Case Studies - Guilds - Greece

The brotherhood of the guild of grocers of Saint-Eleftherios in Corfu

   

Type of institution for collective action

Guild (Religious Brotherhood)

Name/description institution  

The brotherhood of the guild of grocers of Saint-Eleftherios

Country 

Greece

Region

Ionean Islands

Name of city or specified area 

Corfu

Further specification location (e.g. borough, street etc.)

Temple of Saint-Eleftherios 

Patron Saint

Saint-Eleftherios

Foundation/start of institution, date or year

August 31, 1714

Foundation year: is this year the confirmed year of founding or is this the year this institution is first mentioned?

This is the confirmed year of the brotherhood’s foundation.

Foundation act present?

Yes.

Description of Act of foundation

On August 30, 1714, 32 members of the guild of grocers in Corfu were gathered in the grocery shop of Kostadis Toutos and decided to form a scuola, following the example of other guilds. With this act they appointed six representatives, who should arrange the acquisition of the church of Saint Eleftherios and incorporate to the brotherhood all the other members of the guild, who desired to do so.

 

The next day, on August 31, 1714, the agreement with the owner of the temple of Saint Eleftherios, Theodorela Vervitzioti, was signed. The latter nominated the aforementioned members of the guild as well as the future vicar of the temple, two priests, and one more person, as brothers. The agreement on the donation of the church was certified by the local authorities on October 21, 1714.

Year of termination of institution

Mid-nineteenth century

Year of termination: estimated or confirmed?

Estimated. There are no available data on the continuity of the brotherhood after 1852, although it is known that the church of Saint Eleftherios maintained its fraternal character until 1925, when it became parochial.

Act regarding termination present?

 

No.

Description Act of termination

N/a. 

Reason for termination?

Since the mid-eighteenth century, several problems related to the function of the brotherhoods in Corfu, including the brotherhood of the grocers of Saint Eleftherios, intensified, resulting in the dissolution of the brotherhoods in the course of the nineteenth century.

 

First, the low interest of the brotherhood’s members to participate in the governing board caused important problems for the election procedures, followed by the inability of the brotherhood to replace the governing board’s members..

 

Second, the interventions of Venetian authorities increased, with the latter controlling not only the economic management of the brotherhoods, but all aspects of the brotherhoods’ structure and function.

 

In addition, the fall of the Venetian state in 1797 and the constant state changes and warfare in the early nineteenth century contributed not only to the preservation, but also to the expansion of the disruptive trends that had characterized the functioning of the brotherhoods in the late eighteenth century.

Recognized by local government?

Yes.

Concise history of institution

The brotherhood of Saint Eleftherios, created mainly by members of the guild of grocers in Corfu in 1714, is a characteristic example of how religious brotherhoods in Venetian colonies - and specifically brotherhoods of guilds in Ionean islands - functioned, what kind of problems they faced, and what their contribution to society and relation to the Venetian authorities was. The book (mariegola) of the brotherhood of Saint Eleftherios has been preserved, including the brotherhood’s charter, the obligations of the members, the records of decisions taken at the general meetings, as well as the administration of the revenues and expenses of the brotherhood. All the above shows that the primary objective of the brotherhood was the preservation of the temple. In addition, the brotherhood was active in charity, although its economic status was average.

 

In the early nineteenth century, the Ecclesiastical Regulation of 1811 was implemented, integrating also the parishioners in the brotherhood. The excessive number of members (241) is considered as one of the causes of the dis-functioning of the brotherhood’s general assembly. Gradually, the low interest of the members to participate actively in the brotherhood and the increasing interventions of the Venetian authorities weakened the brotherhood. As a result, when the Venetian state fell and  Corfu subsequently was occupied by the French (1797) and the British (1814), and finally was integrated to Greece (1864), the brotherhood of Saint Eleftherios, as many other brotherhoods, was too weak to continue its activity and must have been dissolved in the middle of the nineteenth century.

 

Click on image for larger version

 Map of the city of Corfu and its fortresses, 1716.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

For source and credits, click here.

Special events? Highs and lows? Specific problems or problematic periods?

Specific problems confronted by the brotherhood were:

  • the intensive disagreements over the prerequisites of inheriting the membership right (should the membership right be inherited also by descendants who did not practice the profession of grocer?) in 1715, one year after the brotherhood’s foundation;
  • the low interest of the members to participate in the governing board of the brotherhood, especially after the late-eighteenth century;
  • the fact that the elected “gastaldi” sometimes avoided to donate the required amount (as had been determined and recorded in the charter of the brotherhood) to the church of Saint Eleftherios. Consequently, on August 7, 1741 the local authorities ordered the gastaldi of that time to hand over to the head of the brotherhood (prioris / priore) the owed amount; otherwise, the offenders would have to pay a penalty fee of 300 dukata (Venetian currency).

