If you want to know about Corsican Confrèries, then this description of Calinzana's Confrèrie Sainte Croix may help.

 Calinzana's Brotherhood

The annual village procession of the Confrères of Sainte Croix to celebrate St Restitude.


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What is a Brotherhood (Confrèrie) in Corsica?

The Confrèrie is a community's lay structure parallel to the Catholic Church that traditionally leads processions on important days in the church calendar (patron saint's days, Easter...), chants at funerals, consoles the bereaved and undertakes social missions in the community, especially with the poor and sick.  Thus Corsican Confrèries are not to be confused either with French gastronomic confrèries or brotherhoods in the gangster sense!

Confrèries originated in Corsica in the twelfth century and 'took hold' in the thirteenth. The great plagues of the fourteenth century was the time when the importance of funeral chants became a role central to brotherhoods.

To be a member requires commitment to the Catholic faith and to join in the devotions and rituals of the church. In the thirteenth century, the Franciscans (who were strong in Corsica) created confrèries of Laudesi, who sang a contemplative and devotional repertoire.

Brotherhoods are fiercely independent of the church hierarchy and the distance between the two will often be a function of the attitudes of the incumbent priest and Prior (head) of the Confrèrie and their relationship. Confrèries have their own chapel separate from the church (called an oratoire in French, or casazza in Corsican), though it is often in close proximity. Some oratories pre-date the churches with which they are associated.

"For centuries, confrèries have been the sap of village communities, the yeast of their democratic life and the blood of their identity." - Toni Casalonga.

Generally composed of men and boys, there are a few composed of women (eg Ajaccio and Calinzana had Consoeurs - 500 or so at the end of the C19). They elect a prior (priore), a sub-prior (sottu priore)and a mace-bearer (massara) - procession leader and chant boss. There are some that also have a treasurer (tesiorire) and a secretary (precuratore) and some a chancellor-for-life. When on duty they wear an alb (alba) and cape (tabarrina), the office-holders being designated, for example, with gold or silver bindings on their capes.

Each confrèrie sets its own rules, has its own chants and rituals. Traditionally three languages have been used by confrères: Corsican for speech with French having joined later, Latin and Tuscan for the chants. Many confrèries are the repository of sacred Corsican polyphony and much of their music is now sung by singing groups outside the ecclesiastical sphere. The tradition was for the brothers to sing the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, leaving the other parts of the mass to the clergy, because to read music was essential as those parts changed each Sunday.

Detail of an ivory coffer in Bonifacio.

The reforms of Pope Pius X in 1903 got rid of the lay singers and had them replaced by choirs under the control of the church. Even after Vatican II, the singing role of the Corsican brotherhoods survived, because in the 1970s, Corsican national pride and so-called Riaquistu sought to 're-acquire' the Corsican identity.

For more on confrèries, go to the excellent site of the Confrèrie Pieve di a Sarra.

The Confrèrie Sainte Croix-Saint Antoine Abbé of Calinzana

The Confrèrie Sainte Croix-Saint Antoine Abbé of Calinzana is one of the growing number of resuscitated brotherhoods in Corsica. It was older foundation (C17) but had died out by the 1950s, though with many members - 500 or so from the 1890s to 1920s - and was reformed in 1984, under the patronage of St Restitude. Under its new constitution, the Brotherhood is "an association of lay Christians of village inhabitants that is independent and apolitical with religious and social aims." Today, the Calinzana has about eighty members, including (6) novices. About forty of them are really active.

If you follow any of the rites and processions, you will be able to distinguish office holders by the capes.  The capes are reversible - red on one side (the blood of St Restitude) and black on the other. The black side is used during the funeral of a brother (at funerals of non-members, bothers wear 'civilians' clothes) and on the Wednesday and Friday of Easter week. The prior's cape has three gold bands at the edge and the chancellor has three silver bands. The brothers who don't sing have hoods and the alb of those who sing in the Good Friday procession have red waist cord and the non-singers have a white one.

A Calinzana confrère's cape and alb.

The Confrèrie 'headquarters' is the large Casazza opposite the parish church of St Blaise. The Casazza is open every day and inside you can se the objects that the brothers use in their ceremonial: lanterns and staffs for processions, the badacce - a sort of rattle - that is used in the Office des Ténèbres service to frighten away demons. There is also the special cross ornamented with the tools of the crucifixion (nails, hammer etc) that is used in the Easter procession. The Confrères of Calinzana also have the Chapel of St Ignatius.


