Just like in most of the medieval towns, guilds were also active in Bruges. The houses they had built were an expression of the wealth and power; the more impressive the house was, the richer the guild was.
Guild houses were commissioned by the various guilds. They were the administrative seat of the organisation and the place where they held their meetings. These houses were generally copiously decorated and surviving examples can stilll be counted among the most impressive civil structures in the historic center.
Guilds existed until the end of the 18th century. They were organizations that gathered traders or craftsmen of a certain profession. Before being able to become a member of a guild, one had to apply and complete an apprenticeship with a master. After that, the apprentice had to do a test after which he could be allowed to perform the craft. This way, they ensured the quality of the work.
It goes without saying that some guilds were very wealthy and displayed this in their houses.
The guild looked after the interests of its members and the organization itself. They also performed social tasks by taking care of unfortunate members by for example establishing hospices. Some also arranged commercial disputes between members and it was not exceptional that a guild was in charge of the defence of a part of the town.
Below a few of the (former) guild houses in Bruges:
- Royal Guild of Saint-Sebastian. Guild house of the archers. Location: Carmerstraat 174.
- Former guild houses of the goldsmiths. Location: Hoogstraat 12-16
- Former guild house of the shoemakers. Location: Steenstraat 40
- Former guild house of the masons. Location: Steenstraat 25