Confraternities of the Cord
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Confraternities of the Cord are pious associations of the faithful, the members of which wear a cord or cincture in honour of a saint, to keep in mind some special grace or favour which they hope to obtain through his intercession.
Among Oriental peoples, and especially among the Jews, whose priests and prophets wore a cincture, the wearing of a belt or girdle dates back to very ancient times. In the early Church virgins wore a cincture as a sign and emblem of purity, and hence it has always been considered a symbol of chastity as well as of mortification and humility. The wearing of a cord or cincture in honour of a saint is of very ancient origin, and we find the first mention of it in the life of St. Monica. In the Middle Ages cinctures were also worn by the faithful in honour of saints, though no confraternities were formally established, and the wearing of a cincture in honour of St. Michael was general throughout France. Later on, ecclesiastical authority set apart special formulae for the blessing of cinctures in honour of the Most Precious Blood, of Our Lady, of St. Francis of Paola, and St. Philomena.
Confraternities had their beginnings in the early Middle Ages, and developed rapidly from the end of the twelfth century from the rise of the great ecclesiastical orders. The main object and duty of these societies were, above all, the practice of piety and works of charity. There are various confraternities of the Cord, whose members wear a cord as insignia just as members of other confraternities wear a scapular.  There are in the Church three archconfraternities and one confraternity the members of which wear a cord or cincture.
The Archconfraternity of Our Lady of Consolation
(This is also known as the "Archconfraternity of the Black Leather Belt of St. Monica, St. Augustine and St. Nicholas of Tolentine".)
The oldest and most celebrated of these Confraternities of the Cord is probably the "Archconfraternity of the Black Leathern Belt of St. Monica, St. Augustine and St. Nicholas of Tolentino", also called the "Archconfraternity of Our Lady of Consolation".
According to an old tradition, St. Monica, in a vision received a black leather belt from the Blessed Virgin, who assured the holy widow that she would take under her special protection all those who wore it in her honour. St. Monica related this vision to St. Ambrose and St. Simplician; both saints thereupon put on a leather belt, and St. Ambrose is said to have girded her son, St. Augustine, with it at his baptism. Later on, it was adopted by the Hermits of St. Augustine as a distinctive part of their habit.
After the canonization of St. Nicholas of Tolentine, it came into general use among the faithful. The title "consolatrix afflictorum" (Consolation of the Afflicted) is part of the Litany of Loreto. The origin of this advocation is Augustinian. Devotion to Our Lady of Consolation was propagated by the Augustinian monks, and began with the foundation in 1436 in Bologna, Italy, of the confraternity of the Holy cincture of Our Lady of Consolation. The title has its origin in a legend according to which Monica, mother of Augustine, sought help and consolation in praying to Our Lady. Mary in answer took her black belt/sash and gave it to Monica with the promise that whoever wore this belt would receive her special consolation and protection. By the early 18th century the custom of asking for the final blessing before death in the name of Our Lady of Consolation was very popular.
The principal feast of this confraternity is the Sunday within the octave of the feast of St. Augustine (28 August). The members are obliged to wear a black leather belt, to recite daily thirteen Paters and Aves and the Salve Regina, and to fast on the vigil of the feast of St. Augustine. For the erection of and reception into this archconfraternity, special faculties must be had from the prior general. The headquarters of the society are at Rome, in the Church of St. Augustine where the body of St. Monica lies.
Archconfraternity of the Cord of St. Francis
After his conversion St. Francis girded himself with a rough cord in the manner of the poor of his day, and a white cord with three knots came subsequently to form part of the Franciscan habit. According to the Franciscan historian Luke Wadding, O.F.M., St. Dominic received the cord from St. Francis when they exchanged their girdles in a sign of friendship. From that day on, Dominic always wore it under his habit out of devotion to his fellow founder, his example being followed by many of the faithful.
