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"Going to the Fraternity Feast: Commensality and Social Relations in Late Medieval England"

by Rosser, Gervase (1994)


In the history of medieval ideas about community, a prominent place must be accorded to the fraternity, or guild. This type of voluntary association, found throughout medieval Europe, frequently applied to itself the name of communitas. The community of the guild was not, however, a simple phenomenon; it invites closer analysis than it has yet received. As religious clubs of mostly lay men and (often) women, the fraternities of medieval Christendom have lately been a favored subject among students of spirituality. Less interest, however, has recently been shown in the social aspects of the guilds. One reason for this neglect may be precisely the communitarian emphasis in the normative records of these societies, which most late twentieth-century historians find unrealistic and, perhaps, faintly embarrassing. But allowing, as it must be allowed, that medieval society was not the Edenic commune evoked in fraternity statutes, the social historian is left with some substantial questions concerning these organizations, whose number alone commands attention: fifteenth-century England probably contained 30,000 guilds. Why were so many people eager to pay subscriptions—which, though usually modest, were not insignificant—to be admitted as “brothers” and “sisters” of one or more fraternities? Who attended guild meetings, and what did they hope to achieve by doing so? What social realities gave rise to the common language of equal brotherhood? This essay is intended to shed some light on these questions by focusing on what for every guild was the event which above all gave it visible definition: the annual celebration of the patronal feast day.


Rosser, Guilds, Fraternity, Solidarity, Middle Ages


Middle Ages, Medieval Guilds

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