The Girdle Fraternity

Among one of the best known fraternities in Cracow which played a great role in the religious life of our city has been - and it still exists today by the church of St Catherine - the Girdle Fraternity of St Augustine and St Monica, dedicated to Mother of God of Consolation.

The fraternity orginated from a corporation dedicated to St Jacob of Bologne and established in 1576 at the Augustinian church in Bologne. It was recognized by Pope Gregory XIII in the same year. Girdle fraternities were initiated in almost all Augustinian churches.

In the Augustinian church of St Catherine in Cracow the Girdle Fraternity was established in 1604 by Jakub Mojski, the provincial of the Polish Augustinian province. The rules concerning the inner organisation of the corporation, based on the Bolognese fraternity, were laid down by Mikołaj Crusenius, the apostolic visitor for the Augustinian Order in Poland. The fraternity existed for the constant prayer to Mother of God of Consolation, the love of God and of one's neighbour and performance of acts of kindness.

The initiation ritual was very ceremonious: the candidate was handed a leather girdle and the fraternity's chaplet. The girdle symbolized chastity and moderation and the communion with the Augustinian order, whose monks wear an identical girdle. It stemmed from the tradition, according to which the Mother of God appeared to St Monica, the mother of St Augustine, wearing a black leather girdle round Her waist. St Augustine introduced the custom of wearing such a girdle for the whole order of his monks. The members of the fraternity wore that symbol of unity with the Augustinian Order either on or under their garments. The chaplet consisted of 13 Our Father's and as many Hail Mary's and was to be said every day for the intention of the Pope, for peace among Christian rulers, and for the intention of uprooting heresy. The fraternity's garment was to be violet in colour with a pointed hood covering the face, and it was to be girdled with a leather belt round the waist.

The governing body consisted of the superior, referred to as the Elder, the treasurer and the secretary. The fraternity held its meetings and had its own property. The spiritual growth of the members was always under the guidance of one of the monks from the Augustinian monastery, called the promoter. The sisters of the fraternity had a separate governing body. The fraternity had either an altar of their own, or a chapel with the painting of the Mother of God of Consolation in the church.

According to the records of the initiation ceremonies, there were people from various social strata joining the fraternity: among them were both church and laymen of noble rank, as well as ordinary burghers or villagers.

Since the first half of the 18th century the corporation has been inseparably linked with the cult painting of the Mother of God, hanging in the cloisters of the Augustinian monastery in Cracow and known among the believers as the painting of the Mother of God of Consolation.

WK

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The watercolour presenting the members of the fraternity in their garments, kneeling at the feet of St Monica. It comes from the book of the Girdle Fraternity from the years 1605 - 1866 and contains the list of its members, information about its activities and copies of the documents with which the fraternity was endowed (APKr, ref. no Aug. 447. Photo: RM)
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