Roman Catholic religious confraternities in the Netherlands during the 19th century

The type of confraternity that lies at the heart of this project can be described as an association of Roman Catholic laymen, intent on venerating a holy or religious symbol. Examples of this are the rosary confraternities and the confraternities of the Holy Family, the Sacred Heart, and the Perpetual Adoration.

The history of the Roman Catholic confraternities in the Netherlands can be traced, as in other areas of Europe, right back to the Middle Ages. However, this project focuses exclusively on the 19th century, particularly the latter half, which is seen within the context of this subject in the Netherlands as an intrinsically exceptional era. Various developments which took place during this period are of major significance here: the emancipation of the Roman Catholic church and its community, the ever-tightening hold of the Roman Catholic authorities on the lives of the faithful, the incumbent pressure which this generated to live one’s life according to Catholic principles, and the development of associational life based on religious denominations. There are enough grounds to study the role of the confraternities in relation to these developments, either as bodies that played a proactive role in shaping them or simply as reflections of them. Other questions which are equally interesting include the issue of the social composition of the confraternities and the male-female ratio in the membership base, as well as the extent to which the confraternities acted as a platform for social interaction and conviviality.

Despite these promising opportunities for research, so far historians have paid scant attention to confraternities in the 19th century. Even basic data on issues such as how these types of associations were distributed as well as the archive material that they left behind are still hardly available. The project aims to kick-start activities to change all this. The approach that has been adopted involves setting up an online repertorium of Roman Catholic religious confraternities in the 19th century that will act as an entry point to the archive material left behind by these associations. Given the relatively limited amount of time allocated for the study it is not possible to provide a complete overview of all the confraternities across the entire country. Four regions will therefore be selected (the final four have yet to be chosen), distributed throughout the country, each one comprising one or more deaneries. Each selected region will contain at least one major town in order to illustrate the difference between the urban and rural areas.

As far as possible, the following data will be included about each confraternity in the repertorium: location, province, name, name of the parish, aim, when it was founded or the first known reference to it, last known reference to it or the date on which it was dissolved, operational scale, activities, department of/names of its own departments, premises, meeting place, publications issued by the confraternity, publications about the confraternity, additional remarks. Any archives left behind by the confraternities will be described as follows: name of the confraternity, location of the archive, name of the archive, identification number, inventory or other finding aid, accessibility to the public, statutes (if they exist or not and, likewise, for which years), regulations (idem), membership list (idem), minutes (idem), audiovisual documentation (idem), correspondence (idem), financial documents (idem), relevant miscellaneous documents.

The source material that will be made available in this way is for the most part located in the archives of the dioceses (which contain, for example, accounts of visitations) and parishes.