The Brotherhood of St Sebastian


Category:
Oral expressions
  • Performing arts
  • Social practices
Canton:

Description

On 24 December every year, the twelve men of the Brotherhood of St Sebastian in Rheinfelden take the plague lantern from St Martin's Church and, on the stroke of 11 o'clock, proceed through the dark streets of the old town. Wearing black coats and top hats, the men walk in lines of three to each of six fountains in the town. At each, they leave their strict formation to form a circle and sing their Christmas song. At the end of their route, which takes an hour, they join the traditional midnight mass service. On 31 December the tradition is repeated with a New Year song, this time at 9 pm. In recent years this custom has been followed by an organ concert at St Martin's Church.

The Brotherhood of St Sebastian was founded in 1541 in the time of repeated outbreaks of the plague, and the Christmas and New Year custom of singing at the fountains began shortly afterwards. St Sebastian has been known since the Middle Ages as the last resort for plague victims, which is why the brotherhood chose to use his name. The songs are said to bestow a blessing that will protect the people from further outbreaks of the plague. Today's chorus in the dark silence of Rheinfelden's old town during the festive season is a reminder of the terror which seized the community at that time.

Image gallery

  • The Brotherhood of St Sebastian assembled in front of St Martin’s Church © Sebastiani-Bruderschaft, Rheinfelden, 2007
  • The Brotherhood making their way through the dark streets with the plague lantern at the front © Sebastiani-Bruderschaft, Rheinfelden
  • Crowds accompany the singers through the streets of Rheinfelden © Sebastiani-Bruderschaft, Rheinfelden, 2007
  • The Brotherhood of St Sebastian singing at the Albrecht fountain, formerly the hospital fountain © Sebastiani-Bruderschaft, Rheinfelden, 1930
  • Fountain singing has taken place at Christmas and New Year almost uninterruptedly for about 400 years © Sebastiani-Bruderschaft, Rheinfelden
  • During the Christmas song, the brothers raise their hats as a sign of respect when the name Jesus Christ is sung © Sebastiani-Bruderschaft, Rheinfelden, 1926
  • The Brotherhood of St Sebastian grouped for a photo in front of St Sebastian’s altar in St Martin’s Church © Sebastiani-Bruderschaft, Rheinfelden, 2007
  • The Brotherhood of St Sebastian assembled in front of St Martin’s Church © Sebastiani-Bruderschaft, Rheinfelden, 2007
  • The Brotherhood making their way through the dark streets with the plague lantern at the front © Sebastiani-Bruderschaft, Rheinfelden
  • Crowds accompany the singers through the streets of Rheinfelden © Sebastiani-Bruderschaft, Rheinfelden, 2007
  • The Brotherhood of St Sebastian singing at the Albrecht fountain, formerly the hospital fountain © Sebastiani-Bruderschaft, Rheinfelden, 1930
  • Fountain singing has taken place at Christmas and New Year almost uninterruptedly for about 400 years © Sebastiani-Bruderschaft, Rheinfelden
  • During the Christmas song, the brothers raise their hats as a sign of respect when the name Jesus Christ is sung © Sebastiani-Bruderschaft, Rheinfelden, 1926
  • The Brotherhood of St Sebastian grouped for a photo in front of St Sebastian’s altar in St Martin’s Church © Sebastiani-Bruderschaft, Rheinfelden, 2007

Video

The Brotherhood of St Sebastian and the tradition of fountain singing in Rheinfelden © Reinhard Manz/point de vue audiovisuelle Produktionen Basel, 1996, Sebastianibruderschaft von Rheinfelden

Audio

The Christmas song of the Brotherhood of St Sebastian in Rheinfelden © Reinhard Manz/point de vue audiovisuelle Produktionen Basel, 1996, Sebastianibruderschaft von Rheinfelden

The New Year’s song of the Brotherhood of St Sebastian in Rheinfelden © Reinhard Manz/point de vue audiovisuelle Produktionen Basel, 1996, Sebastianibruderschaft von Rheinfelden

References and documentation

Publications
  • Albert Bärtsch: Schweizer Feste und Bräuche. Volksfestkultur im Jahreslauf. Wädenswil, 2009

  • Arbeitsgruppe «Pest und Sebastiani-Bruderschaft Rheinfelden»: Die Pest und die Sebastiani-Bruderschaft Rheinfelden. Katalog zur Ausstellung im Fricktaler Museum. Rheinfelden, 1992

  • Immanuel Kammerer: Die Melodie des Rheinfelder Sebastianiliedes. In: Schweizerisches Archiv der Volkskunde vol. 42. Basel, 1945, p. 39-48

  • Fritz Münzner: Das Brunnensingen der Sebastianibruderschaft in Rheinfelden. In: Rheinfelder Neujahrsblätter 1971, p. 7-27

  • Adolf Welti: Sebastianibrüder. In: Rheinfelder Neujahrsblätter 1949, Rheinfelden, 1949, p. 47

  • Gottlieb Wyss: Das Weihnachtssingen der Sebastianibrüder in Rheinfelden. Ein Volksbrauch und ein Volkslied. Rheinfelden, 1930

  • Gottlieb Wyss: 1541-1941. Vierhundert Jahre Brunnensingen der Sebastianibruderschaft in Rheinfelden. Festschrift im Auftrage der Bruderschaft St. Sebastian zu Rheinfelden. Rheinfelden, 1941

Documentation