Bolognese ‘Orations’ between Song and Silence: The Laude of the Confraternity of Santa Maria della Morte

Gioia Filocamo


The flagellant confraternity of “Santa Maria della Morte” (Saint Mary of Death) in Bologna, established in 1336, was the first institution to systematically take care of the spiritual needs of those sentenced to death. This charitable activity, highly professionalized, followed a set of prescriptive procedures described in the confraternity’s manual, which has come down to us in several manuscript copies. In twelve of these copies, compiled between the late fourteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the manual is accompanied by “orations” or lauds (laude), giving us a body of 211 poems traditionally sung on specific occasions as indicated in the confraternity’s ancient statutes, including when accompanying the condemned to the gallows. The lack of documented musical references on the alleged performance of these laude leads us to alternative considerations: perhaps the lauds were also used as “orations” for silent prayer, especially formative and helpful for the very pragmatic comforters who were members of the city’s various trade guilds (Arti), active arbiters of civic welfare—at least until the second half of the sixteenth century, when the social composition of the confraternity became an agent and expression of the city’s oligarchy.

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