The Brotherhood in Seville. | EFE

If you’ve ever felt that there was something slightly sinister about the hoods worn by members of the brotherhoods for their Easter processions, then you have felt correctly. It isn’t the appearance alone that conveys this sensation; it is why there are hoods and why they have the shape that they do.
Mention the Inquisition, and one can immediately appreciate that the hoods have a rather unpleasant backstory. The Inquisition played a central role, although there was some previous. In mediaeval times prior to the establishment of the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition by the Catholic monarchs Isabel and Ferdinand in 1478, the condemned on their way to execution wore a yellow garment and a conical-shaped hat. The Inquisition basically adopted this combination for those condemned by the auto de fe. The garment, the ‘sambenito’, was woollen and dyed yellow; devils and flames were added for heretics who were not penitent. The ‘coroza’ or ‘capirote’ was the conical-shaped hat.

One of the most famous depictions of the auto de fe is Francisco Goya’s painting. He is said to have worked on this over a seven-year period from 1812. Revered in royal circles, Goya was to nevertheless feel the need for reform. He didn’t make his intentions clear, but a series of paintings, including ‘Escena de la Inquisición’, all highlighted horrors. The Goya auto de fe, it has been said, was a contributory factor behind the abolition of the Inquisition in 1834.

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So, sinister implications there most certainly were. In fact, the brutal implications were why brotherhoods in Seville in the seventeenth century came to adopt a capirote in the form of a hood. This was because of a symbolism linked to penance, and the procession involved flagellation. The wearing of the hood spread from Seville, the colours representing different things - red for the blood of Christ; black for mourning; white for the glory of God; green for the hope of the resurrection. As to why the hat became a hood, this was for no other reason than to hide the identities of the penitents (the sinners) of the brotherhoods.

The year after the Inquisition was abolished, Spain’s prime minister, Juan Álvarez Mendizábal, issued the decrees that came to be known as the ‘Desamortización Eclesiástica de Mendizábal’: the ecclesiastical confiscation. As well as the expropriation of church properties, these decrees affected the brotherhoods - their monopolies were definitively removed and so were their dependences on religious orders. They were to lose their privileges and were positioned in a secular environment.

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By the end of the eighteenth century, there had been 48 brotherhoods in Mallorca. Bakers, blacksmiths, butchers, carpenters, fishermen, shoe makers; you name it and there was a brotherhood for it. And each one was associated with a biblical event, which essentially meant Easter. There had been brotherhoods, or guilds, since the thirteenth century, but a real impetus to their formation had come from the representations of Easter, and none more so than that of Sant Crist de la Sang, Christ of the Blood, transposed as the Blood of Christ.

The Brotherhood of the Blood of Christ was founded in 1552. The first procession of Crist de la Sang was in 1564. The brotherhood attracted any number of individuals of status in the city as well as artisans. What has been described as “popular fervour” for Crist de la Sang led to this particular brotherhood in effect becoming an overarching body for other guilds. Status there was, but there was also power, and the history of the brotherhoods was to lead in a different direction - a court of justice that was dedicated to the brotherhoods, to resolving disputes between them and to determining, for example, ownership of possessions, such as religious works.

One case in point involved the Brotherhood of the Blood of Christ being sued over who took precedence in the procession to mark the burial of Christ. The blacksmiths brotherhood faced a challenge to its possession of a chapel, which was itself in the chapel of the ‘universitat’ (the town hall) and was greatly prized by other brotherhoods. There was a great deal of litigation regarding donations and subsidies. One brotherhood demanded a subsidy that was paid to dock workers for unloading wheat.

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The brotherhoods weren’t only active in Palma and nor were the legal procedures. In Alcudia, for instance, the Brotherhood in the Name of Jesus was supposedly one for all guilds. It was, but the carpenters found themselves in dispute with the religious administrators and refused to pay the fee for maintaining the lamp in front of the image of Christ.

In a way, Mendizábal was to do everyone a favour. Deprived of privileges and of links to religious orders, which themselves had endlessly been seeking to assert their power over others, there was no longer the need for taking matters to a legal authority. Over the following decades, and depending on what the latest political upheaval was, the brotherhoods either had some status restored or had it removed. Nowadays, there are thirty-three, which exist for charitable and ceremonial purposes, the greatest ceremonies being the processions of the original one, Crist de la Sang, on Holy Thursday and that for the burial on Good Friday.