In a variety of ways it does a great deal of social service similar to that of gilds of help. Its administration has always been in the hands of laymen, and it works through local "conferences" or branches, the general council having been suspended because it declined to accept a cardinal as its official head.
All its charters were annulled, its privileges and those of its gilds swept away, and a heavy fine imposed.
In 1490 a treaty was signed at Damme between the people of Bruges and the archduke Maximilian, and very soon after this event the channel became completely closed up, and the foreign merchant gilds or "nations" left the place for Antwerp. This signified the death of the port and was indirectly fatal to Bruges as well.
It became in effect the principal feast of the Church, the procession of the Sacrament a gorgeous pageant, in which not only the members of the trade and craft gilds, with the magistrates of the cities, took part, but princes and sovereigns.
2 In the 15th century the custom became almost universal of following the procession with the performance of miracle-plays and mysteries, generally arranged and acted by members of the gilds who had formed part of the pageant.