In his bull "Ex supernae dispositionis" (19 November 1585), Pope Sixtus V erected the Archconfraternity of the Cord of St. Francis in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, enriching it with many indulgences, and conferred upon the minister general of the Conventual friars the power of erecting confraternities of the cord of St. Francis in the churches of his order and of aggregating them to the archconfraternity at Assisi. The same pope, in his bull "Divinae caritatis" (29 August 1587), granted new indulgences to the archconfraternity and empowered the Minister General of the Friars Minor to erect confraternities of the cord of St. Francis in the churches of his own order, in those places where there were no Conventuals. Pope Paul V, in his bull "Cum certas" (2 March 1607), and "Nuper archiconfraternitati" (11 March 1607) revoked all spiritual favours hitherto conceded to the archconfraternity and enriched it with new and more ample indulgences. Both these bulls were confirmed by the brief of Pope Clement X, "Dudum felicis" (13 July 1673).
Pope Benedict XIII in his constitution "Sacrosancti apostolatus" (30 September 1724), conceded to the minister general of the Conventuals authority to erect confraternities of the cord of St. Francis in churches not belonging to his own order in those places where there were no Franciscans. New privileges and indulgences were conceded to the archconfraternity by two decrees of the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences dated 22 March 1879, and 26 May 1883. Besides the ordinary requirements necessary for the gaining of all plenary and partial indulgences, the wearing of the cord and enrollment in the records of the archconfraternity are the only conditions imposed on the members.
Archconfraternity of the Cord of St. Joseph
The miraculous cure of an Augustinian nun at Antwerp in 1657 from a grievous illness, through the wearing of a cord in honour of St. Joseph gave rise to the pious practice of wearing it to obtain the grace of purity through his intercession. The devotion soon spread over many countries of Europe, and in the 19th century was revived at Rome in the Church of St. Roch and in that of St. Nicolas at Verona, Italy. Pope Pius IX, in a rescript dated 19 September 1859, approved a special formula for the blessing of the cord of St. Joseph, and in his brief "Expositum nobis nuper" (14 March 1862) enriched the confraternity with many indulgences.
In 1860 several new indulgences were granted to the confraternity erected in the church of St. Nicholas at Verona and by the brief "Universi Dominici gregis", 23 September 1862, the Confraternity of the Cord of St. Joseph was raised to an archconfraternity.
The members are obliged to wear a cord having seven knots, and are exhorted to recite daily seven Glorias in honour of St. Joseph. Confraternities of the Cord of St. Joseph must be aggregated to the archconfraternity in the Church of St. Roch at Rome in order to enjoy its spiritual favours and indulgences.
Confraternity of the Cord of St. Thomas
It is related in the life of St. Thomas Aquinas that, as a reward for his overcoming a temptation against purity, he was girded with a cord by angels, and that in consequence he was never again tempted against this virtue. This cord is still preserved in the church at Chieri, near Turin, Italy. Soon after the saint's death many of the faithful began to wear a cord in honour of St. Thomas, to obtain the grace of purity through his intercession.
In the 17th century, societies were formed at different universities, the student members of which wore a cord in honour of St. Thomas, hoping through his intercession to be protected from the dangers to which youth is generally exposed.
The first Confraternity of the Cord of St. Thomas was erected at the Catholic University of Leuven by the Belgian Dominican friar Francis Deuwerders, and numbered among its members all the professors and students of the faculty of Theology (which has Thomas Aquinas as patron saint) and many of the faithful. Thence it spread to Maastricht, Vienna, and many other cities of Europe.
Pope Innocent X sanctioned this new confraternity by a brief dated 22 March 1652. The members are required to have their names enrolled, to wear a cord with fifteen knots, and to recite daily fifteen Ave Marias in honour of St. Thomas. For the erection of and reception into this confraternity special faculties must be had from the master general of the Dominicans. Its indulgences and privileges are contained in the great bull of Pope Benedict XIII, "Pretiosus" (26 April 1727, sect. 9) and in the decree of the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences (8 May 1844).
- Heckmann, Ferdinand. "Confraternities of the Cord." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 17 Aug. 2014
- Hilgers, Joseph. "Sodality." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 17 Aug. 2014
- "Our Lady of Consolation", Marian Library, University of Dayton
- "The Augustinian Friars and Devotion to Our Lady in the Maltese Islands", Malta Historical Society
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.