La Hermandad de los Negritos, the old slaves’ brotherhood

Spain was for centuries a slave-owning country, although it sometimes seems otherwise. Until the 19th century, the crown colonies, as well as the Spaniards, had slaves, either as servants or as labourers in the cotton fields. The great majority of these slaves had one thing in common: their black skin colour. During this shady period in Spanish history, the city of Seville played a key role. In fact, in the 16th century, around 15% of its citizens were black.

In this situation, slaves were just another possession. When families went through a crisis, they were the first goods to be disposed of, leaving them in the street without any kind of security. On the other hand, when they were freed, the former slaves only occupied the most precarious jobs, if they did not die because of their poor situation. In a world that refused to turn its back on these people, hunger and disease were a very real evil for them. This is why the Brotherhood of the Negritos was born, to give shelter to slaves and free black men.

The founding of ‘La Hermandad de los Negritos’, a brotherhood dating back more than 600 years

Virgen de los Ángeles, the image of la Hermandad de los Negritos

Virgen de los Ángeles, the official image of la Hermandad de los Negritos | Wikimedia bajo los términos CC BY-SA 4.0

This brotherhood, considered one of the oldest in Europe, the oldest surviving brotherhood in Seville and the first black brotherhood in history, was founded in 1393, almost 630 years ago. It was under the protection of the former archbishop of Seville, Don Gonzalo de Mena y Roeles.

This man, compassionate about the precariousness that affected the black people of Seville, founded the hospital for defenceless black people. The confraternity explains on its own website: “from the very beginning, a brotherhood of the same nature as those that attended many of the other hospitals in the city could be set up alongside it”, the confraternity itself states on its website.

A persecuted brotherhood

This place was a meeting point for slaves and black people, where they could meet and chat. In fact, at the time of its creation, the slaves did not even have days off and could hardly communicate with each other. This is why, for centuries, ‘la Hermandad de los Negritos’ had to face a great deal of disagreements, as the authorities believed that this association could only lead to problems. The journalist Ángeles Lucas reported in a well-known newspaper of Spain that “hundreds of vicissitudes between attempts at dissolution and occupation of white people, repression of the freedom of expression that being together meant and mockery have shaped this mythical brotherhood”.

One of the most famous stories about this brotherhood lies around the story of the Molina and Moreno brothers. They were free blacks, but they decided to sell themselves as slaves with the intention of defraying the expenses of the cults in honour of the Blessed Virgin in 1615. An inscription on a sculpture in the ‘Plaza del Triunfo’ in Seville commemorates the sacrifice of these two men.

The procession of the brotherhood

Puerta de Carmona in Seville, the way of the Hermandad de los Negritos

Puerta de Carmona in Seville, the way of the Hermandad de los Negritos | Shutterstock

It was in the 18th century, characterised by an increase in the number of people of mixed race and a demographic and economic crisis, when ‘La Hermandad de los Negritos’ ceased to be pursued so intensely. It was also in this century, and not before, that the brotherhood came to be known as Los Negritos, a name affectionate and paternalistic, which has remained popular until the present day. Although its very long official Spanish name is actually this: ‘la Muy Antigua, Pontificia y Franciscana Hermandad y Cofradía de Nazarenos del Santísimo Cristo de la Fundación y Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles Coronada’.

La Hermandad de los Negritos also has its own chapel, called ‘Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles’, located in Recadero street, in front of the San Roque church. Likewise, the main religious images of the brotherhood are the ‘Cristo de la Fundación’, by Andrés de Ocampo in 1622, and the ‘Virgen de los Ángeles’, which was canonically crowned in 2019. Every Maundy Thursday, both figures march to different musical rhythms. They depart from their home, the chapel, and continue into the historic centre of the city after passing through the Puerta de Carmona.

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