A Bridge-Building Brotherhood is a religious association whose purpose is building bridges. Bridge-Building Brotherhoods reportedly existed during the 12th and 13th centuries. Not much is known about their origins.
A work of piety
Building bridges greatly helped travelers and in particular pilgrims. It was regarded as a work of piety as much as of public utility. Even when no brotherhood or religious organization was involved, it was customary for a bishop to grant indulgences to those who, by money or labor, contributed to the construction of a bridge. The register of the Archbishop of York, Walter de Gray, shows examples of indulgences granted in the 13th century for the building of bridges. In many cases, these associations consisted of three branches-- knights, clergy and artisans. The knights usually contributed most of the funds and were sometimes called donati, the clergy were usually monks who represented the church, and the artisans where the workers who actually built the bridges. Sisters are sometimes mentioned as belonging to the same association. In addition to the construction of bridges, the brotherhood often attended to the lodging and entertainment of travelers and the collection of alms or quête.
While historically it has been assumed that in southern France the associations formed to build bridges were commonly religious orders living under vows, this has been proved to be erroneous. The brotherhoods in southern France seem rather to have been guilds or confraternities, or at most to have been organized similarly to a third order, wearing a habit with a distinctive badge, but not being bound by perpetual vows.
The brotherhood Fratres Pontifices ("Bridgebuilding Brotherhood" in English), or Frères Pontifes, is said to have been founded in the latter part of the 12th century by St. Bénézet (a Provençal variant of the name Benedict). Bénézet was a youth who, according to legend, was divinely inspired to build the bridge across the Rhône at Avignon. The old bridge at Avignon, some arches of which still remain, dates from the end of the 12th century, and it is certain that St. Bénézet was a historical personage. The Fratres Pontifices were certainly very active, and if they did not construct the Avignon bridge they built others at Bonpas, Lourmarin, Mallemort and Mirabeau. They also maintained hospices at the chief fords of the principal rivers, besides building bridges and looking after ferries. There are conflicting sources regarding the recognizance of the Fratres Pontifices by Pope Clement III. One source states that the brotherhood was recognized by Clement III in 1189, and other sources report that Clement III addressed a Papal Bull to the Fratres Pontifices in 1191, but the authenticity of that Papal Bull is questioned. One famous French bridge not constructed by this brotherhood is the bridge over the Rhône at Pont-Saint-Esprit, as attested to by many official documents still in existence and connected with that bridge.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bridgebuilding Brotherhood". Encyclopædia Britannica 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.
- Catholic Encyclopedia article