The Casazza of the Confrères at Calinzana (a casazza is an oratory of a Corsican confrèrie)

The ceremonial days of the Calinzana Confrèrie are:

17 January  -  St Anthony

3rd Sunday of Lent  -  The Crucifix of the Miracles

April  -  Holy Week

21 May  -  St Restitude

13 June  -  St Anthony of Padua

31 July  -  St Ignatius of Loyola

5 August  -  Our Lady of Graces

2 November  -  Day of the Dead

8 December  - Imaculate Conception (patron of Corsica)

Pages about Calinzana, Corsica: Introduction • Argentella Silver Mine • Associations •  Cottage Industry Food & Wine ProducersHotels, Restaurants & Holiday AccommodationLay BrotherhoodPrince Pierre NapoleonPunta Aja Wind FarmSt RestitudeStart of the GR20

On the Wednesday of Holy Week a few brothers partake in a ceremony (Office des Ténèbres)that involves lighting a chandelier with fifteen candles, chants and the reading of psalms. After each psalm a candle is extinguished and one is left at the end to indicate hope. It is then that they make a horrendous noise with the badacce to scare the demons, clap and stamp their feet. On the Thursday of Holy Week the prior imitates the washing of the apostles' feet by Jesus as part of the evening mass. This is done with a light touch and sometimes humour.

This ceremony takes place in the parish church, but to demonstrate their independence from the church, a few years ago the Confrèrie undertook their ritual in their own chapel of St Ignatius and refused the participation of the curé!

On Good Friday the confrères lead a procession around the village with the cross, a Virgin in Black and a Christ on a bier. They carry banners and lanterns. There is a hooded penitent each year and they do the Granitula, the snail-like coiling and uncoiling of the file of brothers. Differing explanations exist for this ritual that is practiced in many places in Corsica. For the most pious, it is associated with the birth, death and ascension of Christ, for others it is more about the mortal life cycle, but in any event it's origins are shrouded in the mists of time and nonetheless offers the solace of annual repetition.

Since the Confrèrie's and indeed the village's patron saint is Restitude, it is on her day, the 21st of May (or the Saturday nearest) that the most popular procession takes place. These days, a couple of thousand people participate. Given that the total village population is 1 500, it is clear that many visitors also join in.

Photo of the May 21 procession - by France Louvet

Is the  Confrèrie about Corsican identity, alliance or spirituality?

The Confrèrie is certainly a manifestation of a member's Corsican identity and may be one or both a clan and a profession of faith. There seems to be a special spirit within the confrèrie, but whether it acts to promote spiritual matters can only be for its members to say. One of the Calinzana brothers says that everyone who has been an Easter penitent claims to have been transformed by the experience. For most brothers there is a natural connection with Corsican culture and also a sense of belonging.

At the same time, people say that the conflict between the laymen, that they are, and the curé and church hierarchy is a natural occurrence: "in Mediterranean islands, we have need of conflict, we need to argue and shout..." says one Calinzana member.

A certain clannish-ness is not extraordinary in that in Corsica, when you meet someone new in the village, rather than asking their name, you ask,"De qui es-tu né?" In effect, who are your parents? Connections and relationships matter highly. The issue is 'where does one fit?' and to be a brother demonstrates where one fits.

Thus also sometimes the conflict is not with the church, but with the municipality. It is small scale, but it is a matter of rival power bases. The church is 'in charge' of religion, the town hall is 'in charge' of the buildings (since dis-establishment, the communes became for the most part the owners of what had been church property). The confrèrie can be a nuisance to either or both as it answers to neither! Given that (this) confrèrie is men only, this alone gives it a certain clannish-ness. To a certain degree (nothing like masonry) there is some mutuality in membership.

And don't forget the role of singing; already a key to Corsican culture, to be a confrère means singing and this sets a member apart from others.

Pages about Calinzana, Corsica: Introduction • Argentella Silver Mine • Associations •  Cottage Industry Food & Wine ProducersHotels, Restaurants & Holiday AccommodationLay BrotherhoodPrince Pierre NapoleonPunta Aja Wind FarmSt RestitudeStart of the GR20

If you want any more pointers to enjoying a visit to Calinzana, you could do worse than asking us. If you'd like to visit more of Corsica, then go to Corsica Isula - a website with a vast coverage of all aspects of Corsica.

 calinzana.corsica-isula.com © 2005 William Keyser