Membership

Numbers of members (specified)

There were 38 members at the time of the brotherhood’s foundation.However,  in the book of the brotherhood 149 subscriptions are included for the period 1714-1828, when the last recording of 12 new members being registered took place.

Membership attainable for every one, regardless of social class or family background?

In contrast with the cases of “closed” brotherhoods (which were characterized by the stability of the number of families that participated in them), in the case of the brotherhood of Saint Eleftherios, new members could subscribe regardless their family background and even regardless of their religious affiliation.

 

In addition, the membership rights were hereditary and could be transferred from one generation to the other. There was no restriction regarding the sex of the subscribed members. In the case that there were no male descendants, then the female descendants could inherit the membership right.

 

However, as being a brotherhood of a guild, the social class criterion was important. The only fundamental prerequisite in order for one to become a member of this particular brotherhood was to participate in the guild of grocers. However, this condition was not applicable for the founding members of the brotherhood, among whom were also brothers who were no members of the guild of grocers.

Specific conditions for obtaining membership? (Entrance fee, special tests etc.)

Any person who was interested in obtaining membership, had to submit an application to the brotherhood; the brotherhood subsequently voted at its regular meetings either to accept or reject the applicant. The registration of new members used to become official with the execution of a related notary act and required the new member’s accordance with all chapters of the foundation act and the charter of the brotherhood. Furthermore, the donation of goods to the temple was the most important condition for obtaining membership. However, there was no minimum price, since the amount of the offered gift was determined by the custom, the piety and the assets of the new members. In general, the value of the contributions used to increase over the years, ranging from 4 to 12 talara (Venetian currency) in the late eighteenth century.

Specific reasons regarding banning members from the institution?

Banning a member from the brotherhood, by depriving them of the title of “brother” and take the membership rights from him and his descendants, was imposed as penalty for violations of rules, and for any kind of acts that harmed the temple and its assets and / or the internal life and activity of the brotherhood.

Advantages of membership?

The main advantages of membership derived from the main right of the brothers: the “fraternal” right / the right to elect and be elected. The members participated in the decision making, appointed the chaplain of the temple, registered new members, and managed the financial affairs of the brotherhood.

 

Moreover, the members of brotherhoods usually had the right of burial in the church. However, in this case a member should declare from the beginning that he desired to reserve a tomb in the temple and make a higher contribution to the temple.

Obligations of members? 

The obligations of the members of the brotherhood and particularly the obligations of the guild of grocers towards the temple of Saint Eleftherios were laid down in the brotherhood’s book (mariegola), the chapters (capitola) of which were written down and voted on during three meeting sessions. On August 16, 1715, eight chapters referring to the election of the administrative committee and the obligation of the guild to make a contribution to the temple depending on its revenues, were accepted by vote. Specifically, it was indicated that:

  1. the elected gastaldi should buy goods on behalf of the guild and supply the members;
  2. the members should donate half a percent of their invested capital to the church of Saint- Eleftherios;
  3. the gastaldi should give to the head (prioris / priore) of the administrative committee (banca) half of the profits they obtained from the merchants, so the prioris / priore could donate this to the temple.

 

Furthermore, according to the chapters that were voted on January 17, 1715, at least 30 members should participate in a regular meeting to make the decisions, taken at that meeting, become valid.

 

Finally, a charity box containing donations for the poor was kept by the brotherhood and from January 15, 1772 on a gastaldos, who was elected for two years, was responsible for it.

Literature on case study

  • Karydis, S.C., 2004. Orthodox brotherhoods and fraternal churches in Corfu (15th – 19th cent.) [Ορθόδοξες αδελφότητες και συναδελφικοί ναοί στην Κέρκυρα (15ος-19ος αι.)]. Athens: Ath. Stamoulis. Esp. pp. 200-1; 363; 393; 462-81; 660.
  • Karydis, S.C., 2007. The code of the holy temple of Saint Eleftherios of Corfu [Ο Κώδικας του ιερού ναού Αγίου Ελευθερίου Κέρκυρας]. Corfu.
  • Sakellaropoulos, S., 1902. Notes and memories from Corfu [Σημειώσεις και Αναμνήσεις εκ Κερκύρας].

Sources on case study

  • Historical Archive of Corfu
  • Archival series Church Documents
  • The books of the brotherhood of Saint Eleftherios; including the charter of the brotherhood and the decisions taken at its general meetings as well as its revenues and expenses.

Links to further information on case study:

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Current case study composed by

Kleoniki Alexopoulou, Utrecht University.