Cofradía, a religious sodality, also known as a confraternity. The cofradía was an ecclesiastical institution of the laity based on the veneration of a specific image or religious attribution, such as the Blessed Sacrament (Santísimo Sacramento), Saint Peter, or the Virgin Mary. The cofradía was popular among all racial and caste groups, although the individual sodalities were not ethnically integrated. The institution provided spiritual security and collective identity through common acts of piety, such as sponsoring processions, celebrations, and masses. At the very minimum it was a burial society in which members paid dues to offset the costs of burial. The very largest and wealthiest cofradías owned large tracts of land and controlled vast amounts of capital. Among native communities the cofradía came to form part of a civil-religious hierarchy in which males in the community would advance by assuming a series of increasingly important offices in the cofradía and municipal government during the course of their life. In Spanish and mixed communities the cofradía often came to serve as an extension of the guild, or Gremio, fostering social cohesion and reinforcing common values.
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John F. Schwaller