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Memorial list or obituary?

Since the 19th century, the document described here has been known as the obituary of picture makers’ and saddlers’ trade. Preference is given to the term memorial list here for the first time. This calls for some explanation. Both in an obituary and in a memorial list only names of deceased people were registered. Other documents (annual memory registers, necrologies) contain names of people who were registered after their death as well.

About thirty years ago the erudite Benedictine monk Nicolas Huyghebaert clearly defined the various kinds of “necrological documents”. Necrologies, obituaries, annual memory registers are lists of deceased, arranged in accordance with the calendar, and intended for commemoration of the deceased on their day of death in a community (a chapter, monastery, brotherhood or a parish). It may concern purely liturgical books to be used during services (necrologies), or registers intended for preparation of services or for fees for celebrants and/or people present (obituaries, annual memory registers). It is essential that such documents are arranged in accordance with the calendar. A simple list of deceased, chronologically according to the days of death (usually not mentioned) is neither an obituary nor a necrology.

The document to be considered here is such a basic list of deceased. As a consequence, it certainly is not an obituary. According to Huyghebaert such registers were not intended to be read from during liturgical services, but at statutory trade banquets. This interpretation calls for some adjustment. The list containing the deceased members of the Bruges painting trade is, as shown by the oldest date, closely linked with the trade chapel. Probably, the document was kept within the painters’ chapel itself (Zilverstraat). The register begins with the prayers for the deceased, and a similar text on paper was added in the 16th century. Therefore, it is obvious that this register was used for an annual solemn memory service in the trade chapel. The Dutch historian Peter Hoppenbrouwers referred in 1987 to a similar register of the brotherhood of Our Lady in the Brabantine Heusden, which was used for similar services. In his elaborate study about this register he used the term “memorial list” for the first time. As a consequence, the memorial list of the Bruges painting trade was originally intended for use during services in the chapel. The names of the deceased trade members were “commemorated” during a memory service, which was probably held annually. It is unlikely that all names were read at that occasion. Yet, the names of the trade members who died during the last year may have been called off.