QR 5 The penitents
There was in every parish in Christianity, - it goes back to pope Saint Gregory the Great (VI° century)-, one or several confraternities. Some lay societies, men and women, of which no one is member by right, but voluntary to give generously of their times to the community prayer and charity. Enterprising confraternities, boisterous sometimes, rebellious to the point of annoying the bishops like in the XVIII° century when some prelates get to the point of forbidding it. Annihilated in France by the Revolution, they subsist in Italy. Close to us, the city of Nice has four of them. Their program can sometimes be read on the retable of their chapels' altars, in reference to MT, 25, 35-37:
"…for I was ahungered, and ye gave me meat:
I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink:
I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
naked, and ye clothed me:
I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me."
Very linked to the local life, they espouse the vicissitudes of it. Rarefied and spoiled by the times of "cash cow"; heavily taxed by the heresies, wars, famines and epidemics; risen, invigorated by the periods of re-evangelizing.
In the XIIIth century, with the new predication of the Dominicans, and the Franciscans, their contagious zeal inflame and bring back the people to the fervent prayer. First faced with the Cathar heresy, then the vaudois one, in time to face spiritually the hardship of the Black Death, the wars. In these times of forced cohabitation with death, the Christian soul is affected by the fact that the dead people could be left without prayer! Very naturally the penitents support the dying, build the sepulture of the indigents, pray for the rest of the souls.
In the XVIth century, the tridentine counter reform and Pope Pius V change the confraternities into schools of spirituality well built on the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the veneration of the Cross and the Rosary prayer, faced with the damages caused by the protestant reform and the wars associated. In time to hold on spiritually against the European disaster of the Thirsty Years War. If we believe our pictures and retables, the penitents of the Valley adopted very early the new devotion, the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the veneration of the Cross and the reciting of the Rosary.
In the XVIIIth century, after the jansenist and pietist aberrations, the renewed Catholic is the work of the episcopate and the priests. The clergy is then remarkably trained and of quality. The model of the "Holy Priests" invented in the XVIIth century has become a current model and it's already the time when the Valley, the holly valley, gives to the diocese a big share of priests and religious. The church conducts a "grooming" of the parish life, especially through the parish visits. The confraternities become better organized, kept in check in their wills of independence or their folkloric activities, encouraged in their practices of the new devotion. Their recruiting, less popular maybe, doesn't get weaker.