at once; incarnation, death, and the reincarnation of fallen souls.
Around 1699, La Sang of Girona flourished and underwent a restructuring, and enlisted a second brotherhood which hitherto had remained independent. This was l’Archiconfrérie de l’Egorgement de Saint Jean-Baptiste (The arch-confraternity of the Decapitation of St. John the Baptist), who then disappeared, dissolved in favour of La Sanch. La Sanch, renovated and strengthened by new colleagues, endowed themselves that year with a church, l’Església del Carme (The Church of Carmel, adjacent to the Carmelite Convent where La Sanch of Girona were founded), whose slow construction was commenced with the chapel of "Pure Blood" and followed by a second, that of the Saints Anne and Martha. Eight years later, the Chapel of the "Pure Blood" was extended by a small structure built opposite which was dedicated to St. Julie. From 1720 to 1726, the ensemble would be completed by a choir or chancel, an altar and choir stalls, which were quickly joined by the foundations and walls of the chapels of "La Pietat" (The Pieta), "Sant Albert" (Saint Albert of Jerusalem ), "Sant Pere de Luxembourg ( St. Peter of Luxembourg), "Sant Cosme i Sant Damià" (the twins, Saints Cosmas and Damien) as well as that of "Sant Eloi (St Eligius). Not far from the church there also existed a cloister, still there by the way, but in those days full of unexpected oddities and actually being used for something quite repugnant. Having in effect, the singular characteristic of serving as both the ossuary and the common mass grave both at the same time. The cloister of the monastery was built in the manner of a horrible tomb; littered with rotting corpses, this place was designed to facilitate the communication of the La Sanch Brotherhood with the souls of the dead, designed be a door to the world of the departed and serving as the "holy ground", where was offered all sorts of sacrifices and ritual offerings to appease the tormented souls ... The brothers walked this area in all directions uttering incantations and flagellating themselves in remission for the sins of the souls trapped in Purgatory.
This cloister, much later in time would become deserted by the penitents, who left it in the hands of the Napoleonic authorities who settled their administrations in these premises and since that time, all traces of the sinister purpose of this cloister have vanished.
Both equally very ancient, these two fraternities were founded as far as we know on June 20th 1687 for the first and the second one in 1684. The Brotherhood of Our Lady of Sorrows (Confraria Mare de Déu dels Dolors) seems to issue from La Sang of Girona, because it was built under the leadership of Monseigneur Miguel Pontich from a monastic community l’Ordre des Servites de Marie (The Servited/ Order of the Servants of Mary) who had several ties with it. The penitents of the Virgin of Sorrows in fact used to worship an image of the Virgin wearing a heart pierced with seven daggers. To do this, they gathered in buildings located near the cloister of Carmel, the place venerated by members of La Sang. This took place obviously before the brothers of Our Lady of Sorrows built their own chapel around 1731 on land granted to them by the penitents of the Convent de la Mercè (Our Lady of Mercy).
In a similar fashion, the history of the l’Arxiconfraria de la Passió i Mort (Confraternity of the Passion and Death) is inseparable from that of La Sang. Certain symbols and ritual objects are common to both brotherhoods, which they exchanged annually according to a specific ritual. We can cite, amongst the best known, the Creu dels Improperis (the Cross of Outrages) and the statue of El Sant Crist (The Sainted Christ). It should be added that the privileges accorded to this brotherhood and authorisation of its foundation where not achieved just by the Bishop Thoma Auther, sometimes deemed to be at the origin of the statutes of this society. In effect it was due to the apostolic constitution of Pope Clement VIII which erected l’Archiconfrérie de la Passion et Mort, the organisation was established as a result of the extraordinary Chapter in December 1684. It was decided that the brothers would number 72, grouped around an inner circle . It received the name of the "Confrérie des 72 Épines de la Couronne du Christ" (Brotherhood of the 72 Thorns of the Crown of Christ). Besides these 72 penitent secret holders of some mysterious knowledge, the Confraternity of the Passion and Death grew in size with the addition of several other members who were appointed as "supernumerary fellows" known as this because of their lower rank and the absolute superiority of the circle of 72.
Isaac Ben Jacob