Because of bad weather conditions, illnesses, wars and all sorts of violence that men from the Middle Ages had to face, the religious communities also acted as partial social benefactors. It is so obvious that a lot of civilians joined the monks communities in different ways to take advantage of their resources and power of dissuasion when facing external dangers. In Normandy a Brotherhood of Charity is an association of parishioners, called "Charitons" in the local dialect, who ensure the burials and other services. They also take part in the religious offices and help the families in need. They are specific to our region, despite the fact that some similar associations can be found in other regions of France. They are particularly preserved in the department of Eure and are attached to the diocese of Evreux. There are still 108 Brotherhoods of Charity accounted for in the department of Eure, twice as many as in Calvados and in Seine-Maritime where only 5 still exists.
The origins of the Brotherhoods of Charity.
The first Brotherhoods of Charity appeared during the 11th Century at the time of the great epidemic of the bubonic plague which came from China. Faced with this deadly illness, people did not know how to react. At this time nobody knew about the minimum hygiene measures or how to fight against it. So afraid were the people that the bodies were left to rot, and were not even given a decent Christian burial. Thats why some men were brave enough and sacrificed themselves to burry the dead bodies, risking contaminations at the same time. The burials took place at night, under torches light, warning the eventual passers by with the ringing of their bells. That is why we have torch holders and bell ringers in todays processions. Those men started the creation of Brotherhoods in towns as well as in the countryside. They work every time there is an epidemic and also during the parish burials. Everybody with good Christian morals, and good reputation with an exemplary conduct, can join the Brotherhoods of Charity, which you can find in every town or village. The leading citizens make a point of serving under the parish Brotherhoods of Charity. All throughout the centuries, the Brotherhoods developed until the Revolution of 1789 when they were badly marked. They were abolished with the decree of 18th of August 1792. It was not before Bonaparte signed the Concordat of 1801 that the Brotherhoods were re-established, and recognised by the state. The relationship with the clergy is sorted out. The brotherhoods are under the protection of the bishop and also the local priest, so far as their creation and the making of their memorandum and articles are concerned. There must only be one Charity per parish. We are experiencing now an institutionalisation of these structures. The Brotherhoods must adopt the official regulation set out by the diocese.
History of the Brotherhood of Charity of Venables.
The creation of the Brotherhood of Venables dates from 1833, but we think that this is a new foundation that would have come about after the revolution. The register of the Charity begins with this remark : Charity of Venables set up in 1833 by. A banner of the Charity and the mortuary sheet also mark this date. The Brotherhood received its official regulation on 19th of June 1891 from the hands of the Bishop of Evreux. The Brotherhood is established under the protection of the Blessed Virgin and of Saint Sebastian.
The organisation of the Charity.
The diocesan regulation of 1804 sets out the administration of the Charity. The conditions for recruitment are fixed as follows : Will only be admitted as brothers men endowed with appropriate behaviour , who have made their first communion, carryout their religious duties and who are faithful in the exercise of religion. But the regulation of 1840 softened somewhat these obligations: a brother will make all efforts to live as a Christian, in order to be able to take the sacraments of penitence and of Holy Communion at least once a year. It is made up of eight brothers who each has a particular role to play : The municipal magistrate is the master of the Charity. He is in charge of inspecting the behaviour and conduct of the charitons, organise the life of the Brotherhood and the burials. The provost assists the magistrate and is also in charge of looking after the church offerings, the state of absenteeism and receiving the fines. The clerk calls the Charity to meetings, does the register and goes to offices in its name. The bell ringer walks ahead of the funeral procession and rings the little copper bells named "tintenelles". The other lay brothers hold the banner, the torch holders and the coffin before the use of the funeral horse drawn carts from 1899 onwards. This regulation sets out the brothers duties during the funeral service. The charitons are asked to wear a decent suit: at least a hood, a redingote or a black blouse, and carry a torch.. Jackets and waistcoats are strictly forbidden. It is impossible to forget the fines which could bring a smile on our face : forgetting to go to mass or vespers, 75 centimes, to funerals, 1 franc. But arriving in a state of drunkenness could cost you as much as 2 francs and relieving himself would cost 25 centimes. The funerals are free for the poor, but cost 3 francs for others. Nowadays, the Charities cannot compare with the image of the ancient Charities. They now have a new place in the Catholic Church. The Brotherhoods, when they exist, make up for the lack of priests. The charitons have new responsibilities and organise the Sunday assemblies. However, traditions are respected : the brothers stay with the dying person and give support to the families they know well in the villages. They burry everybody for nothing, while respecting the deceased religious convictions and abstain from saying prayers when they burry a non-believer. When they exist, the Brotherhoods of Charity are unanimously present. Several banners, proof of the past, are dedicated to the Virgin Mary, since 1833. The Brotherhoods of Charity, like the one in Venables, have created links of solidarity all through the ages and are greatly missed nowadays.