Post-classical history

Belchite, Confraternity of

A religious confraternity of the militia of Zaragoza in Aragon, named after its castle. The confraternity of Belchite was one of several confraternities of militia that existed in Christian Spain; others were located in Avila, Toledo, Alava, Tudela, Tarragona, and Valencia. More is known about the customs of Belchite than these other military confraternities, due to the survival of its foundation charter, originally granted by King Alfonso I of Aragon in 1122 and confirmed by King Alfonso VII of Castile-Léon in 1136.

The first leader (Lat. princeps) of the militia was Galin Sanz, lord of Belchite, around 1121-1125. His brother, Lop Sanz, lord of Belchite (c. 1132-c. 1147), was named as leader in the confirmation of Alfonso VII. Historians have suggested that these short-lived confraternities of militia were precursors to the military religious orders and have debated the influence of the ribat, a comparable Muslim association of warriors. The customs defined in Alfonso VII’s charter describe cultural similarities, but there is no written evidence supporting parallel institutional development. The confraternity of Belchite was a laic military religious organization, whose members were committed to the defense of Christendom and forbidden to make peace with Muslims. Members of the confraternity could keep the lands they captured from the Muslims. The charter, unlike the rule of an order, did not define a common religious life. Instead, it conferred upon members a series of financial and spiritual privileges, including an indulgence to anyone who fought the Muslims, went on pilgrimage, gave alms, or left bequests of horses and weapons to the confraternity. Donations of a horse or weapons earned the same indulgence as similar donations to the Hospitallers or Templars. A cleric or lay brother who joined the confraternity for life received the same remission of sins as a monk or hermit, while anyone who remained a year received the same indulgence as if he had gone to Jerusalem.

Based on the slim evidence, the confraternity of Belchite appears to be a manifestation of knightly spirituality, of the sort that led to the foundation of the Order of the Temple (whose primitive rule also permitted brothers to serve for a limited period of time) and that inspired Alfonso I of Aragon to bequeath his kingdom to the Templars, the Hospitallers, and the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. The confraternity of Belchite disappeared sometime after 1136, and its surviving members were probably absorbed into the military religious orders.

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